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Integrity in sport should start from the bottom up. Shutterstock/Paolo Bona

Integrity in sport needs to grow from the grassroots level

The sporting world was shocked by yet another scandal last week when the Parramatta Eels were found guilty of what National Rugby League CEO Todd Greenberg called “a deliberate, coordinated and sustained system of salary cap cheating”.

This sort of behaviour doesn’t just affect the major league team. It can have consequences at all levels of the game.

This means global and national attempts to improve governance and safeguard sport from corruption need to have community sport reach if they are to be effective.

The International Centre for Sport Security announced in April this year the creation of a 50+ nation Sport Integrity Global Alliance (SIGA) to drive reform in sport.

The tipping point for reform was likely the FIFA scandal that has rocked the soccer world since 2015 with claims of widespread corruption. SIGA is a neutral coalition of international stakeholders across the government and private sector seeking to promote good governance and financial transparency in sport.

In Australia, there have been widespread changes to rebuild sport integrity and public trust. Much of this follows the crisis in Australian sport in 2013, which included the Australian Crime Commission report into organised crime in sport and the AFL supplements scandal.

In addition to expanded policing powers, the Australian government has established a National Integrity in Sport Unit. The peak body Exercise & Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has developed a sport science accreditation scheme.

Professional sport organisations are increasingly employing integrity officers and the market is filling with sport integrity-related courses, workshops and seminars.

There is no doubt that substantial international and national efforts will be required to re-establish the credibility of sport. That’s a theme that will feature prominently at today’s Integrity in Sport Forum: In Governance We Trust in Melbourne, sponsored by Victoria University and Sport Australia Hall of Fame.

The Forum will bring together more than 200 of Australia’s elite and community sport governance and integrity officials, as well as business and community leaders. The aim is to discuss ways forward to meet a range of sport integrity challenges.

From the bottom up

While there is a need for these coordinated efforts to target doping, match fixing, financial corruption and other threats to sport integrity, more support is needed at the local sport level.

Research presented at a sport stakeholders forum in July last year suggested that local communities may be unaware of the extent to which performance enhancing substances and methods, illicit drugs and illegal gambling markets have filtered down to the community sport level.

Managers, coaches and players who might be aware of them are willing to do something about it. But they may not be aware of who to contact for more information or how to report suspect behaviours.

In a sport sector managed largely by volunteers, there may simply be insufficient time to implement procedures to prevent and police these dubious behaviours and practices.

From the top down

Moreover, the high-performance ethos, which may be appropriate at the elite sport level, has gradually filtered down to community sport level.

With that has come some of the threats to sporting integrity. It is not uncommon to see increasing training loads and the use of supplements or other means to improve performance or manage pain and injuries. Player and umpire abuse by overzealous coaches and fans is another symptom.

At the same time, the rise of sport betting, even at junior sport levels, increases the risk of cheating to lose.

Sport integrity can be thought of as the consistent living up to declared standards and principles. These principles are different at elite, school and community sport levels.

It goes without saying that elite sport focuses on the value of performance excellence.

But the educational value of school sport is still thought to lie in skill acquisition, fitness and character building. The mission statements and mottoes of community sport organisations usually centre on participation, fun, doing your best and community building.

Leadership from above

One way forward is for the governing bodies of sport to provide the leadership and additional resources to help local sporting clubs “walk the talk”, that is, uphold the values and principles that are appropriate to community sport.

The Australian Sport Commission provides resources for sport integrity and governance, as does VicSport and the National Integrity in Sport Unit.

Victoria University is currently working with Sport and Recreation Victoria on a sport integrity readiness project. This aims to provide the state’s sporting associations and eventually community clubs with a handy self-assessment tool to improve awareness and management of sport integrity risks.

There is no reason why such tools could not be adopted by other Australian states and territories, or even clubs and associations overseas.

More is still needed to improve the uptake of these resources and their effective use by local communities to safeguard sport for the future.

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