Sport has united and inspired us like nothing else over the past century. From football matches between German and British troops during the Second World War to North and South Korean athletes marching together during the 2000 Olympics, sport has been a means of demonstrating peace and shared values. When the attacks hit Paris in November, people drew comfort from the football shirts of Paris Saint-Germain, which read “Je Suis Paris”. It was a statement to unite a heartbroken nation.
Yet sport’s unique role in bringing together fractious nations and creating a shared identity is in danger. Corruption and scandal has dogged many of its elite institutions. From fraud at FIFA to the failed drug tests of Russian athletes, many viewers now wonder if they can really believe what they see. Or ever know what the true cost of a sporting event really was.
This is especially troubling as it is particularly children who look to sport for inspiration. For them it is critical that athletes and sports organizations are “doing the right thing”.
International sport has a long way to go to regain the public’s trust – bribery, money laundering and lax regulation has let its supporters down.
But sport cannot and should not do it alone.
The immensity and complexity of the challenges it faces would overwhelm any single institution.
Sports needs a new alliance of actors willing to help find solutions to the challenges it faces – organizations with the legal and technical capabilities in financial regulation, anti-corruption and governance. Working together with the sports industry and key stakeholders, this has the potential to bring transparency and integrity back to sport. It will require collaboration between different sectors – non-profits, governments, international authorities and the private sector, as sponsors and supporters – to create this much-needed change.
In October, I joined a meeting organized by the International Centre of Sport Security (ICSS). They brought together experts from universities, governments, NGOs and private sector companies to create what they termed “a coalition of the willing” to demand and help enact higher standards in sports. One thing that did jump out was their emphasis on the role that private-public partnerships could play in tackling some of the challenges facing sport. Business has many of the skills and experience needed to fix some of the more intractable difficulties: regulation, anti-fraud measures and policies for increasing transparency.
It is clear to me that business cannot stand on the sidelines as international sports’ reputation is tarnished. To counter the excesses in the system we need to both demand a better governed system and to play our part in creating it. Indeed, business is already coming together to do this. The World Economic Forum’s Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI), a collective of more than 100 companies collaborating for a more transparent global business environment, is looking into corruption in sport. I and other members of the initiative will be addressing this issue in Davos.
International sports has been damaged in recent years, but not irrevocably so. If all sectors work together, it will be possible for sport to fulfil its promise: to unite and inspire people of all nations.
Author: James H. Cottrell, Partner, Deloitte. He is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.