Sports leaders who’ve convinced themselves their particular sport or sports organization is too distinctive to entertain working with others to develop a common code of conduct, or even a common set of expectations for athletes and sporting officials, might be interested to learn some committed individuals have done just that, and on a global scale.
More than 70 leading representatives from sports, corporations, governments, academia, multinational and international organizations, and other walks of life recently formed the Sports Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) to promote integrity and fair play in sports worldwide. The group, which met in London in October 2016 and earlier in Madrid, sees itself as an independent and neutral coalition. SIGA notes it is the only organization to bring together diverse groups from almost every region in the world around a common cause of fostering greater integrity in sports.
Sports leaders almost everywhere are sensitive to the damage scandals can inflict on sports. SIGA says one of its objectives is “maintain, at all levels in the sport sector, a zero-tolerance policy towards all forms of corruption, bribery and illegal financial dealings, including but not limited to, the implementation of adequate criteria and transparent bidding processes for the organization of major sports events, selling of broadcasting rights, sponsorship deals and other commercial arrangements.”
Although the group includes the well-known U.S. entities Dow Jones, MasterCard, and the U.S. President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, the nascent global alliance has not attracted the notice of any of the major sports leagues and other sports organizations in the U.S. Perhaps it is because SIGA is still very new; perhaps fruitful talks are already underway with U.S. officials. But it may well be that when it comes to integrity & compliance, U.S. sports organizations prefer to go it alone instead of working under an umbrella group.
How else to explain the existence of a specific code of conduct for each summer and winter sport that is part of the United States Olympic Committee? What accounts for the virtual absence of any compliance & integrity programs among major sports organizations other than the conviction such programs are not part of the sporting culture here?
As compliance professionals are aware, integrity & compliance programs are common in the financial sector, in healthcare, in academia, and in government, among other sectors. Tips from a well-managed hotline can often make the difference between a problem nipped in the bud or problems allowed to mushroom. But, as I can attest from personal experience, sports organizations often find the concept of integrity & compliance programs too alien, too strange, and more so because of the reluctance to pool expertise and resources with others.
On the other hand, compliance professionals know that differences between sports notwithstanding, there are elements in common among integrity and compliance programs no matter what the organization or the industry. Indeed, it is on these common foundations that SIGA, the global alliance, seeks to build universal understandings about integrity and fair play and transparency in governance.
SIGA officials made the right call in saying urgent action is needed to save the integrity of sports. This is one issue where the integrity & compliance folks are ahead of sports leaders. We can see the writing on the wall. We can anticipate the crisis that awaits a sport or an organization engulfed by scandal and unable to explain why it was lax in its integrity & compliance efforts.