The IOC Ethics Commission – Is It Working?

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Post By: David D. Dodge

While the International Olympic movement has a long history of scandals and corruption, a recent case involving an Olympic official who helped steer the 2016 Summer Games to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (“Rio”) remains among the most egregious.

Carlos Arthur Nuzman, head of the Brazilian Olympic Committee for more than two decades, was sentenced recently to over 30 years in prison for buying votes for Rio to host the 2016 Olympics. Nuzman, 79, who also headed the Rio Organizing Committee, was found guilty by a Brazilian court of corruption, criminal organization, money laundering and tax evasion.  Reportedly he will not be jailed until all his appeals are heard.  Also sentenced to jail in connection with the payoff scheme included former Rio Gov. Sergio Cabral, businessman Arthur Soares, and Leonardo Gryner, who was the Rio committee director general of operations.  Investigators testified that all four defendants coordinated to bribe the former president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, Lamine Diack and his son Papa Massata Diack for votes.

Rio’s corrupt bid beat the competing bids of Chicago, Tokyo and Madrid and Rio was awarded the Games during 2009. The vote was held in Copenhagen, where then-President Barack Obama had traveled to campaign for Chicago, his home city.  While still in office years later, Obama hinted at possible bid corruption in awarding the games, described the 2016 Olympics as “a little bit cooked.”  In a statement following the judgment against Nuzman, the IOC Ethics Commission indicated it will study the case and make any recommendations as soon as it receives the full information from the Brazilian authorities.

To prevent such corruption and other scandals from occurring in connection with the Olympic Games, and in order to safeguard the ethical principles of the Olympic movement, the IOC in 1999 was the first sports organization to establish an independent Ethics Commission.  The Commission’s principles were set out in its Code of Ethics and Implementing Provisions.  The Commission assures the Code of Conduct is regularly updated and revised.  The Commission also claims it examines situations involving possible breaches of its ethical principles and, if necessary, proposes sanctions.

To help ensure its independence and objectivity, the chair and the majority of the nine members of the Commission are not IOC members, Honorary Members, or former IOC members, but rather independent personalities.

The Ethics Commission has three basic functions:

  • First, it draws up and updates a framework of ethical principles, including the Code of Ethics as well as specific “Implementing Principles” based on the values and principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter,
  • Second, it examines situations involving potential non-compliance with the Code of Ethics and, where necessary, proposes sanctions to the IOC Board and/or the IOC Session, and,
  • Third, when requested to do so, it delivers advice to the IOC on the implementation of the ethical principles.

In 2015, the Commission created a new position, Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer (CECO).  The CECO analyzes all complaints, denunciations and acts brought to the Commission’s attention which may constitute a breach of the ethical principles of the Olympic Charter, the IOC Code of Ethics or the Implementing Provisions.  If any failure to comply with the ethical provisions is suspected, the CECO performs an initial compliance analysis and, if necessary, a more detailed investigation resulting in a formal report to the Ethics Commission.

The CECO also has a prevention role, providing information, education and advice to the Olympic movement in order to help achieve better application of the ethical principles and rules and discourage unethical conduct in the first place.

The Code of Ethics and Implementing Provisions apply to all stakeholders, which include:

  • The IOC, its members and administration,
  • The National Olympic Committees (NOCs),
  • The International Sports Federations and IOC Recognized Organizations and their officials,
  • All those taking part in the Olympic Games and the Youth Olympic Games including the athletes and their entourages, the Federations and their delegations, the referees and judges, etc.,
  • The Interested Parties involved in the selection of future hosts of the Olympic and Youth Olympic Games, and
  • The Organizing Committees for the Games.

All complaints, denunciations and acts which might constitute a breach of the ethical principles are analyzed with a view to a possible referral to the Ethics Commission.  To this end, anyone can give information concerning suspected non-compliance to the Ethics and Compliance Office.  The IOC’s Integrity and Compliance Hotline can be used to facilitate this consultation with full confidentiality guaranteed, and if necessary, on an anonymous basis.

While the IOC and the Ethics Commission have essentially established on paper an ethics and compliance program containing virtually every essential procedure to ensure effective operations , the challenges which lie ahead are monumental – arguably more so than in any other international organization.  Certainly, no other sports organization is as complex and far-reaching as the IOC.  As of 2020, the IOC recognizes and oversees 206 National Olympic Committees. Only time will tell if the IOC and the Ethics Commission have committed the necessary resources to ensure worldwide compliance with ethical standards. Further, an equally important question is whether or not these organizations will act with virtue, including having the political will to assure clean and corruption-free competitions on the Olympic stage in the years ahead.