Last week I was mulling over the influence of money on sports and that led me to thinking about the comparisons between different sports that are in difficulties at the moment. They are, of course, different disciplines and different circumstances, but they all have one thing in common: they are suffering from people trying to win things by gaining an unfair advantage, albeit by different means.
In the world of football, the FIFA Scandals are all about alleged bribery that is supposed to have influenced major strategic decisions that the sport has made. In the world of athletics, Dick Pound’s independent World Anti-Doping Agency report alleging doping and cover-ups in Russian athletics has sent reverberations throughout the sport and put the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) into a something of a tailspin. The goal in each case was to allow one country to gain an advantage in the sport, using whatever means possible. It was the same basic story in cycling three years ago but on a personal rather than national level with Lance Armstrong being forced to admit that he had used drugs throughout his cycling career, in order to gain an unfair advantage over his opponents.
In this respect, Formula 1’s current situation could perhaps be compared to the other sports. Is taking steroids really any different to having racing teams that choose rules that suit them and enjoy huge financial advantages over their rivals?
It is a very interesting question.
The other point that I think is interesting is that all of the above troubles, with the exception of those in Formula 1, have come to light, not as a result of European investigations, but rather because folk from the New World have taken exception to what has been happening. Armstrong was pursued by US federal prosecutors, who were able to pressure team-mates into making statements.The investigation was led by federal agent Jeff Novitzky, who had earlier investigated allegations of steroid use by baseball players. In the end the ruling body of cycling, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), had to start acting. In the case of the IAAF it was Canada’s Pound who has led the charge. In the case of FIFA, it was the US Justice Department that started the process that is now developing.
The smaller F1 teams have asked the European Commission competition directorate to look into the way that the Formula One company operates and we await a reaction from the authorities in Brussels. It is fair to say that in 1999 the Commission did take on the FIA and the Formula One group and Competition Commissioner Mario Monti (later the Italian Prime Minister) forced a reorganisation that resulted in the FIA agreeing to limit its role to that of a sports regulator, “with no commercial conflicts of interest” while the companies in charge of the commercial exploitation of Formula One agreed to various changes in their agreements to bring things into line with competition norms. Since then, the FIA under Jean Todt has got itself into some strange situations for a sports regulator, with the formation of the F1 Strategy Group (which FIA President Jean Todt has admitted can overrule what the federation wants) while the FIA also now owns a percentage of the Formula One group. One assumes that all of these things will come under scrutiny if an European Commission investigation does go ahead.
It would be so much wiser for those involved to get together and right potential wrongs without the Eurocrats needing to get involved. The problem is that this would require a large amount of chowing down on humble pie and accepting that things have not been done properly, but this is a far better situation than having pencil-pushers bumbling around, cobbling together solutions when they do not really understand the sport. If Europe fails to do the job, the bad news is that Formula 1 is unlikely to get into the cross-hairs of US investigators, because the sport has such minimal involvement in the world’s biggest consumer market.