11 November 2015
The findings of the WADA commission report are a great pity for all sport
The publication of the World Anti-Doping Agency commission report has recommended that Russia should be banned from competing. The findings of this report are a great pity, not just for athletics, but for all sport. We are already reeling from the farce that has surrounded FIFA, Mr Blatter and the decisions about where future World Cups will be played. At the same time there is the unedifying spectacle of the Chris Cairns trial at Southwark Crown Court which, although primarily about perjury, seems to focus on match-fixing in the most Corinthian of sports, cricket.
That is not to say that this is all especially a surprise. You may remember the systematic state-backed doping scandal of female athletes in East Germany during the 1970s. Sporting success was – and it could be argued still is – seen by some regimes as ‘the continuation of war by other means’, with national prestige closely linked to success on the sports field.
After the fall of the Berlin wall, the subsequent integration of Eastern European countries in world sport seemed to have closed that chapter of history. It is revealing that it is only now that we have issues once again. There are lessons to be learned from this.
Not everyone can be tarred with the same brush. Cheating has undoubtedly happened in sport throughout its history – I mentioned cricket earlier, and W G Grace in the 1890s had a reputation for, shall we say, ‘gamesmanship’ – but it has always been a small minority who are believed to be involved. There are those who believe that the current England cricket team need some performance enhancing drugs to make their matches competitive! The furore over the match-fixing activities of cricketer Hansie Cronje of South Africa when they came to light in 2000 and when Pakistani cricketers were accused of bowling no-balls to order in 2010, were seen as occasional incidents. The pity of the Cairns trial is that it suggests that a whole tournament in India was systematically gamed by a small number of individuals.
Money is one of the key drivers here. In many sports an increase in the money available to professional sportspeople and an increase in the amount of money gambled by spectators means that large sums – significantly large sums in terms of what some sportspeople are paid – can turn on the outcome of a match. Money can also be won or lost on whether a particular ball will be a no-ball, which does not even affect the outcome of the game. The temptation is clear.
Each of these issues arise from a different underlying cause: match fixing in cricket from individual greed; the shenanigans at FIFA from a combination of individual greed and unfettered power; and the alleged Russian doping scandal from a failure of institutional culture. The solutions must therefore each be different; some in terms of monitoring, others in terms of structure. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ model that can be applied.
Although we may not be surprised by corruption or cheating in sport, we can be surprised by how effectively the secrets have been kept. This may be the result of the revulsion that most sportspeople feel for cheating – it strikes at the very heart of what they do. It could also be a reflection of the amount of money involved. An interview by Jon Snow with Lord Coe this week, and a gold medal for whoever provided his media training by the way, focussed on the question of ‘were you asleep?’ The obvious answer as far as I am concerned – which Lord Coe did not give, instead rightly focussing on the future – was ‘how on earth was I to know?’
The answer to that one could be, at the most basic level, governance. Governance in terms of independent monitoring, both of dope-testing labs and of those who can, potentially, control them or, as in the IAAF case, allegedly cover-up or defer the consequences for those caught. Governance in terms of ensuring that there is a robust internal reporting process – so many international athletes have been busy on Twitter this morning saying that they are not surprised or that they have been aware of their competitors taking drugs, but any whistleblowing process has clearly been fatally flawed. Most importantly, governance in terms of the relevant board making sure that there is a culture throughout the sport that militates against cheating. In most cases, I have no doubt this exists, but that degree of peer pressure – of zero tolerance for cheating – is essential to keep sport clean.
ICSA, as the leading international professional body responsible for governance, has developed a Level 6 Advanced Certificate in Sports Governance and Administration. This is a brand new qualification that will be offered from January 2016 set at Level 6 (final year undergraduate level) with a syllabus comprising three modules covering key aspects of sport governance and administration: Introducing Sport Governance; Implementing Governance in Sport; and Developing and Maintaining Governance Systems in Sports Organisations. We believe that this is an important contribution to improving standards of governance in sports organisations. We are also working closely with the Financial Reporting Council and others in the #culturecoalition, looking at how the boards or managing bodies of organisations can develop the culture that they want and ensure that it is promoted at all levels throughout that organisation.
It is important to remember, however, that governance is not a foolproof solution. As we have seen in any number of corporate scandals, from Enron to VW, it will not protect an organisation against deliberate fraud or criminal behaviour. It should, however, make it harder for them and that is why it is important.
The challenge that all these ‘scandals’ sets for us is to identify whether or not an individual was cheating in any particular event. One of the reasons why sport attracts us is its glorious uncertainty; the romance of the FA Cup with the possibility of a giant killing or of some spectacular individual performance. These events may now be tainted with suspicion. Bob Beamon’s long jump record lasted from 1968-1991; Mike Powell’s jump to beat the record remains the world record. Were a similar record to be created today, some commentators would perhaps assume a ‘fix’. That is the real pity.
Peter Swabey FCIS is Policy & Research Director at ICSA