Report outlines 10 threats to integrity of sport

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Cheating, spying and doping are threats which, if left untackled, could lead people to lose interest in sport altogether, argues a new research report.

While sport is often associated with "pure" values like fair play, team effort, camaraderie and good health, a number of criminal and unethical activities in and around sport challenge these qualities, notes a report published on 14 April.

"If sport is no longer conducted according to its fundamental values it loses its integrity. And if sport loses its integrity it might also lose its appeal," warns the report, commissioned by the EU Sports Platform, a Brussels-based forum for information sharing and networking among sports organisations.

Ten threats

The report gives an overview of ten different threats to sport and examples of what has been done to combat them. It gives particular focus to doping and match-fixing related to betting, as these are "the two threats where most data is available".

Seven threats are identified as "compromising the notion that everyone competes on equal terms and can succeed through hard work". These include doping and illegal performance-enhancing technology, such as full-body swimsuits, which were banned by swimming's international governing body FINA in 2009. The report cites critics saying that such innovations 'technologise' and 'de-skill' sport.

Others include espionage, for example in Formula One, and financial irregularities among people working in and around football. Gambling or sport-motivated match-fixing and simple cheating are also high on the list.

Three other threats, which do not directly affect the performance of an athlete or a team but compromise fair play, include management-related financial irregularities, money laundering and the transfer of young players across borders.

Kim Møller, head of Oxford Research, the Danish company which conducted the research, said the report does not address the eligibility of sportspeople to take part in international competitions, but concludes that the issue might constitute a threat. He was speaking at the report's launch in Brussels.

Following complaints by citizens, the European Commission has decided to conduct a thorough analysis of discriminatory provisions adopted by sports federations vis-à-vis non-nationals in the EU 27 (EURACTIV 25/08/09). Recommendations on putting an end to such practices could be ready by the end of 2010. 

Sport sponsorship might also represent a "hypothetical" threat, Møller noted.

Need for more data

According to Møller, the study is based on desk research only and aims to "go broad rather than deep," providing an overview of the threats rather than examining them in detail. He said the report is "the first step to provide some idea of the area" and offers "a preliminary categorisation" of the different threats.

It also provides a "good argument for organising better data collection" on the matter before starting any policy action, he said, calling for sports organisations and authorities to work together to gather more information.

Keith Newman from the EU Sports Platform noted that no-one has really attempted to quantify the threat to sporting integrity before, and said the "research could be very valuable as a guide for where sports and EU policymakers should focus their efforts".

Newman also expressed hope that the report would not inspire a "negative message" about sport but rather offer a "constructive" one.

Bart Ooijen from the European Commission's sport unit commented that "integrity in sport is about openness and fairness of competitions on the one hand and about physical and moral integrity of athletes on the other".

He said the Commission is currently looking at the human rights of athletes, particularly in relation to data protection. The EU executive is also expected to address intellectual property rights in sport. Regarding media rights, for example, "what are the rights of athletes or is it just about sports federations?" Ooijen asked.

Axel Buyse, a representative of the Flemish government to the EU, said the Belgian EU Presidency priorities in sport would include a "special focus on fair play". The three main sports priorities of the presidency, which starts in July, are training and education, social inclusion and the fight against doping, he added.

Article 165 of the Lisbon Treaty provides the European Union with a soft competence on sport (EURACTIV 30/11/09).

The Treaty requires the Commission to contribute to the promotion of European sporting issues "while taking account of the specific nature of sport, its structures based on voluntary activity and its social and educational function".

It asks the European dimension in sport to be developed "by promoting fairness and openness in sporting competitions and cooperation between bodies responsible for sports, and by protecting the physical and moral integrity of sportspeople".

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