Practical insights for compliance and ethics professionals and commentary on the intersection of compliance and culture.

Integrity of game play: Institutional cheating

This is the fourth in a series of five posts on the topic of integrity of game play. The first post in the series was about various types of player misconduct and its implications for sportsmanship and game outcomes. The second post discussed the moral character of different types of strategic tanking and looked at various examples of tanking from a variety of different sports. Last week’s post was about referee bias in diverse sports and how it relates to overall decision-making and judgment.  Today’s post looks at examples of organizational cheating operations by teams.  The fifth and final in the series, on March 21, will analyze examples of unethical leadership by coaches.

Institutional cheating by sports teams has sparked repeated scandals in the media and inspired outrage from observers who perceive sustained operations by teams to cheat or gain unfair advantage as an assault on the competitive objective of game play. These cheating campaigns can have a dramatic, and disastrous, impact on both reputation of teams and their future competitive possibilities or the sustainability of their prior achievements that may have been reached dishonestly.


Fraud in sports: Doping scandals

This is the fifth and final post in a series of five posts on the topic of fraud in sports.  The first post, from December 5, was about cheating in marathons and how incidences of it are exposed, investigated, and disclosed to the public.  The second post, on December 12, was about fraud and falsification among thru-hikers within the long-distance hiking community.  The third post, from December 19, was about fraud in sports from gambling and betting.  Last week’s post focused on fraud in sports via game/match fixing. Today’s post will be about major doping scandals in different sports and will discuss the ways some very high-profile athletes cheated by doping, how their uses of performance enhancing drugs were supported or not identified by various institutions, and how individuals impacted for various reasons by doping have dealt with this in the aftermath.

Doping has been a controversial topic in the sports world for decades, as scandals over the use of performance-enhancing substances in various athletic programs have recurred unrelentingly.  Revelations of doping by athletes, both on their own and as part of national athletic programs that have sponsored and aided them in taking drugs to artificially aid their performance, have been in the news constantly.  Heroes from sports have been knocked off their public pedestals as the truth of their cheating and drug use has been revealed.  Olympians and world champions have lost their medals and records, while state athletic systems have put the chances of future athletes, now innocent of any wrongdoing, of competing on the world state at risk because of prior systematic unethical decision-making.  Athletes who competed “clean” have been robbed of their moments of glory and missed out on professional opportunities they would have had, if they had not been bested by other athletes competing unfairly while taking performance-enhancing drugs.  Sponsors have invested in athletes based upon unreliable, misrepresented statistics.  Above all, the integrity of the game for other participants as well as spectators has been impaired and thrown into great doubt and uncertainty.

The ways athletes dope are as varied as the sports and events in which the fraud takes place.  The one reliable fact about the fraudulent use of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports is that ongoing administrative efforts to test for it and oversee institutional protections against it are seriously lacking.  Regulatory bodies, whether part of the athletic programs or connected to national programs or international organizations, are often inadequately supervised, incompetent for the task, or insufficiently resourced.  Until major change takes place in the control frameworks and supervisory structures which exist to protect the integrity of sports from cheating and dishonesty, doping scandals will continue to undermine the credibility of athletic programs and events.

  • The Russia doping scandal has been in the news unrelentingly for several years, stemming from accusations of state-sponsored doping during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  Claims of systematic doping in Russia, supported by the state system there which for decades has been well-known as one of the most intense and involved national programs in the world, have dogged the state officials, the athletes both from past delegations and with future ambitions of competing, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  After investigations which have been dogged every step of the way with unreliable information from state-sponsored anti-doping testing centers and repeated discrediting of various athletes from past Olympics, the IOC decided to ban Russia from sending an official delegation to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.  Russian athletes will still be eligible to attend as neutral delegates, but pride of representing their country or the opportunity to stand on a medal podium for it will not be possible.  This story will continue to unfold and promises to hold only further dishonor and disappointment on many sides:  Russia doping scandal
  • For sure the continuing drama with Russia’s state sport system will go on right away, as Russia is hosting the 2018 World Cup.  This creates an uncomfortable situation for FIFA.  In the aftermath of the IOC banning Russia from the 2018 Winter Olympics under the cloud of doping suspicions, public outcry has grown for FIFA to consider banning or punishing Russia in the 2018 World Cup as well.  This is a considerably more awkward proposition, as Russia is the host of the upcoming 2018 World Cup, and FIFA is no stranger to its own controversies from legal accusations of corruption and bribery by its officials in various countries.  It is difficult for FIFA to ignore that the current controversy around Russia stems from when Russia hosted the Olympics in 2014.  Russia hosting the World Cup in 2018, then, is fraught with concerns about integrity of game play if the host country fields a team.  Barring the Russian delegation from competing in an event their country is hosting is hard to imagine, but may be just the sort of consequence that could make necessary change begin to take root:  After IOC Bans Russia From Winter Olympics, FIFA Has To Decide About World Cup
  • Despite his once-storied history as a cyclist, cancer survivor, and inspiring public figure, Lance Armstrong is best-known now for something much less honorable.  His enduring legacy as of now is of having doped for years, evaded being caught by any testing efforts, denied it constantly and extremely publicly, and then faded from the public eye upon convincingly being exposed as a cheater and a liar.  While much has been written about the puzzling and complex psychology of someone who would pull off such a brazen and persistent fraud while holding himself out as the paragon of honesty and motivation for achievement, one of the more interesting questions has always been how he got away with it for so long.  It was definitely a team effort, and subsequent reports have shown that indeed Armstrong and those who supported him and benefited from his ongoing performance created a wide-spread doping program in which they studied and exploited weaknesses in the anti-doping system and brazenly avoided detection and testers:  Report Describes How Armstrong and His Team Eluded Doping Tests

