Corruption and capitalism

Socialist Worker 389

For the last thirty or forty years it has been clear that professional sport is riddled with drug taking.. From North American sprinters such as Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis, Florence Griffiths Joyner and Marion Jones to Chinese long distance runners, to the whole East German team in the 1980s to the Russian and Kenyan Athletics teams now.

Then there is cycling with Lance Armstrong and others or American baseball or swimming and so on.

Plus there are other forms of sporting corruption. For decades it was an open secret that the Mafia ran American boxing and fixed fights. Recently there is evidence of match fixing in cricket.

And, of course, it goes all the way to the very top with the International Olympic Committee and bribery in the awarding of the Olympic Games and FIFA with Sepp Blatter giving the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Always the authorities issue statements that this will not be tolerated, that they are holding an enquiry and that there will be crackdown. Always the doping and and the corruption start up again.


The reason is simple. Modern sport has become big business. There are huge rewards and it is fiercely competitive. If you want to win an Olympic medal or the Tour de France you know you are up against people who may be doping so you take the drugs too. You need them to win.

And if you want the Olympics or the World Cup to come to your city because of the lucrative contracts involved you, and every body else on the inside,  know that its more likely to happen if you grease the palms of those who will make the decision.

But sport as big business is just a microcosm of big business as a whole, i.e. of capitalism.

Capitalism is based on competition to make profits and, at the top level, that competition is even fiercer and more ruthless and for far bigger rewards than Olympic competition. So capitalism, even more than sport, has always been riddled with corruption.

The economist, David McWilliams, thinking of Bertie Aherne, Charlie Haughey, the Galway tent and the bankers, said that what we have in Ireland is not capitalism but ‘crony capitalism’.  The implication was that somewhere in some other country there was a pure ‘uncorrupt’ capitalism. In fact capitalism is, always and everywhere, crony capitalism. That is how capitalism works and has always worked.

And again the reason is simple. Capitalism is a system driven by cutthroat competition between different companies – competition on the basis of who can make more profit. Even if you are ExxonMobile (the biggest oil company) or Toyota (the biggest car company) you still face competition from BP and Shell and Volkswagen and General Motors. And if you are CEO of one of these companies and you lose out in this competitive battle you will lose your job. So there is an immense amount at stake. And if bribing politicians or officials, or hiding wealth in offshore tax havens gives you an edge in this competitive process then this is what will be done.

And if profit is what drives the system it will inevitably create a culture of greed and entitlement that makes the super-rich believe they are justified in accumulating millions and billions and not paying tax on it.


Also inevitable under capitalism is the widespread corruption of politicians and this has been going on for centuries. The English parliament in the 18th century was notorious for it – they called it ‘the Old Corruption’. The Act of Union between England and Ireland in 1801 was procured by large scale bribery.

Lloyd George was famous for his corruption of politicians by dispensing peerages. John F Kennedy’s father was linked to the mafia and bought his son’s election to the Presidency in 1960.

Margaret Thatcher enriched her family by using her son as an arms dealer. Tony Blair and Hilary Clinton have accumulated millions for giving ‘lectures’. Not to mention the shenanigans of Silvio Berlusconi or Haughey and Aherne.

Politicians earn a lot more than ordinary people but a lot LESS than top capitalists like Denis O’Brien so the capitalists will try to buy the politicians and often enough they will succeed.

And governments, like the sports authorities, issue statements, establish enquiries and tribunals and promise crackdowns. But really nothing much is done and it all carries on.

For the fact is that capitalism produces corruption like an athlete produces sweat.


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