Fight for sporting integrity


Corruption at the top of FIFA, ball-tampering in international cricket, banned substance use in the AFL - all potentially come to mind when thinking about how it looks when integrity is lost in elite sport.

At the grassroots level of sport nothing is more important than integrity, but it’s also extremely challenging to safeguard, according to Professor Elisabeth Wilson-Evered, a research fellow at Victoria University’s Institute of Health and Sport.

“Community sport is led mainly by volunteers and a lack of resources means they have little time and ability to focus on integrity issues,” she said.

“Getting the team together, the game on, raising funds and attracting the people needed to keep their club going is the focus.”

Wilson-Evered said the research she conducted with her colleague Associate Professor Dennis Hemphill showed there was some concern, but not much, for integrity issues in community sporting environments.

Most people believed it was a problem confined to elite sport.

But sport does not function in isolation from broader society, she warned, and the behaviour of elite athletes influenced grassroots athletes.

The ethical standards set by families and schools, and the conduct of politicians and business leaders also had an influence: “Our research shows that integrity starts at the top and cascades to other levels.”

She said sporting codes differed in what measures were taken at grassroots level to foster integrity and ethical behaviour: “It might be a session provided to the board or committee or education for coaches. But there is very little closing the loop to see how ethical dilemmas are dealt with, or indeed the nature of them.”

Wilson-Evered said the most important use of any funding would be to first take the time with community sport administrators and leaders at all levels to tease out the issues. Once understood, it would then be essential to facilitate responses, systems, structures and processes to identify causes, interactions and consequences. And importantly, implement preventative and management measures.

“This education and facilitation would be on the ground and result in increased alertness, awareness and capability to identify, address and confront developing concerns head-on, rather than waiting for a problem or disaster to happen,” she said.

Being proactive was crucial because the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” attitude was far too prevalent.

“It lets problems seed and grow until they burst through the surface in a big ugly weed with long roots,” she said.

There had no doubt been a proliferation of sport integrity experts in elite sport, with new committees being formed following Essendon’s supplements scandal and the national men’s cricket team ball-tampering incident.

“Many of these experts come from a legal, policing, and data monitoring perspective; all have an important role in dealing with this complex issue of maintaining integrity and ethical practices in sport. They look at potential or actual events where there is a breaking of the law; there’s less focus on highlighting behavioural transgressions at individual, team or cultural levels,” Wilson-Evered said.

“Thankfully, increasingly we are seeing sociological, behavioural and ethical experts being engaged to advise sports and these committees.”

NewsAnna Poulos