#80 The G|O Briefing, December 16, 2021


This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

Today in The Geneva Observer, we stretch the strict definition of International ‘Geneva’, traveling upstream to Lausanne and beyond. This will be the last Geneva Observer Briefing of this harrowing, mind-bending, mesmeric year.


A few years back, the late Kofi Annan was enjoying a drink with a few journalists, sharing his thoughts on his “Electoral Integrity Initiative.” Sepp Blatter was in the news. “Who knows, after dealing with Kenya, the EII might take a look at FIFA,” he quipped in his soft voice. The then off-the-record quote stayed with me and resurfaced last Tuesday (December 14) with the publication of a UN report which attempts to lift the veil on the dark side of the world of sport. That the report, the first of its kind, emanates from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says it all. Sport is being targeted by “corruption and organized crime” of staggering “scale, manifestation, and complexity,” we are told. And it needs to be safeguarded to "harness its positive power." Who better to summarize the report than The G|O’s Chade, whose journalistic investigations led to the establishment of an Inquiry Commission created by the Brazilian Senate to investigate sports officials.


“It’s the best possible time to be alive when almost everything you thought you knew is wrong,” a character in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia exclaims. It increasingly feels this is the kind of moment we are living in, individually and collectively asked to update our intellectual toolshed. Readers of The Geneva Observer Briefing know our conviction that the keys to understanding the forces shaping tomorrow’s world are right here in this city for us to seize and analyze.

Well, the latest example just landed in The G|O’s inbox, in the form of what may, on the surface, appear to be yet another dry and demanding text, but we believe is essential reading in understanding the depth of technology’s impact on our lives. Today, technology determines the future of our most fundamental rights.

Big Tech’s (and others') claim that “technology is neutral” is a fallacy and a dangerous one to boot. Technology—the “technium” as technologist Kevin Kelly called it ten years ago, a “global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us ... [including] culture, art, social institutions and intellectual creations of all types”—is anything but neutral. Technology is inseparable from values. That is the story at the heart of the battle behind the evolution of technical digital standards, told in a new report jointly produced by the KAS Multilateral Dialogue* Geneva, Diplo Foundation, and the Geneva Internet Platform.

Entitled “The Geopolitics of digital standards: China’s role in standard-setting organizations,” such as the Geneva-based International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the meticulously-researched study provides a comprehensive look at the current situation, and explores China’s role and efforts in creating what is commonly referred to as a “new internet;” an effort billed by the FT as “Xi Jinping’s blueprint for creating a digital dictatorship.”

“When embedded into technologies put to different uses, standards can provide a broader context for promoting—or abusing—human rights and freedoms. For instance, standards related to internet protocols can pose privacy risks if they do not embed sufficient protections to ensure the confidentiality of communications and the security of data,” the report’s author Sorina Teleanu writes.

Geopolitics is contaminating the internet’s technical infrastructure. We may be witnessing a digital clash of civilizations—and it is being fought right here, at the ITU, a few steps away from The G|O’s office.


P.S  Recommended reading: A run-down of key developments in Geneva-based international organizations from October-December 2021: The new edition of the Geneva Barometer, from Multilateral Dialogue Geneva of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, is out!

Corruption and organized crime are plaguing the world of sports

By Jamil Chade

The UN sent shock waves around Lake Geneva this week with the first-ever analysis of corruption in sports from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The report concludes that more must be done to tackle criminal activities surrounding international sports organizations—almost 60 of which are based in Switzerland, with the “Olympic Capital” Lausanne (home to the International Olympic Committee) acting as a magnet.

UEFA is not far away, in Nyon, while many other sports federations are in the same region. However, the report makes it abundantly clear that the lake’s waters are far more transparent than the institutions which dot its shores. The UN document lays out plainly the staggering “scale, manifestation, and complexity of corruption and organized crime” currently targeting sports.

Nearly two hundred experts from around the world, active in governments, sports organizations, academia, the private sector, and other stakeholders, contributed to what is the first in-depth UN analysis of corruption in sports. The UNODC study is being published a few months before the Beijing Winter Olympics and in advance of the most controversial ever soccer World Cup, to be held in Qatar in 2022. Three years in the making, the report was mandated by a UN resolution adopted in 2019, by the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

The report concludes that “there is widespread recognition of the negative economic and societal consequences of corruption in sport and in particular its impact on youth. […] To effectively address this problem, more work is required to understand the scale, scope, and manifestations of corruption in sports worldwide. The international community is acutely aware of the need to close this knowledge gap,” its authors state—and indeed, it is. It is to state the obvious that these words apply to three of the most powerful sports institutions in the world: the IOC, FIFA, and UEFA, all based in Switzerland and the broader International Geneva ecosystem. Over the years, with various degrees of success, they have all courted the UN, which has often obliged. Former UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon was at one point on the IOC Ethics Commission, while WHO warmly embraced FIFA at the outset of the pandemic. FIFA’s boss, Gianni Infantino, is one of the very many people that Dr Tedros refers to as “my brother.”

While the report admits that corruption in sports is not a new phenomenon, the past two decades have witnessed a substantial increase in criminal activities in the sector: “Globalization, a huge influx of money, the rapid growth of legal and illegal sports betting, and technological advances transforming the way sport is played and consumed are making it increasingly attractive to criminal networks seeking to exploit sport for illicit profit,” the report explains, estimating that $1.7 trillion are wagered on illicit betting markets each year.

The current legislative environment is also making criminal activity easier: “The role of organized crime groups in corruption in sport and the criminal infiltration of sports organizations has grown markedly as a result of the recent evolutions in sport.” The report continues, “Criminal groups are exploiting vulnerabilities linked to development-related changes and the weaknesses of legislative and regulatory frameworks that govern sports.”

The sports world itself is particularly opaque, and sports organizations show little or no willingness to address corruption from within. “Anti-corruption institutions in sport are in many ways still in their infancy,” the report says. Potential whistle-blowers are still discouraged from reporting corruption for fear of retaliation, and “investigative journalists often face intimidation, attempts to undermine their professional credibility, and threats to their lives,” the report’s authors insist.

The document makes for bleak reading: “Corruption within sports organizations has been exposed on a broad scale, not least with regard to the awarding of hosting rights of major sports events,” it claims. Clearly, rooting out corruption in sports will require a massive change in attitude, including from the fans.



In the process of revamping The G|O Briefing, we decided to do away with stock and generic images, the equivalent of visual junk food. Photography is an art, not  a distraction. With that in mind, we went looking for a photo that would capture the mood of the past year, and chose Mark Henley’s photo of WHO boss Dr. Tedros. Mark has been covering International Geneva for years—we called him its “surveyor” in our profile which you can read here. His work, together with that of some of his colleagues, is currently on display at the Swiss Press Photo Award in Prangins, a nice destination for a day outing.



Thank you for reading us! From all of us at The G|O, we wish you a healthy and happy holiday season. May you unite safely with friends and family. We look forward to finding you back here in the new year, starting on January 13th.

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade

Editorial assistance: Ciara O'Donoghue

Edited by: Paige Holt - Dan Wheeler