The FIFA World Cup 2022 began yesterday, and all eyes are turned toward Qatar for four weeks of sporting entertainment. The squads are in the Middle-East - it's the first time the tournament has been hosted in the region - and are preparing for their opening fixtures.
But hanging over this prestigious event is the shadow of reputational damage.
That's because the tournament has been mired by controversy and allegations of misconduct against both FIFA and the governing bodies in Qatar.
Since the successful bid to host was announced in 2010, there have been concerns over corruption, financial misconduct and human rights violations.
The issues raised by critics of the 2022 World Cup primarily fall under two categories:
- Allegations of corruption and bribery associated with Qatar's successful bid to host.
- The failures of relevant parties in Qatar to protect migrant workers.
The importance of whistleblowing in exposing malpractice within both FIFA and Qatari stakeholders cannot be overstated. So, with that in mind, it's important to ask: could this have been prevented? And what lessons can we learn from these events?
Protecting your employees
No individual who feels compelled to come forward with information in the public interest should fear retaliation.
But that's not what happened in this case.
Phaedra Almajid, the whistleblower who claimed to have been in the room when Qatar paid $1.5m to the African Football Confederation president Hayatou, had agreed to come forward with information under the condition of anonymity. 1 This condition was not upheld and Almajid was named in the investigatory report. Since then, Almajid has claimed to have "received threats against her and her children."2
Similarly, Abdullah Ibhais - an imprisoned World Cup organising committee whistleblower - claims to be the victim of retaliatory action and was recently found guilty during a hearing held in the absence of "the defendant, and his lawyer, and anybody or entity that represents him."3
Concerns over legal or professional consequence are the top reasons given for not reporting wrongdoing. These concerns can be alleviated by:
- Ensuring your investigators are adequately trained and resourced to effectively and thoroughly process a report of wrongdoing in a timely manner. This is crucial. Not only to help prevent or minimise loss of assets - as well as aiding the recovery of lost assets - but also to support and protect whistleblowers. Reducing and preventing detrimental treatment of those involved in disclosures fosters trust in your system.
- Making sure your employees have access to a whistleblowing hotline that guarantees anonymity. By utilising an external whistleblower hotline, your employees can be safe in the knowledge that their disclosure will remain confidential.
The Importance of Independent Reporting
The next example demonstrates exactly why it is crucial that reporting, investigation and case handling are conducted by external providers.
Almajid's confidentiality was breached in a report published by FIFA's own ethics committee.4 In doing so, FIFA damaged the integrity of their reporting systems and jeopardised the security of an individual acting in the public interest.
The summary of the investigation released by Hans-Joachim Eckert and the Ethics Committee concluded that no wrongdoing had been found, but it is clear that Eckert and the committee had a clear vested interest in reaching this conclusion, one disowned by the investigator himself Michael Garcia, as direct employees of FIFA.
For any allegation of misconduct to be treated fairly, it is imperative to ensure impartiality, security, and integrity at each stage of the process. This is achieved by:
- Utilising an independent whistleblowing service - this enables your employees to identify and address wrongdoing at the earliest opportunity. It also demonstrates leadership commitment to preventing and tackling wrongdoing.
- Raising awareness - ask yourself, do your staff, at all levels, know about your whistleblowing hotline and management system, understand how to report wrongdoing and feel empowered to do so? This is key to encouraging and facilitating the reporting of wrongdoing. Especially when it comes to highlighting that their anonymity will be maintained.
Protecting Your Company
There are often repercussions not only for the individuals directly involved in these actions, but for the institution as a whole.
In 2015, nine FIFA officials and five corporate executives were indicted for racketeering, conspiracy, fraud and corruption.
The FIFA Corruption Case demonstrated how embedded white-collar crime and corruption had become into the corporate culture of FIFA. Individuals had turned a blind eye, under the impression that the most senior employees in FIFA's ranks were 'untouchable.'5
?5.3bn is lost annually to public corruption. Preventing misconduct is not only important for protecting a company's reputation and position within the market, but also their profitability. This can be achieved by:
- Improving communications and fostering a culture of openness, transparency, integrity and accountability - how this is achieved differs for each organization: from leadership buy-in to internal communications or bolstered training.
- There's no one size fits all answer, however the benefits of addressing your culture can help your organisation to attract and retain personnel committed to your values.
The actions of both FIFA and Qatar would contravene legislation across the world put in place to protect whistleblowers.
In the US, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) is a commitment to the protection of whistleblowers and mandates confidential whistleblowing policies are in place within all listed companies.
Similarly, the EU Whistleblowing Directive requires effective whistleblowing policies from companies in all its member states. Find out more about the recent changes to the directive here.
Failing to comply with whistleblowing regulations will have legal ramifications. You can ensure compliance through:
- Continual improvement, reviews, and audits of your whistleblowing policies and procedures. The benefits of dedicating time and resources to maintaining and improving your whistleblowing hotline and management system are two-fold.
- You can actively help to reduce the risks of wrongdoing while also demonstrating sound, ethical governance practices to society, your markets, regulators, owners and other interested parties.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.