Years after his precipitous fall from grace, Armstrong is seeking to rehabilitate himself in the public eye by doing a podcast and seeking a return to his position as the foremost expert in Tour de France inside knowingly and cycling expertise.  With his race victories erased by the disclosure of his doping that got him to them, Armstrong is seeking both a platform and an identity, and wants to connect both to the sport in which he was once an idol.  However, the dishonesty of his eminence in the Tour de France while he was cheating to sustain his achievements make it difficult to imagine redemption or even revisionist acceptance of his actions to bring visibility to the sport of cycling:  Lance Armstrong: ‘A man with no platform is a lost man’ 

  • Chris Fromme is a successor to Lance Armstrong in the world of professional cycling. For years, cycling has been tormented by disclosures of doping and the impact of drug abuse on the sport.  Athletes have been discredited and records vacated seemingly without end.  Fromme is one of the stars of a cycling squad, Team Sky, which is very vocal about their zero-tolerance policy for doping and their commitment to clean racing.  So, if his drug test results that indicate he’s doped are upheld, he could be subject to a yearlong ban and major reputational risk for both himself and his team.  Fromme is arguably the biggest superstar in cycling since Armstrong, so if he ends up discredited too, then professional cycling will have a major existential crisis on its hands.  An overhaul of cycling’s doping rules and enforcement practices to improve and simplify doping regulations could both improve credibility and ensure more transparency and clarity in the system in the future:   The Only Solution To The Chris Froome Problem Is The One Cycling Will Never Accept
  • Like cycling, track and field is another sport which has been oppressively troubled by allegations of doping and dishonesty.  Athletes in track and field were disproportionately impacted by the Russian doping scandal as it unfolded during the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil and showed that the world records, qualification times, and even prior medal-winning races lacked integrity due to the participation of athletes who were on drugs.  Many track and field stars, including some whose own careers had been negatively impacted by dopers who won medals and impacted sponsorship and professional chances they should have had, thought this was the moment for reform in anti-doping supervision and regulation.  However, this change has not come, and the opinion of athletes in the sport is unanimously that current drug testing schemes and rules are inconsistent and insufficient, do not work or represent the interests of athletes, and are therefore not fair to anyone:  We Asked Veteran Track & Field Athletes How To Possibly Fix The Doping Problem

One possible solution which has been bandied about is a reset of the annual records in track and field events to reflect only those from after 2005, which is when new anti-doping standards in track and field were implemented.  This may be an attempt at radical fairness, but it may be too much about optics and not enough about substance, and therefore not the right move to truly address and promote credibility in the sport: Track And Field May Scrap Its Records Because Of Doping Scandals. Is That A Good Idea?  Newer testing technologies, re-testing of old results to catch and bring to justice prior cheaters, and cultural encouragement of whistleblowers could all be better to improve the odds of catching sports dopers or discouraging them from cheating at all:  Sports Doping Cheats Fear Whistle-Blowers and Retests

If you enjoyed this series, look back to the ethical leadership in sports coaching series from last year.  Check out the last post in that series, which includes links to all the previous in the set.  In March, a new series on sports and ethics will begin, this time focused on integrity in game play and discussing topics such as the ethics of tanking, referee bias, penalty embellishment, and much more.


Selected TED/TEDx talks by Dan Ariely on honesty, motivation, and choice

Dan Ariely is a professor of psychology and behavioral economics. He is well-known for his books in these fields as well as for his popular and admired TED talks. Ariely is an extremely effective communicator because his observations incorporate both psychology and business, blending the internal and external motivators for behavior. In this spirit, Ariely is able to debunk assumptions about conduct and provide explanations for instincts, two powerful sets of insights for compliance and ethics.

