Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Tragedy of Mario Goijman, Part I

Late on a Friday evening in March, 2012 outside of Buenos Aires, Argentinean police and government officials arrived at the home of Mario Goijman (pictured below right) with orders to evict him and confiscate his belongings. From 1996 to 2002 Goijman was the President of the Argentinean Volleyball Federation, which hosted the 2002 Men’s World Championships. Once a successful businessman, today he is a broken and ill man, a victim of the inability of international sporting associations to deal with corruption within their ranks.

The officials had shown up on Goijman’s doorstep that evening because of a dispute that had started a decade ago which left Goijman responsible for bank loans he had personally taken on as part of hosting the 2002 championships. The story of that dispute and its tragic consequences for one man provides a window into what is often a dark and corrupt world of international sports governance.

Goijman’s battle against the international body that oversees volleyball competitions, the FIVB (International Volleyball Federation) began in 2002, shortly before the Men’s World Championships.

Based on information that he had gleaned as an insider, Goijman decided to blow the whistle on the FIVB and went public with allegations that the books of the federation contained financial irregularities. Goijman alleged that corruption stemmed from the top of the Federation and its president, Rubén Acosta (pictured below left).

For his part, Acosta, who had headed up the FIVB since 1984 and who was also a member of the prestigious International Olympic Committee (IOC), denied the allegations and in turn accused Goijman of committing his own financial irregularities (allegations that have ever been substantiated). Acosta immediately suspended Goijman from the FIVB and then later, he suspended the entire Argentinean Volleyball Federation after it came to the support of Goijman. A new volleyball federation was subsequently established in Argentina by supporters of Acosta.

For anyone paying attention, which was certainly very few outside of the small volleyball community, it was dueling accusations with little basis for judging what may have been true and what may have been false. The dispute could have disappeared as a historical footnote.

However, it turned out that some were paying attention to the dispute. In 2003 Swiss authorities raided the headquarters of the FIVB in Lausanne, and turned up documents that supported Goijman’s allegations. At the same time in 2003, the ethics committee of the IOC investigated Acosta, which resulted in a recommendation of sanctions, prompting his subsequent resignation from the IOC, at which point the investigation was discontinued.

A Swiss court later judged that FIVB accounts had in fact been falsified, but did not determine that the falsification had resulted from criminal intent. Jen Sejer Andersen, who heads Play the Game, a Danish non-profit focused on sports governance which has taken up Goijman’s cause, holds leaked internal FIVB documents indicating that Acosta skimmed away more than $33 million from the organization’s accounts.

Yet, none of these events or revelations has led to the resolution of Goijman’s predicament. A decade later he continues to suffer the consequences of the retribution from Acosta and the FIVB for his speaking out.

I first encountered Goijman last October in Germany at the biennial Play the Game conference (Goijman is pictured to the right, speaking at PTG 2011). Goijman, a grandfatherly figure, spoke passionately and emotionally about his experiences and troubles, and even then it was clear that the events had taken an enormous toll on him emotionally, if not physically.

I was at the conference to present a paper on the governance of FIFA, the international body that oversees world football (soccer), which has its own suite of issues associated with corruption to deal with. Having never heard of Goijman or Acosta, I decided to dig a little deeper.

As the head of the Argentinean volleyball federation, Goijman was the lead individual responsible for organizing the 2002 Men’s World Championships, and (strangely) part of this responsibility involved contributing his own savings and taking out substantial bank loans to finance the games.

Goijman told me by email that he contributed his personal funds due to the sorry state of the Argentinean economy at the time and besides, he was not worried about the loans, as the games were expected to generate a 30% return. He proceeded under the expectation that the borrowed money would subsequently be repaid by the contracted partnership with the FIVB.

One might question the wisdom of blowing the whistle on an organization immediately after loaning them a substantial sum of money, because the results were probably predictable. As the dispute took place the FIVB refused to reimburse the Argentinean Volleyball Federation for the loans that they had taken, leaving Goijman personally responsible for the debt. Today the FIVB continues to we owe the (previous) Argentinean federation about $800,000.

After Goijman blew the whistle on Acosta, the FIVB also engaged in a war against the Argentinean Volleyball Federation and anyone who offered him support. Despite being able to reconcile a number of issues related to the dispute over the years, Goijman’s inability to repay the loans taken in his name are what ultimately led to the police on his doorstep to repossess his home and the last of his belongings.

My repeated inquiries to the FIVB press office in Switzerland and FeVA (the current Argentinean Volleyball Federation, and the one which replaced the one headed up by Goijman) received no response. (The FIVB Board is pictured above.)

But I was able to speak to Doug Beal, who is the CEO of the US Volleyball Federation and was also the head coach of the US volleyball team at the 2002 Men’s World Championships in Argentina. Beal is currently on the Board of Administration of the FIVB.

Beal (pictured below right) told me that during the time that the FIVB was run by Acosta the organization was essentially a “one-person dictatorship.”

“Nobody asked too many questions because he was bringing in a lot of money and significantly raising the profile of the sport, particularly in the Olympics and particularly with the addition of the beach discipline in ’96,” Beal said. “Acosta was certainly receiving significant commissions for some time before it was an approved or well-known practice, and the total amount may likely never be known.”

Of the dispute between Goijman and Acosta, Beal said that he has met Goijman on several occasions but does not know him well, but is “aware of no evidence of what Acosta accused him of” back in 2002, at least none “that I have personally seen.”

“Goijman didn’t react as most people did [to Acosta] by bending to his every whim and will,” Beal explained. So “Acosta decided to dismiss him from the volleyball world.” Beal told me that the practice of having individuals take personal responsibility for loans to finance a championship is not something that USA Volleyball would ever allow to happen or agree to do.

Beal’s recounting of the events and disputes matches up well with the evidence collected by Andersen at Play the Game and that which is publicly available. By all accounts, Goijman seems to have gotten a raw deal -- and that is putting it mildly.

To be continued ... Part II tomorrow on the broader lessons of this sad story and Beal's recommendation for resolving the Goijman situation ...


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