Sport businesses need to focus on ethical guidelines or risk damage to the bottom line

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Helen Soulsby, Head of APAC, outlines the importance of integrity to sport businesses.

I was recently given the impossible task of presenting ‘Integrity 101’ at the Sport Industry Asia conference in Manila. To be frank, I proffered the title of the session, challenging myself to attempt to break down the incredibly complex area of integrity.

The reason I felt it was important to simplify this area is that there’s a danger that when something is so complex, it becomes too hard to address…and sport businesses cannot afford to ignore this subject.

But what does ‘integrity’ even mean in the sporting sector?

There is much more to integrity in sport than anti-doping. Add in anti-illegal betting, prevention of harassment and abuse, anti-corruption, prevention of competition manipulation, ethics, transparency and good governance. All of these aspects have been in the limelight in recent years and rightly so. All are areas of significant risk to organisations and need to be addressed equally and fervently.

There are devastating personal consequences for too many when specific areas of integrity are blatantly flouted. Who can forget the heartfelt statement from one of the greatest of all time, Simone Biles, that USAG had ‘one damn job…to protect us’ clearly the resulting carnage showed that they had failed to do so. Put simply, safeguarding must be a priority.

To follow this by highlighting the commercial consequences may seem insensitive but it is an important reality. What are sport businesses truly risking in the face of increasing infractions?

Australian cricketers tampering with a cricket ball, the Russian doping scandal, betting scandals in tennis and football to name but a few. Some experts describe the corruption in sport as “endemic”. Fans and sponsors have recoiled in shock and revulsion and their dampened enthusiasm and trust could have a serious knock-on effect on the projected $614.1bn revenue of the global sports industry.

In the last 18 months, across the globe, we have seen an upswing of interest in the development of integrity capabilities within sporting businesses. The message is clear – without fair and safe participation and competition, their commercial potential will be affected.

When clients come to us for a solution, they have generally realized the commercial impact of failing to tackle this issue. They seek a structured and in-depth approach to addressing those things that can impact their reputation and ultimately their performance.

But before the crisis point is reached – what can organisations do? Breaking it down to simple steps – how are you fairing?

Step One: Health check your organization. Where are you? Where do you want or need to be? What needs to be done to get there?

Step Two: Stakeholder check. Can you look at this objectively? Does your board or relevant committees have independent elements who are prepared to challenge?  Most importantly are you prepared to listen and act upon that challenge? The biggest obstacle to change is often right within your own organization, so look carefully and deeply at conflicting interests.

Step Three: Collaboration. Sport businesses across the word are facing the same challenges. Seek information and best practice. In a world where intellectual property is fiercely guarded this is one knowledge area that we should all be open and willing to share.

Step Four: Education. While the past has been focused on detection, the future is well and truly focused on education. What are the consequences to individuals and organizations, how do you educate staff, players, parents, coaches? Have you clearly explained what this could mean to an individual and the business?

Step Five: Keep moving. This is a fast-moving beast. Policies need to be continually improved, amended to fit our changing world, cultural differences, privacy laws, growth of online activity and more. This is not an area to ‘set and forget’.

Those attempting to beat the system pour a huge amount of money into their efforts and the world of sport has made it clear that it wants to be ‘clean’. A level playing field is crucial for commercial success. So, for those who do not want to miss out on the potential of our multi-billion dollar global sport industry, it is time to act.

This article was originally published on SportsBusiness.


About the Author

Helen Soulsby
Head of APAC
T: +65 9061 1411