The anti-corruption tsar explains why he’s the man to lead the energetic anti-corruption organisation operating from Qatar.
Michael Hershman boasts a résumé that reads like an anti-corruption instruction manual. If there was ever anyone born to lead the fight against corruption, Hershman’s achievements suggest he’s it. A former US Military counter-intelligence officer, he served on the Senate Watergate Committee which investigated the world’s most notorious cover-up, before helping co-found the global anti-corruption think-tank, Transparency International. His achievement list is long and plentiful.Hershman’s record is quite remarkable, which is why reactions to his latest venture included a mix of curiosity, delight and a fair dose of skepticism. Last month this anti-corruption guru was named as the CEO of the International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) group. The ICSS, formed in 2010, has been busy of late – launching the Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA), a ‘global, independent and neutral sport integrity body’ boasting many influential signatories, hosting its ‘Securing Sport’ conference in New York last year and forming partnerships with many global bodies, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) just a recent example. This is an organisation intent on reforming sport, and Hershman, on the face of it, appears the perfect fit.
Recent initiatives and its name not withstanding, this is also a group however, which is growing tired of being asked the same question over and over again. During its own conference last year, ICSS’s President, Mohammed Hanzab, was forced to deny a series of allegations that it is working for the benefit of Qatar, whose government fund 70% of the ICSS. Amidst ongoing allegations of corruption and human rights abuses in connection to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, to be hosted by Qatar, this is an irony not lost on many.
For the ICSS, the appointment of Hershman as the organisation’s CEO is a huge coup; it has already been accumulating a number of respected anti-corruption experts including former Interpol duo Chris Eaton and more recently Dale Sheehan, but Hershman is one to top the lot. It’s a win-win for the ICSS, but what made Hershman, sitting comfortably as the CEO of a large security and crisis management firm, take up the offer?
“My previous anti-corruption work was more general and much broader, having to do with corruption in government and in business,” explains Hershman. “So I really hadn’t had my eyes opened to what was going on in sports until about 2011.”
2011 was the year that Hershman was appointed to FIFA’s Independent Governance Committee (IGC), a body introduced to oversee FIFA’s governance reform. The committee’s remit lasted just over two years and since leaving the IGC, Hershman has been notably vocal on FIFA’s inaction when it comes to reform.
“Not only was it FIFA however,” says Hershman. “When I looked around and saw what was happening in cricket, rugby, Formula 1 – match-fixing, doping, a series of scandals. I knew it was time that people stepped in and tried to effectuate change.”
In 2014 Hershman made the first step – he joined the Advisory Board of the ICSS. This is an organisation he wants to work for. Hershman believes in the work of the ICSS, in its integrity and in its independence. So if Hershman, king of anti-corruption, believes this is the way forward, why are there many voices that don’t, and how is he going to change them?
“I think it is ridiculous to believe that ICSS is some sort of public relations campaign on behalf of Qatar,” says Hershman firmly. “Everyone knows that Qatar has given funds to ICSS, as it has to many other foundations around the world.
“How could we possibly think that if we were going out and pushing the notion that Qatar is one of the most transparent and accountable countries in the world, that that would be believable? Come on.
“The point is that ICSS has been totally transparent about where it gets its money from. Qatar is not the only source of funding for ICSS.”
Hershman is bullish. He’s right too – the ICSS declares its funding arrangement on its own website – in this regard it really is “totally transparent”. This argument however is also a line that has been used by the ICSS President, long before Hershman’s appointment. Hershman may have been a high profile coup, but what will it actually change?
In 2011 the ICSS signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee to ‘collaborate on safety and security planning, capabilities and infrastructure’ of the upcoming World Cup. It is arguably an organisation best placed to ensure that human rights here are in fact observed. Yet the ICSS has still not taken a position on the alleged human rights abuses that are going on in connection to the construction of stadiums for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. Perhaps this is what Hershman’s appointment will change?
“I have taken a personal position,” says Hershman. “And I am going to continue to maintain a position that Qatar, like so many other countries, particularly in that region – Saudi Arabia, UAE and others – have a long way to go in helping improve the plight of foreign workers in those countries.”
“When I took the position of CEO, I didn’t give up my personal beliefs or principals.”
Hershman is happy to publicise his personal position, and has been vocal in the past, but what of the organisation, of ICSS? Is it really not being financed by the Qatari government as a way of deflecting attention away from the human rights abuses? Perhaps a statement is due?
“I have my personal opinion,” says Hershman firmly. “And having spoken to others within ICSS I think I speak for the entire organisation and the board.” So there it is, a statement, of sorts.
One thing Hershman is clear on, however, is that the 2022 World Cup should be staged in Qatar. It’s a view that’s at odds with many in the West, but Hershman’s reasoning is simple: “I have not seen any solid evidence in the case of either country – Russia or Qatar – that there were bribes paid,” says Hershman. He is fiercely critical of the time that it is taking judicial authorities, namely those in Switzerland and the USA, to find any evidence. Only when and if this is found will his position change.
“Unless facts and evidence clearly show that the Executive Committee was manipulated then the World Cup should go forward, of course,” says Hershman with an air of finality.
Qatar aside, there is another nagging issue that the ICSS still hasn’t addressed – public accounts. At US$20 million, the ICSS has a budget similar to that of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) – yet it doesn’t seem to publish accounts for how it spends that money.
I’ve hardly even asked the question before Hershman interrupts. On this, he comes into his own. “That’s one of the reasons that I’ve been brought on board! “ he exclaims.
“I’m going to make sure that everything is published, that everyone knows exactly where the money comes from and how much it is. So you can look forward in the near future to seeing all that.”
In its almost six years of existence the ICSS has hosted conferences, signed agreements, formed partnerships, developed programmes and been generally busy – vocally so. For some critics, these actions are simply posturing, but Hershman disagrees. He names Save the Dream as one of the organisation’s most important initiatives, as it aims to promote values, particularly among children. “It’s not enough to have good rules and regulations,” explains Hershman. “We have to start changing the culture.”
SIGA is another ICSS brainchild Hershman talks enthusiastically about. Last year David Howman, the Director General of WADA, proposed a global integrity body, a bit like WADA, but for corruption and match-fixing – for sports integrity issues in general. To Hershman, that is exactly what SIGA is, or intends to be. With 60 organisations already on board, including the United Nations, MasterCard, and the Commonwealth Games, Hershman says that the progress has been “nothing short of extraordinary”.
Hershman is self-assured. He’s pragmatic and understands how the ICSS and its relationships look, but he has no time for niceties. “There will be some people that will continue to be skeptical,” he admits. “I understand that, but there are also people that are simply skeptical by their very nature.” Hershman is a man on a mission; the sporting world awaits the fruits of that mission, for goodness knows it needs it.