Today’s Editorial July 03: Keep soccer clean

As the Cayman Islands makes every effort to improve its unfair tag of being a money laundering haven, financial regulators here should be aware of a new report, on the potential influx of dirty money through soccer.

For decades, criminals have used sport as a channel for money laundering and tax evasion, especially in soccer, but now the problem is even more acute.

Soccer is a trillion dollar business with officials, agents, managers, administrators and even some referees making millions. That puts into perspective how much money there is in the world’s most popular sport that is played by at least 250 million worldwide.

Helped by the globalisation of the sport and financial needs of clubs, an anti-corruption body has just produced a report on the level of money laundering in soccer.

It is attracting criminals with its huge cross-border money transfers and often obscure accounting methods, a unit of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said.

The report concluded that the structure, financing and culture of the sport are all conducive to financial crimes.

Boosted by billion-dollar television rights, the amount of money in soccer has exploded, turning venerable clubs into massive business enterprises.

Despite the sport’s scale, with 38 million professional registered players and five million referees and officials, many clubs are managed by amateurs and can easily be acquired by dubious investors, the report states.

The sport’s image also plays a role. Clubs are less likely to report money laundering for fear of losing sponsors, while criminals may use ownership of a club to forge legal business ties and win lucrative construction contracts.

Cayman soccer has entered a new era with the phase one opening of its multi-million dollar Centre of Excellence in Prospect.

It was officially opened by no less than FIFA, the governing body’s president, Sepp Blatter.

With England campaigning vigorously to stage the 2018 World Cup finals and leaning heavily on the Caribbean to vote for it, there will be plenty of soccer heavyweights passing through the region in the near future. The ripple effect is that criminals will target places like Cayman for potential deals.

The Cayman Islands Football Association hopes the centre will attract major soccer clubs from Europe and the US here when the centre is completed, but, naturally hopes the criminal element is not part of that new clientele.

Only vigilance and good practices will ensure that money laundering in soccer does not reach these shores and adversely affect Cayman’s improving record for good financial governance.

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