Sport, no matter the level, requires positive conduct to be upheld by sporting organisations, athletes, coaches and other stakeholders both on and off the field. Ethics in sport are essential to ensure safety and enjoyable participation. This positive conduct is enforced by sets of ethical rules and guidelines that allow everyone involved in a sport to expect that it will be fair and based solely on the skills of the athletes.
Ethics in sport and sporting organisations involves four key virtues. They are:
When these elements are found to have not been upheld there are significant financial and reputational consequences for the individuals and the sporting clubs, organisations and peak bodies involved, as we will explore below.
Competitive sport requires a level playing field and means no athlete has any unfair advantage. Without this equal playing field, there are risks posed to the health and safety of everyone involved, and this also undermines the integrity of sporting organisations and the sport itself.
Below are some of the core issues that create unfair advantage and are prevalent across a number of sports.
Match-fixing is defined as someone (one person or many) influencing the result of a sporting match to gain advantage for themselves or others.
A recent example involved Australian cricketers (including then Captain Steve Smith and senior player David Warner) in 2018 tampering with the cricket ball during a game in South Africa using sandpaper – 12 month suspensions were imposed.
Also, recently, a claim by a former world number one Chinese badminton player that she was ordered to throw her Olympic semi-final in 2000, has triggered interest in old footage of her former coach appearing to admit to match-fixing. It was revealed that an internal meeting was held within the national badminton team at the Sydney Olympic Games, during which “a deliberate discussion of match-fixing for the semi-final was launched.” Such examples of match fixing are undoubtedly becoming more common and increasingly concerning.
This unfairness changes the competitive nature of sport, which at its core is stimulated by the unpredictability and uncertainty of match outcomes.
In order to prevent match-fixing from occurring in the first place, there needs to be a culture fostered by sporting organisations that means athletes and teams are to be consistently educated on the unacceptable nature of cheating and match-fixing and the organisation’s intolerance of breaking rules and regulations.
To create this culture it must be underpinned by tight and consistently updated policies, as well as clear communication throughout each level in the organisation – players, athletes, umpires, coaches, CEOs and employees.
Tanking games and sports wagering are common within sport these days. With betting and gambling more prevalent now than ever, there has been an increase in intentionally fielding non-competitive teams to take advantage of league rules that benefit losing teams.
Our firm has seen numerous cases this year relating to allegations of breaching player points, salary caps, playing unregistered players on a team, or players already registered with another club, making them ineligible players. These cases suggest cheating on the part of the clubs, which is a serious allegation, and attacks the integrity of a competition. This carries serious penalties.
This should also be visibly enforced across the board. If bad behaviour is perceived to be tolerated or there is a blind eye turned, this demonstrates inconsistency and immediately undermines the integrity of the sporting competition.
In order to stem competition manipulation at the source, sporting organisations need to ensure regular education and communication about the organisation’s values and regulations and the consequences if these are not upheld. At all times, all stakeholders should be acutely aware that competition manipulation is not tolerated in any form.
Doping, deliberate or unintentional, also unbalances the scales of fairness. Organisational culture is important in preventing doping and all athletes and players should feel as though they are valued without having to enhance their performance through drugs, and also know that it is not tolerated.
However, importantly, we need to keep in mind the case of Shayna Jack. She did not know how the prohibited substance ligandrol got into her system, and the Sports Court (CAS) believed her.
SportsLawyer represented her and maintain that she is a fair athlete. She still had to serve a 2-year suspension, but has been back, winning gold medals for Australia at the recent World Swimming Championships.
So, the opportunity for unintentional doping, as well as deliberate doping, requires considerable support from sporting organisations. This is where up-to-date policies and procedures are essential. However, that alone is insufficient. Again, it is the regular communication and education of these policies and cultural buy-in that can prevent athletes and organisation’s reputation and opportunities from being at risk.
Even though Shayna Jack is, in my opinion, not guilty, doping poses a great risk to the integrity of sport and removes the chance of an even playing field.
