The revelations of poor behavior in our world of sport and been pretty steady over recent months. Sadly, the focus goes off the real victims: Clean athletes. 99% of athletes. The hard-working communities of sports people who volunteer their time to support these athletes. And along with them, the future: bright-eyed aspiring athletes.
The daily revelations of bribes, doping, retesting, fraud or money-laundering do very little to inspire anyone to think positively about the benefits of sport.
Is it an obsessive focus on winning, on medals? How were the Olympic Games transformed into massive infrastructure plays that include hugely expensive projects only remotely linked to sport? Why have we tolerated the event bidding process to get out of hand? We placed trust in out-of-competition testing to bring integrity to the starting line, only to find the playing field was not even. This list is growing and is just too long.
Don’t get me wrong about cheaters. Sport is no different than the world of business. We have regulatory authorities and the police for a reason: while the vast majority of investors are honest and fully compliant with the rules and regulations, all it takes are a few bad apples to trigger Lehman Brothers, Enron or UBS scandals. It does not stop us from investing in the market, but does underscore the essential need for effective oversight, accountability and integrity.
We owe it to all those who work in the trenches: athletes, coaches, volunteers, parents and officials who devote enormous amounts of time and passion to deliver the core benefits of sport – to stand up and demand better.
It’s time for decisive, determined action that demonstrates we will not tolerate poor behavior — of any kind, any more.
We owe it to the 99% of athletes who compete within the rules. To youngsters who have big dreams. To dedicated supporters of all kinds who believe in sport and show it through sweat-equity or funding . Because right now, these are the victims. The price they are paying are soaring team fees to cover program costs. Fragile or failing event organizers. The potential for a loss of public confidence.
The evidence is seen in sliding participation numbers, a vacuum of sponsorship and a general lethargy towards the world of sport. US track coach Dan Pfaff who has coached numerous Olympic medalists was quoted by Fox Sports Australia following the Diamond League athletics event in Oregon last week: “I’ve never seen such a downcast group of characters in all my years. It’s definitely having an effect.”
So how do we fight back?
Those of us who truly believe in sport need to stand up and shout the ongoing benefits and how they still massively outweigh any negatives. At it’s core, sport is still has enormous sponsorship value and appeal. Individuals and teams desperately need the corporate sector to not lose faith in the community benefits of our own, who are able to demonstrate the work ethic, drive and skill to aim to represent our town, club, province or country. To those able to make financial contributions through donations, the multiplier effect this investment in youth is magic.
We need to be creative in delivering this value and not be afraid to roll up our sleeves to work even harder to demonstrate that sport is worthy of this vote of confidence from business and individuals. Athletes face adversity and tough challenges all the time – so all of us who believe in sport need to think and act like athletes.
Making our athletes accessible, lending the personal touch to relationships, building genuine bridges and looking into the phenomenal diversity of sport in our communities and celebrating it – are all good steps.
There are many great stories out there. Of perseverance, overcoming adversity, celebrating talent, community support, teamwork – it’s a very long list. Let’s find ways to tell these stories. Do what the Athlete Information Bureau did for Canadian sport 30 years ago (1975 to 1990) – develop content and circulate it. Our athletes deserve better.
Accountability starts at the grass roots. Never underestimate the power of individual action. If each club makes it a core priority that all athletes respect the rules and compete clean – and hold the club leadership to vigorously defend this standard – then the national leadership of sport can and will reflect this ethic. When sport leaders demand accountability and are prepared to reflect the same ‘gold medal’ expectation of athletes to meet National Team qualification standards, then there is little room left for the cheaters.
We need to listen and be much more respectful of those who challenge organizations to be more accountable. Too many who raise questions are quickly put in the penalty box. This is a loss to good governance and the concept of world-class debriefing to drive for best outcomes for athletes. I often think of Marty Hall (former coach of the Canadian Cross Country Team) who had the guts to speak out about doping in his sport during the Calgary Games of 1988. This was an example of courage, of one individual willing to risk it all to help his sport rise above and not tolerate cheaters. We need to be inclusive of all perspectives, of all who question with the intent to make us better.
Most of you have not had a knock at the door at 6am, with a doping control officer asking for your resident athlete to pee in a bottle. To be required to file and update your ‘whereabouts’ on a continuous basis so the national authorities working with the World Anti Doping Agency can sweep in at any time to confirm compliance with the rules. It’s a draconian process in the fight to keep sport clean. But it is necessary and we should all rigorously support it. Sound like a totalitarian regime? It is. But this is today’s expected standard in sport, to build trust between athletes and maintain integrity in our sport system.
It is so discouraging to hear of allegations that others were not willing to uphold this essential trust. So if the allegations are proven, we must insist the harshest standards are imposed as a deterrent — to protect the 99% who did comply, who did compete within the rules, who did not take a bribe, who did not lose focus and who did participate in sport for the best of reasons: because it is good for all of us.
There is so much more that can be done. Let’s get the Olympics back to being a sporting event, rather than a means to build airports, roadways, convention facilities. Let’s equate the standard of governance to the expectations those leading sport have for athletes: world-class. Let’s invest in high performance sports — sport systems that build effective and accountable programs and teams for athletes — rather than finance extravagant displays of individual athlete support that only fuels a global sports arms race. Let’s get back to a sport system that is aligned with our ethics and culture.
This is one more voice, supporting the Athletes Commissions of the IOC and WADA, calling for decisive action to send a clear message to those who tarnish the efforts of the sport community – and a clear message of support to athletes who play by the rules and every individual whose motivation is focused on doing something good for our youth and our communities.