It was good to see the Australian Government release its ‘blue sky’ plan on sport in the form of the National Sport Plan released by the Sports Minister, Bridget McKenzie, last week.
The issues around the decline in numbers of those who play sport, or who undertake any physical activity (as activities such as dancing are included) are big picture issues for the country. Not surprisingly, the Government has put those within a framework of getting more Australians moving more often as a health initiative.
Getting involved in physical activity today helps put off a long range health burden and cost tomorrow.
I hope that, as parents, employers, and as individuals for our own wellbeing, we all get that and are motivated to do something about it. I certainly applaud the Government for at least attempting to address the issue.
The matter that most interests me in the National Sport Plan is around the issue of safeguarding the integrity of sport which is presented as one of the key principles of the plan.
It goes without saying that it’s great to see the Government take seriously the threat of matters such as illegal wagering, match-fixing and organised crime in sport, and the increased funding flowing to anti-doping measures that was included in this year’s Federal Budget.
Of course, making sure that sport settings are safe places for children is paramount, and it’s also good to see a mention of governance in respect of sporting organisations. In my experience, it is where governance goes wrong, or is seriously lacking, where we often see the ‘rot’ starts in terms of other matters of integrity and fair play.
However, what appears to be ignored is the fact that, although Australia is a rather large island, sport isn’t confined to our continent.
It’s one thing to have standards that apply in Australia; it’s quite another when there’s a big wide world out there.
While this may be less relevant to largely Australia-only sports such as Aussie Rules where it can relatively easily be policed at home, sports corruption crosses global boundaries when it comes to the big international sports.
I have long advocated that the world needs an independent global sports anti-corruption body.
In recent years, there have been multiple instances where the major sports, such as football, athletics, cycling and the Olympic movement, have failed their sporting stakeholders, sponsors, broadcasters, participants and the paying public, fans.
Australia is strongly represented in all these sports so we should care.
The inadequacies of governance within sporting bodies manifest themselves in different and multiple ways. Corruption, doping, racism, crowd violence, match-fixing and gender inequity are all symptoms of the failed state of sport.
While there have been moves to reform the major international sporting bodies, research shows that the sporting public has little confidence in these measures. For example, a 2017 study by Transparency International showed that more than half of fans still have no confidence in FIFA, despite an overhaul of its leadership and the introduction of reforms in 2016. (And don’t get me started on the local version of FIFA here in Australia, the FFA, which has its own governance challenges that are best highlighted by its conduct of the failed 2022 World Cup bid).
As much as I applaud the Government’s policy objective of wanting Australia to be seen as a leader in the area of sports integrity, I would also urge the Government to go further and put its money where its mouth is.
Take a global leadership role in sports anti-corruption.
Don’t just leave it to the likes of the World Anti-Doping Authority, which is part-funded by sport itself, but step outside sport and work with other governments to fund a global agency with proper and real investigatory teeth and an educational capacity to work with authorities across national boundaries.
If left to sport, it won’t happen. International sporting bodies have stakeholders (or members) throughout the world and, even with the best will in the world, are more than often a product of the lowest common denominator of its members rather than the high point.
If confined to Australia, it won’t really do anything to make the big international sports any more safe. It may have the impact of moving the illegal activity further into the shadows as far as Australia is concerned, but also make it potentially less safe for others.
There are no clear jurisdiction or common international standards for sport anti-corruption measures and, as much as we might hope to, we can’t ring-fence Australian sport from the rest of the world.
Without action on the world playing field – and as much as the national sport integrity unit may be well-staffed, and have noble and well-meaning goals – Australia will just be whistling Dixie in its drive to address corruption in sport.