Sport Integrity and Security – The African Challenge

 

The globalisation of sport and its commercialisation are like Siamese twins. These phenomena have combined to raise the profile of the industry to unprecedented levels. Sport is now indeed an integral part of national and international development.

Major sport events create so much economic activity and other spin-offs resulting in the generation of wealth and employment on and off the field of play for millions of people. Economists and other industry experts are predicting that the global sports industry will grow up to US$150 billion by 2016. Serious challenges of integrity and security of the sports sector also accompany this growth.

The ever-present threat of violent terrorists wanting to use major sport events to launch their horrendous attacks even on unarmed civilians is a cause for concern all over the world and even more in Africa. By and large, poor security arrangements and stampedes at stadiums in Africa have been the major causes of death in various countries. 

A prime example is the Ellis Park disaster in South African in 2001 where 43 soccer fans lost their lives. Furthermore, isolated incidences of terrorism have occurred such as the killing of members of the Togolese delegation at the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. In addition, the bombing of fans watching the 2010 World Cup matches at a sports club in Kampala, Uganda, are also other incidences that call for the need for greater security and vigilance.

The appalling violence in Dakar during the FIFA World Cup qualifying match between Senegal and  Ivory Coast, which resulted in the former being banned from playing matches at their home ground is also one of the biggest  embarrassments in African sport.

Although, organised hooliganism, in the form of ultra-fanatics, is yet to rear its ugly head in Africa, recent occurrences at Port Said in Egypt, where 74 people died, are a poignant reminder that as much as sports events are peaceful on the continent, Africa is not immune to the challenges that other parts of the world have witnessed.  While other public authorities, including security forces, may also be to blame for their handling of such incidences, the onus remains on the sports authorities to ensure the safety of fans and athletes at all major national, continental and international events.

Disaster preparedness in the form of effective crowd control, efficient evacuation procedures as well as provision of paramedics in the event of injuries are hallmarks of world class event management. 

These are issues that can no longer be left to amateurs or rookies. There is need for African sports authorities and event organisers to work with other stakeholders to ensure such preparedness.

In most cases, it is not even a question of resources but a factor of good event planning and management. 

The fact that there is too much laxity in terms of security arrangements for major sports events in Africa is actually an understatement. Events are run without viable and visible security measures. In some cases, rowdy fans can even get access to match officials and end up assaulting them or visiting team players.

 This is totally unacceptable. In addition, to security challenges and threat to life at major sports events, the emergence of political terrorism on the continent does not make life any easier for sports event managers and organisers in Africa.

 The 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi as well as the September 2013 assault on the Eastgate Mall in Nairobi constitute rude awakenings for every peace-loving African.

 Even as we are having fun at sports fields and stadiums, we must always be careful and vigilant.

As much as sport is now being threatened by physical violence and loss of life for both players and spectators alike, the other major concerns are emanating from criminal syndicates who through bribery and corruption seek to affect the outcomes of matches. 

The cancers of cheating, doping, manipulation, match-fixing and bribery are equally dangerous to sport. Again, because of the globalisation and commercialisation of sport, there are now so many people, who want to get rich quickly by any means necessary. It is also worrying that criminal gangs and syndicates now have tentacles, which can penetrate sport right to the top echelons.

Although arrests, successful prosecutions and incarcerations of perpetrators have been recorded in Europe and Asia, the same cannot be said of Africa. 

That is not to say that sport in African is safe. Rather on the contrary, it is very vulnerable because investigations are not systematic and thorough. Furthermore, the situation is compounded by the fact that there is no exchange of ideas, information and experiences on these matters. African sports authorities are burying their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostriches. 

It is also more like the comical monkeys of see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil.

 The fact that football associations of Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe have, to varying degrees, been caught in the snares of the match-fixing syndicates is clear evidence that there is a genuine cause for concern. 

Match officials, players and coaches have been banned by FIFA while in some cases officials have been relieved of their jobs by their respective organisations.

The afore-mentioned threats to the integrity and security of sport on the continent are clear indications that collaborative and systematic approaches are needed at national, regional and continental levels. 

One country cannot on its own succeed, no matter how organised or rich they can be.  The time for multi-national and multi-agency cooperation has come.  Sport is but one of the many manifestations of the operations of crime syndicates dealing in money laundering, match-fixing, human and drug trafficking.

 Therefore, it is no longer just a problem of sports authorities to handle. They need the support of other law enforcement agencies such as the police forces of each country and Interpol.

Another factor that is also in favour of sports authorities wanting to play a role in preserving the security and integrity is the emergence and operation of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) based in Doha, Qatar.

 This organisation is a welcome addition to the array of allies fighting to preserve the integrity and security of sport. Other organisations such as the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) established in 1999 focus on the illicit utilisation of performance-enhancing substances and methods in sport which is also very important as it helps to safeguard the health of athletes. 

The ICSS is very important as it can help to save lives at sport venues and other places all over the world.

 There is need for African sports authorities to upscale their collaboration with these agencies as failure to do so could have catastrophic consequences for African sport.  In addition, in this war to preserve the integrity and security of sport, failure is not an option!

February 2014
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