“FIFAGATE” PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON ALL SPORTS
Perhaps the only surprise surrounding the “Fifagate” scandal and the arrests of some of the most prominent names in world soccer administration, was that those who were arrested at their five star Zurich hotel love-in, didn’t see it coming.
The “world game” as they like to indulgently call it with all the hubris and arrogance they can muster, has been the subject of allegations and counter allegations of corruption and fraud and organized crime infiltration, on a massive scale, globally for decades.
Unlike many other sports, including racing, the rorts involve billions of dollars stretching across territorial and continental boundaries. Winning the coveted rights to host the FIFA World Cup every four years soaks up billions. That’s what it costs to “buy” the votes of FIFA delegate nations. And not surprisingly, tens of millions find their way through a money and transaction trail into the hands of corrupt delegates.
It goes the whole way towards explaining why the Qataris were successful in their bid to host the World Cup in the Northern Hemisphere summer when the searing desert sun cooks and burns anything that dares expose itself. But then, in a Dutch auction, can any one nation trump an oil producer?
The stench or corruption in the world game is the most potent of any other sport. If nothing else, “Fifagate” demonstrates that corruption can and is entrenched in many sports on both a global and national level. And in many instances, it starts at the top and works it’s way down. Yet another telling example of the old truism that “fish stinks from the head down.”
The “Fifafgate” sting by the FBI followed a senior North American Soccer Federation official “singing like a canary” about the endemic corruption within the “world game” governing body and its many of its national affiliates, after FBI officials investigated him over tax and finance matters. The allegations of international money laundering and corrupt and fraudulent financial transactions and bribery on a massive scale are reminiscent of the socio-economic structure of some of the more notoriously brutal one party despotic and dictatorial regimes and states that stretch across third world nations.
“Fifagate” makes racing, and for that matter, many other sports, look like the minnows that they are in comparison to the “world game”. And racing, rightly, thinks that it has an integrity problem when it unearths race fixing and the use of performance enhancing substances.
What is at stake, financially in race fixing, pales into insignificance. It makes the morons that are guilty of these crimes in racing look the trash that they really are – small minded, desperate nobodies prepared to risk their freedom and livelihoods for the equivalent of “twenty pieces of silver”.
Organized crime, corruption, fraud, money laundering, match fixing and the like have a common bastard parentage. They are also part of a thriving second economy that is global and which sucks billions of dollars out of the pockets of national treasuries and from the trousers of punters.
Yet, despite the almost weekly exposes of corruption and scandal in sport and the naming and shaming and ultimate destruction of the lives and careers of many of the biggest drawcards, heroes and idols in sport, the popularity of the tainted sports remains unaffected.
Attendances and packed stadia, or ratings and online access, merchandise sales and clamour for sponsorship and marketing partnerships paint a convincing picture.
Far from the sports in question being demonized and shamed and ridiculed, public interest and wagering in these sports, as bizarre as it may seem, tend to take on a northward trajectory.
Clearly the commercialization of sport has contributed overwhelmingly to corruption at all levels. Lucrative billion and multi million dollar deals involving media rights, sponsorship and marketing arrangements for worldwide brands and the rush to secure exclusive wagering agreement partnerships, have left no administrator, decision maker or participant immune from corruption and committing criminal offences.
Take the lure of the lucrative marketing and sponsorship agreements. For many of the biggest brand names, it is exclusively based on the performance of the athletes. Keep winning and you’re a hero, an idol that is a powerful visual, walking talking marketing machine, ultimately delivering rivers of gold, silver and platinum. And performance is all about winning, at all costs, and about whatever it takes. It’s the common theme in just about every case of violations of the drug code. It’s no different in racing where performance enhancing drugs are used to manipulate the outcome of races for financial gain.
In the “world game”, and one suspects strongly, with sports with a global footprint, media rights, sponsorship and marketing agreements, and economic benefits to nations open the door to corruption.
As we have witnessed, it is no different in the trade and other commercial sectors, where morality and ethics are instruments of cheap posturing and nothing else. Even in conflict, the commercialization of war can reap billions of dollars while sacrificing the value of human life.
“Fifagate” was inevitable. The surprise is that it took so long. And if the US Tax department had not unearthed the discrepancies in the financial affairs of the Chief of its North American Soccer Federation, “Fifagate” may have gone unnoticed for a while longer.
Racing can take no comfort from the “world game” being dragged through the mud. Nor can any other sport.
Whilst corruption and criminal activity in racing is largely confined to its participants, racing must stay alert, and carefully and forensically scrutinize any “cosy” relationships between administrations, and their administrators on the one hand, and contractors of any kind.
In particular, are the blatantly generous longer than long-term arrangements with “preferred partners”, which have left a lingering feeling of unease in the minds of many in racing.
Racing cannot assume it is immune from the clutches of corruption and crime which appears to have strangled FIFA. We can only hope, but cannot assume that racing is not immune from the “fish stinks from the head” analogy.