Integrity in sports is about having sound and honest practises and behaviour in sport, not cheating, cutting corners or seriously breaching rules. It is needed from organisations and athletes to uphold positive conduct within a sport.
It means having a level playing field where everyone has the same chance to compete and succeed if they put in the same effort, and have the same or similar opportunities to compete. Integrity demands fairness on the playing field.
At an organisational level, upholding the integrity of the sport and of your organisation, means there must not be any of the following:
- Failure to report any Prohibited Conduct under the Framework or one of its policies
- Deliberate or wilful withholding of information in relation to any possible Prohibited Conduct
- Failure to provide further information or documentation as requested as part of a complaint process under the Framework, including a failure to fully and in good faith participate in an interview
- Knowingly providing any inaccurate and/or misleading information during any investigation or proceedings under the Framework
- Failure to comply with or enforce Disciplinary Measures imposed under the Complaints, Disputes and Discipline Policy
While athletes must show integrity both on and off the field by not being a part of match fixing, doping, cheating amongst other things, it is first and foremost imperative that sporting organisations promote and demonstrate integrity. As in all areas of ethics in sport, this is achieved by regular reviews of policies, along with the demonstrated behaviours that support these policies, including regular communications reminding all involved of the expectations within your organisation.
Responsibility underpins the management and maintenance of ethics in sport. As you will be aware, sporting organisations must take responsibility in adhering to the best governance practices as required by Sport Australia, or risk losing funding. Boards are entrusted to act for the interest of the sport as a whole, and not one club or team or individual. They need to be held accountable for this responsibility.
Responsibility has another side in terms of governance. It means not running a club or competition poorly, and not breaching insolvent trading laws, for example. This responsibility requires continuous education and communication, both internally and externally.
Internally, your sporting organisation has an internal responsibility to conduct strict induction processes, especially given that often, many role holders are volunteers. This means that all key documents are shared with new directors and board members. These include strategic plans, your constitution, reports, board charter, code of conduct, and key policies. There should be strong lines of authority and responsibility reporting, clear role descriptions and firm leadership.
Externally, there is also the responsibility of continuously communicating (including on your website) and upholding codes of conduct, communicating the consequences of breaches of these codes of conduct, and making stakeholders aware of contact points for complaints.
Consistent reviewing and updating of policies by sporting organisations can ensure the organisation and its athletes can be protected if something goes wrong. Having accurate and updated policies in place also means unanticipated legal expenses can be avoided later on down the track.
Respect in sport carries a cultural element.
Great culture thrives off of mutual respect.
The livelihood of sport itself is arguably dependent on the cultures within it. Respect at any level means promoting a culture that demands athletes and teams respect umpires and officials, and learn that whether you like the decision or disagree with it, including team selection by officials, coaches and managers, you should respect those decisions. However, sometimes those decisions may be challenged in selection appeals.
This respect can be built by a cohesiveness in policies and organisational values that can ensure that athletes, members, officials and employees feel safe, equal and valued.
Consequences of disrespect in sport are heavily imposed now more than ever, with far less tolerance for inappropriate behaviour. There is too much risk involved for organisations not to have updated policies and a culture where respect is demanded. If this is not the case, and something goes wrong, organisations run the risk of losing revenue streams and support, dealing with legal expenses of tribunal hearings, investigations and litigation, and a damaged reputation.
Fairness, Integrity, Responsibility & Respect in your Sports Environment
As has been mentioned throughout, the consistent ethical conduct in sport is reliant upon a full buy-in by all stakeholders to embody and promote the key virtues of fairness, integrity, responsibility and respect.
It is important to review and update policies now, before something goes wrong. Issues of integrity and ethics in sport are too crucial to put off or ignore, especially when it comes to protecting athletes rights and minimising your organisational risk of significant financial and reputational damage.
Article by Paul Horvath
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Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be relied upon as legal advice. The contents of this article should be regarded as information only, and for specific legal matters, independent advice should always be sought. Please contact Paul Horvath on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (03) 9642 0435 to discuss any matter or to arrange an appointment.