FIFA and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have jointly reiterated their commitment to address threats posed by crime to sport and stressed the importance of cooperation through the landmark memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed by both organisations in Vienna on Monday.
Speaking at the UNODC headquarters in Vienna, UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly recognised the powerful role that football plays, especially through FIFA’s global 211-member association network.
“I believe that the world’s game and the United Nations – the world’s organisation – make formidable allies in striving for development and peace,” said Ms Waly, who leads the UN’s leading anti-corruption agency. “Football brings together players from different countries, backgrounds, ethnicities and religions in one team focused on one objective. Football stars overcome poverty through talent and practice to shine on the international arena larger than life, providing inspiration and fostering a sense of pride and belonging. It is an important tool for youth empowerment and inclusion.”
The UNODC Executive Director specifically identified FIFA as an ideal partner to help in safeguarding football and sporting events from both corruption and crime. “Strength and cooperation between UNODC and FIFA will support governments and sports organisations to pursue effective anti-corruption action, building on the strong foundation provided by the UN convention against corruption and the multiple resolutions adopted by the states parties on safeguarding sports against corruption,” said Ms Waly.
It was a position firmly confirmed by FIFA President Gianni Infantino who said that, in FIFA, UNODC has found the right partner. “I can assure UNODC of our full support and the fact that you can count on FIFA and on the force and the power of football to reach your goals which are our goals as well. The MoU is not just a document signed to have a nice picture, it is a document we will live and we are already living every day. It is a milestone for FIFA as it is a signal, a strong signal for everyone as it shows and demonstrates the absolute commitment of FIFA and of myself as FIFA President to assume a zero-tolerance policy on corruption in football.”
In addition to tackling crime and corruption, the wide-ranging MoU also pledges to consider ways in which football can be a vehicle to strengthen youth resilience to crime and substance use through the provision of life-skills training. “Through our MoU, UNODC and FIFA will engage with national football federations and other stakeholders to offer technical support to member states to use football and sports-based learning to prevent violent crime and substance use,” explained the UNODC Executive Director.
The cooperation between FIFA and UNODC will also extend to ensuring that children and young athletes are kept safe from violence and exploitation, via programmes such as FIFA Guardians, while also harnessing the benefits of sports for women and girls in line with UN resolutions.
“We know that unfortunately sport and football is not immune from abuse,” said the FIFA President, adding that the organisation is launching a consultation process that includes sports organisations, intergovernmental authorities, governments and specialist agencies with the objective of establishing an independent, multi-sports, multi-agency international entity to investigate abuse cases in sports. “It is a topic we have been hiding for too long and it is time to start opening it. What I am proposing is to study together the creation of an independent agency, some sort of a mix between sports bodies, institutional, governmental, international organisations, who can help our children who want to play sport to be and to move in a safe environment.”
The new entity proposed by the FIFA President will look to provide trusted reporting lines, a global pool of experts that can be promptly mobilised to provide local specialist case management and care support to victims, witnesses and whistleblowers, as well as establishing standardised sanctions and disciplinary measures and screening processes to ensure that perpetrators cannot move from one region to another, between different sports, nor escape justice.
Ms Waly also recognised the steps that FIFA has already taken in promoting gender equality and supporting the development of women’s football across the globe. “FIFA’s leadership has helped to inspire and pursue positive change and I hope together we can build on this momentum to bring down gender barriers still further and to empower women and girls. I invite our FIFA partners to support us in these efforts. UNODC is here to support you, to protect the integrity of football and bring the game to all.”