YET ANOTHER BORING GABFEST OF EMPTY TALK
Australian racing’s continuing success in distracting itself from fixing up the multitude of problems in its own backyard was on show in all its glory last week with what has now become its own annual talkfest aka the Australian Racing Conference rotated each year between the States.
The attendances at these annual conferences are swollen to an unnecessary degree by multiple representatives of a swag of race clubs and racing administrations. It is geographically challenging trying to identify the location of some of these clubs, let alone the bona fides of their representatives.
Many of the attendees don’t even bother to spin the reasons for attendance from their far flung home bases, electing instead to plead guilty to being recipients of expensive junkets which their clubs and racing administrations cannot justify or afford.
The defenders of these talkfests are generally some of the high profile media names who, in the absence of professional and interesting session coordinators, stroke their individual egos and accuse any detractors of “talking down” the so-called benefits of these talkfests, junkets or whatever alibis they choose to use.
Each year’s Racing Conference is more and more like a debutant’s ball, with a new bunch of meaningless corporate speak clichés, and trotted out to an audience who eagerly add them to their repertoire of corporate waffle to engage in meaningless dialogue with their fellow junketeers.
But even the repertoire is increasingly wearing thin. Very, very thin. “Fan Engagement”, a hall of famer in the lexicon of meaningless clichés, is still a headline act.
Do these so-called moderators or session coordinators or whatever they call themselves have any idea of what they are talking about?
“Fan Engagement” has had many past lives under different incarnations, yet there is absolutely no evidence of recent sightings of fans “engaging” in racing.
Did someone mention social media? Ah yes, the addiction of certain self-proclaimed leaders of the racing media pack to tweet 24/7 to their “legions” of bottom feeders, attention seekers and self-styled voices of authority on all things racing with self-righteous earnestness as “the voice of the people.”
Bollocks when these self-proclaimed gurus are clueless about how gamers use Twitch, new ways of using WeChat and how quickly much of “social media” has become old school and irrelevant.
Racing continues to fail to make any impact and connection with a large segment of the community which other sports are able to do, because, despite all the hype surrounding these talkfests, there is virtually zero evidence that the “wisdom” that spews out of these conferences is ever put into practice.
We’ve been subjected to the same clichés, the same topics tweaked by conference organizers, the same presentations dressed up in newer outfits over many years.
We hear new commitments to being “customer centric”, to “building better relationships”, to a plethora of motherhood statements that even pre-date retail trading. And yet, despite the waffle used to “sell” these snoozefests, their impact can be measured by racing’s continuing struggle for relevance in the community, with the Melbourne spring racing carnival, the exception.
The Sydney Autumn Carnival and its latest incarnation- the Championships- can’t even excite more than a modicum of community interest despite the might of the News Limited publicity machine.
So, when one one of the more prominent administrators described the agenda and presentations as more of the same subject matter reaching the point of beyond being recycled, and failing spectacularly to deliver tangible outcomes for the benefit of racing, is it any wonder that Australian Racing Conferences are talked down?
The commercial world no longer tolerates such exercises which don’t deliver outcomes. Perhaps it is a clear indication of where racing is at- that it tolerates annual insular gabfests which don’t pass even the most modest measure of a “show and tell”.
And despite all this piffle about being “customer centric”, where are the consumers at these meetings of the lemmings? How can anyone inter-act and have all this “connectivity” without listening to the lifeline and present and future of the sport?
Australian racing administrators live and operate in fear of anything that is results driven and can be transparently so. They can “talk the talk” but they can’t “walk the walk”. They really can’t.
THE BOOM CONTINUES FOR THE BREEDING INDUSTRY
This month’s record breaking Inglis and Magic Millions broodmare and weanling sales, like the Australian property market, shows no signs of abating. The top end of the Australian breeding market, dominated by the big Hunter-based operations, keeps powering ahead.
Clearly, the impact of some marquee name foreign buyers across the continents has made a massive impact on pushing prices skywards. Whilst Asian investors, and in particular, buyers from Hong Kong, have over the past decade underpinned the yearling sales market, the emergence of investors from Asia into the broodmare and weanling market is similarly having a very positive influence in that sector. The China Horse Club, Sun Bloodstock and Pan Sutong’s Goldin Farm have emerged as big players at both the Inglis and Magic Millions broodmare sales this year.
Japan’s biggest player – the Yoshida family- an expanding South African contingent and an increasing US presence are combining with the usual suspects from the UK and the Middle East to put a very broad smile on the faces of some of the big breeding operations.
The continuing success of Australian bred thoroughbreds on the world stage and their relative price competitiveness continues to attract the attention of international breeders.
If the results at Royal Ascot in June fall the way of the Aussies, it will further focus on the value and quality of the domestic bred product. Wait and see- and other new “initiatives”. It will make many heads spin.