Many people reacted with shock at the sight of seven FIFA executives being arrested on corruption charges in Switzerland. The shock arose not from the allegations of corruption – those had been widely circulated for many years – but from the fact that there was an organisation with the wherewithal and perseverance to attempt to bring those responsible to book. We should all be thankful, then, for the FBI.
Jack Warner and his buddies, however, were not the only sporting figures being accused of corruption this week. In a much less high profile case, the Irish amateur snooker player John Sutton was suspended from the sport of snooker for a period of 6 years. His crime had been to deliberately contrive a 6-0 defeat in a qualifying match at the International Championship Qualifying event last year. A total of €18,000 was staked on that outcome, a sum vastly larger than wagered on any other outcome in the match or indeed any other match at that stage in that tournament. The individuals responsible for the bets had met with Sutton in the days leading up to the match.
John Sutton was not a successful sportsman – he was a reasonable snooker player who had failed to secure his tour card on a number of occasions but received the odd invitation to compete in professional tournaments. He had four children and could not make a sufficient living from the sport to support his family. He kept other jobs while practising snooker. He was therefore susceptible to attempts at corruption.
A suspicion of corruption is one thing. Proving that the outcome had been fixed and sending a message to others who might consider match fixing that to do so is deeply unwise is quite another.
These two cases highlight the importance of fearless oversight and the relentless pursuit of integrity in sport. The press conference given by the FBI and the Attorney General (memorably and accurately described as “badass” by one tabloid journalist) will have left the accused in no doubt as to the strength of their opponents. The detailed analysis of the evidence, the meticulous preparation over many months and the pride with which the individuals unveiled their work was hugely impressive.
same applies to the judgement of the Independent WPBSA Panel, led by solicitor Tim Ollerenshaw, in the John Sutton case. It is a thorough dissection of the evidence. The same fairness and rigorous approach was extended to John Sutton as would have been found in any court. The days of sporting organisations issuing opaque decisions from smoke-filled rooms have long gone.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, corruption in sport can be easy to spot. Surely no-one would, of their own volition, believe that Qatar, a country with no track record of success in international football, no football infrastructure and summer temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, was a suitable venue for the world’s largest football tournament? But FIFA did. Surely no-one would bet €18,000 on the correct score in an obscure snooker match? But John Sutton’s associates did. Identifying corruption at the time and dealing with those responsible is an important and difficult job. The essence of sport is fair competition. That means rules, and rules have to be enforced if they are to carry any weight. So we should be grateful for the skill and determination of the rule makers, the prosecutors, the Tribunal members and others who identify and stamp out corruption in sport.
John Sutton’s namesake is part of the Motherwell squad competing against Rangers in the SPFL Championship play-off. At this stage, no one can predict the outcome with certainty, but we do know that he will take part in a fair competition. It is those who dealt with the other John Sutton and are dealing with the FIFA officials who help keep sport clean.
If you would like more information or advice please contact Simon Catto, Partner, Dispute Resolution at SCatto@hbjgateley.com