DOHA-BASED International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), launched in 2011, appointed Michael Hershman as its Group CEO last June as it looked to enhance its profile by adding athletes’ health to its current core areas of integrity and security.
Hershman, a co-founder of Transparency International which is a global organisation fighting against corruption, is an expert on almost all matters the ICSS deals with, be it accountability, governance or security.
In an exclusive interview with Doha Stadium Plus, the American official spoke about the change happening at the ICSS, the need for sports to address the problems in a professional way and much more.
What’re the ICSS’ current
I came last June to help improve its profile. We’re on the road to focusing more on three core areas at the ICSS.
One, of course, is the area of security — protecting sports venues, fans, players and all other stakeholders from terrorism, fan violence and so on. We’ve hired experts who’ve involved in big sports events. I’ve also been associated with the major security work done for the Olympic Games held in Seoul and Athens.
The second is the integrity area. We’ve formed two main divisions — one to oversee the values and ethics, for which we’ve formed the Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA), which now has 75 members. It has set a sort of standard and principles for all sports organisations.
What we really believe is that sports organisations need independence. SIGA will’ve its own board of directors, its own funding from members. The membership now includes sports bodies, sponsors, media organisations, the list is growing rapidly. It was an ICSS baby, but we’re going to make it an independent organisation.
We’re focusing on the areas of youth and values as well. We’ve the Save the Dream programme. We decided to open chapters in countries around the world. Hopefully by the end of this year, we’ll have five national chapters. Because we want to spread the work around the world.
The third core area is a fairly new one for the ICSS. It’s the athlete’s health. We’re listening to the debates about concussions and other injuries, and we understand that not much focus has been placed on injuries to children. We speak a lot about concussions to professional athletes, but people haven’t realised that concussions have become frequent among youngsters. They’re cumulative and have long-term effects on an athlete. We want to bring together the medical and sports communities as well as equipment manufacturers to protect the children before they play sport at the university or professional level.
When do you expect the transformation to be completed? How different will the ICSS’ character be five years from now?
The character of the organisation won’t change and our core focus will be the improvement of sports... all sports. We’ve selected within the organisation group heads to oversee each of these initiatives. We’re putting together the plans and, by the end of this year, we’ll start our work to make the ICSS a more global and recognised organisation.
Why did you think a transformation is needed in the first place?
There’s no other organisation that touches on all aspects of sports. There’re many NGOs jumping into the integrity or security side of an issue from time to time. When we go forward, we’ve to make sure the ICSS is sustainable from a financial standpoint.
We want to ensure that our funding is diversified and that we maintain our vision of being a non-profit organisation. Anything we do on the promotional side, for example by helping a client on the security side, and any funds we generate will go into our programmes like Save the Dream.
The world is going towards specialisation in every area. But you’re adding more services. What makes you do so?
It’s better to have a holistic approach to the betterment of sport. If we’re going to make a change in sport, I think we’ve to address the pressing issues of today.
Sports events have become high-risk. The integrity issues, values, health, all are tied together. Our idea is to help retain the credibility of sport. Fans are becoming a little bit cynical when they read every week about another issue. In the United States, there has been criticism about concussions in the National Football League, which continued to deny it. But the League had to address it following a lawsuit filed by former players. It happened only after the issue was brilliantly addressed in the public through a movie called Concussion, starring Will Smith.
So sports is under attack from different sides. And to save it, you need to have a holistic approach. We take a different approach to match fixing. For example, while we investigate the people and organisations behind it, Sportradar actually collects information about games which look like, may be fixed.
With the improvement of technology, do you think the whole exercise has become more expensive?
It has become expensive, but at the same time, it has become more effective and efficient. In the short run, it might cost more, but in the long run, it’s going to be more potent.
Have sports and all its stakeholders become more complacent due to the huge money involved in it?
It’s not an issue of complacency. Sports is a big business. It has had a mentality that it’s not like a multinational corporation that it doesn’t require outside oversight or regulations. Many stakeholders believe sports began with a certain degree of autonomy from government and should continue with it. That’s no longer acceptable. Sports has lost its credibility in that it hasn’t been able to self-regulate to the extent it should’ve. FIFA is a good example of this. So sports is at a cross-roads or in crisis. Football’s world governing body can either fix things quickly or can go along in a direction that’s going to be a slow and painful journey with more and more government intervention.
Right now, what the ICSS, headed by Mohammed Hanzab, proposes is a voluntary approach. To have an organisation like SIGA and build it into an independent oversight organisation that’ll help sports not only design good governance principles, but implement them to the satisfaction of the stakeholders, who’ll want to see sports run in an efficient way.
Moving on to racism... FIFA recently disbanded its taskforce...
The issue of racism is never done. This is a continuing conversation that’s going to go on as long as the society exists. I would hope sports organisations come together to work on this issue. But not only racism, the issue of human trafficking as well. It’s a real problem in sports. Children are being trafficked by unscrupulous agents. The ills of society are reflected on sports.
Such a statement will make people a bit more pessimistic. What’s your advice?
I think sports bodies have to look outside themselves. They’ve to be more global in their vision. Not be so insular. We’ve seen in the case of Olympics and international sports events that the host cities get good attention and bad attention. So it’s a risk in organising them and it’s growing.
So sports bodies have to look beyond how they traditionally deal with mega events on the pitch. They’ve to understand what’s going on in the world as well.
The host cities have to look at the problems in their countries. Are there human rights issues in those countries? What’re the economic and corruption levels? So they’ve to become more outward in their thinking. They’ve to address the problems.
Because of the popularity of sports, which speaks louder in many cases and brings so much of meaning to people, it can do it.
But the officials shouldn’t use the development funds, like FIFA did, for political purposes. There should be a pure effort to develop the sport.
In that case, a World Cup wouldn’t have been possible in South Africa, right?
Look, what I’m saying is that if there’re problems in a country, use your influence to help and try to improve. If you plan in advance you’ll have plenty of time. You’ve seven or eight years, and you can have a dramatic impact in solving some of the problems... if you work, lobby and advocate for change.
Let’s take the workers’ issue in Qatar. It wouldn’t have been focused on by the international community, if it weren’t for the World Cup. So Qatar has begun the reform process because of the attention of hosting it. That’s the sort of positive influence.
People are looking at it in a different viewpoint...
Now that I’m working in Qatar, I know that the country has a desire to become more progressive. You see changes in many areas. I think it’s a combination of leadership, forward thinking and the fact that the nation will be in the spotlight not only because of the World Cup, but many sports events being held here too.
When sports like cricket or rugby started, they were run by volunteers, who were genuinely interested. As time has gone by, these have become real businesses. But those who run them didn’t have the business background and they weren’t prepared to run a large enterprise. They were certainly not equipped to address the problems that they face today.
So there’s a need for a new type of leadership at these organisations.
Do you mean a corporate culture?
I’m talking about professional management and not politics. There’s always going to be a certain degree of politics because you’ve elections. On the other hand, you should’ve processes in place, like in modern corporations. Also, ensure that the governing body has independent members and professionals who’ve a background in the areas in which they’re chosen for.
For example, if you’ve an independent member in your audit committee, then that member should’ve the financial background. Same thing with the compensation committee or others. You’ve to have professionals in the day-to-day running of the sport.