Soccer Scandal Highlights Need to Build Ethical Workplace Culture

An international soccer match-fixing scandal shows what can happen when an organization fails to promote an ethical culture.

Without the right tools in place to promote a positive, ethical culture, an association could find itself dealing with major problems. This week’s news of a far-reaching scandal in international soccer provides a troubling reminder of what can happen when no one is ensuring that people are playing by the rules.

Make it clear that you care about ethics, that it’s something you want employees to pay attention to.

Earlier this week, Europol, the European Union’s joint police organization, released the findings of an 18-month probe into international soccer competitions that showed corruption and match-fixing are far more organized than previously suspected.

The report described evidence that showed bribes were used to influence players, officials, and coaches in various leagues and in some of the sport’s biggest competitions—including the European Championship and the World Cup.

Europol officials said the scandal—involving a crime syndicate in Singapore that allegedly fixed hundreds of matches—is “on a scale … that threatens the very fabric of the game.”

While outright criminal infiltration of an organization represents an extreme case, the soccer scandal points to the importance of building a culture that prevents unethical behavior—or at least detects it before it becomes widespread, said Stuart D. Yoak, Ph.D., executive director of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics, an international organization that works to educate future ethics professionals.

“What you’re trying to do in building that culture is to give your employees opportunities to bring these issues forward,” he said. “Make it clear that you care about ethics, that it’s something you want employees to pay attention to. If they see or hear something that seems off, you need to ensure that there is a way for that information to work its way into the organizational structure where it can be handled.”

Simple solutions include having a suggestion box where staff can leave anonymous notes or having an ethics officer or designated person whom an employee can approach to raise a concern, Yoak said. “Just like in soccer or baseball or cycling, it is very difficult to be engaged in improper behavior without a lot of people knowing. Having the right channels to properly handle the situation is imperative.”

But what if employees can’t or won’t come forward? What signs should an executive look for to diagnose a possible problem?

“A much more subtle way of finding out about unethical behavior is by understanding the kind of conversation that goes on in the workplace,” said Yoak. “If employees think of ethics only as when somebody is caught, they miss the fact that you’ve had many opportunities to talk about and engage in real application of values in the workplace. If you have employees who are aware of those values, then you have less of a reason to be concerned about unethical behavior.”

To set a positive workplace environment, finding and detecting unethical behavior is important, but so is positive reinforcement.

“It shows that this is something the organization cares about, is going to acknowledge, and is going to make sure people get honored for,” Yoak said. “Your staff must understand that ethics is a very big part of what makes associations, corporations, and businesses of all kinds function effectively.”


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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