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Qatar’s International Centre for Sport Security faces perceptions of lack of independence
While FIFA's granting of rights to Qatar to host the World Cup in 2022 is a focus of investigations by US and Swiss law enforcement agencies, the Doha-based International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS), is currently in the US capital of Washington addressing the issue of sport integrity.
The ICSS, which is largely funded by the Qatari Government, will be addressing efforts to boost transparency in bidding processes for major sporting events and combat financial malpractice in professional sport at its Regional Major Sporting Events Conference: The Crossroads of Security and Socio-Economic Development at Washington's National Press Club on Thursday 25th and Friday 26th June.
The group, which is headed by two former officials from Qatar's military, includes FIFA's former head of security as an executive director and Interpol's former president as a member of its advisory board.
The event comes on the heels of the indictment by US authorities of nine current or former FIFA officials and five executives in sports marketing or broadcasting on 27th May. They face charges of bribery, money laundering and wire fraud involving more than $150 million.
That investigation is also examining allegations that there was corruption in the awarding of World Cup hosting rights to Russia for 2018 and Qatar four years later, according to a US law enforcement official. Authorities in Switzerland are also undertaking a criminal probe into those decisions.
In a statement on its website, the ICSS states that it "encourages and supports any proactive action that targets corruption in sport governing bodies by law enforcement agencies."
Its budget is 70% financed by the government of Qatar and the rest is income from projects, said ICSS spokesman Stuart Hodge.
Critics say the organisation has a public perception problem because of the investigations into the allegations about how it's main patron won enough support from FIFA's 24-member executive committee in 2010 to get the 2022 hosting rights.
It had faced competing bids from the US, South Korea, Japan and Australia.
Alexandra Wrage, an anti-corruption expert and founder of the US-based TRACE International stated "there is no question that (this) Qatari entity faces some reputational challenges as it sets out to clean up sports.
"Qatar is investing heavily in projects designed to enhance its public image. Whatever its other goals, I am sure the ICSS was established in part for this reason."
Wrage, resigned in frustration from FIFA's Independent Governance Committee in 2013, saying calls for change went unheeded.
Jens Sejer Andersen, Director of Danish government-funded sports integrity group Play the Game, also sees that the ICSS clearly had a credibility problem "when serious suspicions are floating in the air surrounding Qatar's 2022 bid due to the corrupt culture in FIFA at the time."
ICSS, though, says it is independent, with Hodge adding "there is no external influence or input put on the ICSS from the government of Qatar in terms of how we are run and our activities."
Both Russia and Qatar have vehemently denied there was any wrongdoing in the way they won the World Cup hosting rights. They were not the subject of the indictments announced by US prosecutors last month.
ICSS President Mohammed Hanzab, a former lieutenant colonel in the Qatar Armed Forces, announced the formation of the organisation in March 2011, only about three months after the Arabian Gulf nation won its bid to host the 2022 competition.
Soon after, Qatar's 2022 World Cup Supreme Committee - in charge of delivering infrastructure and planning for the contest - announced an agreement with ICSS to assist with security for the games.
FIFA's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland.
Hodge said the establishment of the ICSS was in no way connected with the vote to award Qatar the World Cup rights and plans to create the centre were well underway beforehand.
ICSS' advisory board includes Singapore's Khoo Boon Hui, who was Interpol's president from 2008 to 2012. Qatar's 2022 Supreme Committee was among the top ten sources of external funding for the international crime fighting group in 2014.
Interpol earlier this month suspended a US$22 million sports 'integrity' agreement with FIFA in the wake of the investigations.
ICSS's connections to FIFA include Chris Eaton, the group's Executive Director for Sport Integrity. A former Australian policeman and Interpol official, Eaton became FIFA's Head of Security in 2010 where he looked into allegations of vote swapping between Qatar and Spain-Portugal, who had put in a joint bid for the 2018 World Cup.
According to a book by journalists from the UK's The Sunday Times called 'The Ugly Game', Eaton surprised his bosses at FIFA when he announced his move to ICSS in 2012 and brought along the bulk of his investigative team.
Last year, the ICSS published a joint research project with the Sorbonne in Paris, one of France's best-known universities, that found an estimated $140 billion is laundered every year through sports betting. ICSS also partnered with the United Nation's Office on Drugs and Crime to help train law enforcement officers so that they could crack down on game-rigging.
One ICSS advisory board member Juliette Kayyem, who worked as an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in President Barack Obama's first term, said she didn't see any reasons for concern, noting that the ICSS was doing good work in examining how to keep massive sporting events safe.
For more information on the Major Sporting Events Conference: The Crossroads of Security and Socio-Economic Development go to www.theicss.org
27th May 2015 - CORRUPTION ARRESTS ROCK FIFA IN ADVANCE OF PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
19th March 2015 - QATAR 2022 WORLD CUP TO BE PLAYED IN NORTHERN HEMISPHERE WINTER
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