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Not hosting the World Cup or the Olympic Games

In 2013 Jerome Valcke, then Secretary General of FIFA, reflecting on the difficulties in dealing with Germany and Brazil, hosts of the 2006 and 2014 World Cups respectively, and expecting Russia, 2018 hosts, to prove easier to work with, was quoted as having said: ‘I will say something which is crazy, but less democracy is sometimes better for organising a World Cup.’137 This, from the perspective of cutting a deal and having it executed, was of course not crazy at all. But the most striking aspect of the history of hosting tournaments is how much democratic states are also ready to yield.

Not always. In the Autumn of 2014 Norway attracted publicity when it decided noisily to abandon its bid to stage the 2022 Winter Olympic Games. It was reported that the IOC’s list of demands ‘included a cocktail reception with Norway’s King Harald—with drinks paid for by the royal family’; that committee members ‘expected to be chauffeur-driven along lanes reserved for their use, with traffic lights adjusted to give them priority’; that ‘each delegate wanted a Samsung mobile phone with a Norwegian subscription’; that ‘Bars at IOC hotels were also to stay open late ... while a VIP lounge at the Olympic stadium should serve them “high quality” food and a full bar during the opening and closing ceremonies’.^8 Moreover, in line with this pattern, ‘Olympic organisers further demanded control over all advertising space throughout Oslo during the Games, to be used exclusively by official sponsors’.^9

The IOC’s own Olympic Charter contains within the Fundamental Principles of Olympism the claim that ‘The practice of sport is a human right’. It is also splendidly lucrative for those at the top of its organizational structures. There is something breathtaking about the arrogance of the demands reportedly made by the IOC, but the truly illuminating story is not that Norway chose to say ‘no’, but instead that so many other (mostly much poorer) states, by no means all of them M Valcke’s preferred less democratic ones, have eagerly said ‘yes’, and continue to do so. After all, FIFA and the IOC have no power whatsoever to oblige states to host their events. It is powerful politicians who hold that in their gift. The lesson is of the power of sports bodies in securing a favourable legal regime which protects the lexsportiva or, more generally, protects and promotes the regulatory and commercial autonomy of sports governing bodies and shelters them from some of the normal assumptions of local law. It is not difficult to envisage a better bidding process applicable to hosting rights[1] [2] [3] but the eagerly competitive process to host major events currently grants governing bodies such leverage that incentives to promote reform are limited.

The case of Norway shows that just occasionally potential hosts baulk at the demands associated with hosting major events. Still more high-profile as confirmation that even the most dominant governing bodies are not always able to leverage that power in order to secure special treatment was the arrest in May 2015 on Swiss soil of several high-ranking FIFA officials by officials of US federal law enforcement agencies. The arrests, which also precipitated the resignation of Sepp Blatter as FIFA President later in 2015, were in connection with alleged corruption over a period of twenty-four years and were conducted pursuant to an indictment issued in a federal court in New York.m The final outcome will doubtless be clear only after several years. This dramatic intervention proves that the legislative solution examined in this subsection cannot buy absolute autonomy for sports bodies and their governing officials. But it can buy a high level of autonomy, whereby local rules are introduced for the special commercial interests of sports bodies. The arrests of 2015, certainly high-profile, were in association with alleged criminal conduct: and even to take these first steps in closing the net around the individuals concerned had taken the most powerful nation on earth a remarkably long time. Meanwhile neither the EU nor its Member States had done anything useful.142 The arrests were more a demonstration of how exceptional, rather than how routine, is the subjection of officials to legal process. Moreover, the episode does not at all bring into question the power of FIFA to raise large amounts of money by selling rights to host and to broadcast its principal events, most of all the World Cup. Whatever corrupt practices might have occurred in this instance, the most striking feature of FIFA’s business model is that it requires absolutely no taint of corruption to be wildly commercially successful. FIFA’s promises of governance reform under Gianni Infantini, who succeeded Sepp Blatter as its President in 2016, do not alter the fact that it is the monopoly supplier of a staggeringly popular spectacle nor do they change the willingness of potential hosts to grant it remarkable benefits in order to win its favour.

  • [1] See eg R Gauthier, ‘International Sporting Event Bid Processes, and How They Can BeImproved’ (2011) 11 Intl Sports LJ 1. See also B Humphreys and H van Egteren, ‘Mega Sporting EventBidding, Mechanism Design and Rent Extraction’ in W Maennig and A Zimbalist (eds), InternationalHandbook on the Economics of Mega Sporting Events (Edward Elgar 2012) ch 3.
  • [2] Office of Public Affairs ofthe US Department ofJustice, ‘Nine FIFA Officials and Five CorporateExecutives Indicted for Racketeering Conspiracy and Corruption’, 27 May 2015 accessed 29 November 2016.
  • [3] 142 For cautious comment by the Commission, stressing respect for ‘the autonomy of sport’s governing bodies’ before allegations were converted into action, see E-003340/14 [2014] OJ C341/79,Answer to WQ by Ms Vassiliou; for sanctimonious contribution after the fact, see European ParliamentResolution of 11 June 2015 on recent revelations on high-level corruption cases in FIFA [2016]OJ C407/81.
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