  • Meaning in Labor: Perhaps people’s assumptions about why we work and what we value most in our work cultures are wrong. Maturing from an idea that most people would rather not work and only do so to make money helps to show that a search for meaning (much as described by Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl in his work on existential analysis) is the most powerful and provocative driver of human labor and achievement. Simply put, meaning gives motivation, and having a purpose to the work performed encourages people to invest in it. The idea of giving purposeful work a priority that is equal to or even sometimes greater than profitable work is novel and challenging. However, this speaks directly to the importance of a robust compliance culture and a corporate identity that promotes ethical decision-making and acting with integrity. These values drive meaningful engagement and therefore can contribute to a more positive working environment and sustainable business.


  • Money Changes Everything: Taking the suggestion of the importance of meaning as the true driver behind human behavior (both inside and outside of work) forward, what then is the true impact of money? Clearly the power of money is a timeless and universal notion, but perhaps its actual effect on human behavior is not so straightforward. Money changes the tone of all interactions; adding the financial element to these relationships is transformative and perhaps demotivating. Therefore how do people’s decision-making processes and motivations change between their conduct in their private life, where money is not inherently a factor, and work life, where everyone is paid to be engaged together? Interestingly, this talk was delivered at Burning Man, where exchange of money is mostly not permitted.


  • The Unexpected Joys and Problems with Creation: The sense of accomplishment from successfully problem-solving and completing a difficult task may actually be the key motivation behind doing challenging or unpleasant things. The harder something is to do, the prouder people feel about persisting and doing it. Further, the sense that other people will feel this pride too or that the difficult work can benefit others is also a motivating factor. Not only does the altruistic sentiment make people more motivated, it may also make them more honest, as the force of “prosocial behavior” encourages people to engage in better behavior for a common good. This has obvious implications for compliance; a corporate culture which positions integrity and ethics as a core value and rewards it visibly will speak collectively to all these motivations and therefore drive productivity and engagement.


  • Self Control: Another important and interesting area of Ariely’s scholarship is in the study of self control. Self control can often be the interference between our long-term goals and our short-term desires, or our internal instincts and the external factors they face. Facing the trade-offs implied by these dichotomies is challenging. This often leads to over-emphasizing present impact of the decision-making over the future consequences. Encouraging people to consider and not discount the considerations of the future is very important for directing the impulse of self control into a more balanced and sustainable influence.


  • Temptations and Self Control: Continuing on the theme of struggling to balance current interests with more remote future outcomes, this lecture encourages people to understand what creates the gap in their self control. With this insight in mind, the trade-off becomes more manageable to consider in a more holistic way. Motivations to value future priorities or avoid future problems could include targeted rewards and using rationality against instinct to adjust gain-loss perceptions. This is easily applicable in the corporate environment, where performance evaluations and business strategies should be designed with both short and long term effect analyses in mind. This way, growth will be sustainable and values will be maintained.


Ariely’s presentations on people’s choices – including whether to lie or cheat, or not to – go directly to the meaning of why people do what they do, and what factors exist that may change or impact that. Organizational and individual integrity can be sourced back to these motivations for honesty and self-control, and therefore the studied application of Ariely’s insights to a compliance and ethics program is very valuable.


Selected lectures on dishonesty and mistrust

In a follow-up to last Friday’s collection of videos on honesty and trust, now the polar opposite, dishonesty and mistrust. It is equally important to understand the motivations behind unethical behaviour as it is to have a view of the reasons for good behaviour. Unsurprisingly, most often these impulses are intimately related. Dishonesty, for example, is encouraged when individuals do not see trustworthiness as an important measure of success or character. On the other side, giving trust is very difficult when credibility has not been established.

  • How to spot a liar (Pamela Meyer) – Lying is not always motivated from a desire to be actively dishonest. It can be automatic, implusive, or even motivated by altruism, insecurity, or curiosity. However, it is always deceptive. Understanding the “tells” that people give when they are being dishonest is important in remaining alert and checking for credibility before giving trust.
  • How to Spot Liars at Work and How to Deal with Them (Carol Kinsey Goman) – Also in the domain of reading people’s non-verbal cues to detect their dishonesty, there are signs specific to the workplace that someone is not trustworthy and dynamics of co-working or being in a team setting that may make people more likely to lie. Identifying when colleagues are lying and understanding why can be a management technique if this is applied to trying to create a tailored environment that will protect and reward honesty. Successful leaders will communicate clearly that they expect their employees to be truthful and will measure honesty and ethical decision-making as part of their performance.
  • The truth about dishonesty (Dan Ariely) – Self-betrayal and the rationalization it provides are major motivators of dishonest behaviour. Intrinsically, people lie and break promises to themselves in every dishonest act they do, because they are overriding their own ideas about right and wrong to give themselves permission to proceed. In this way individuals persuade themselves to ignore their conflicts of interest or flaunt what is socially acceptable because they have deceived themselves into thinking their behaviour is necessary or justified.
  • Why we think it’s OK to cheat and steal (sometimes) (Dan Ariely) – Behavioural economics goes further even than the above, to suggest that people do not always have to actively be dishonest to themselves to be deceptive to others. Possibly, people actually think lying or behaving immorally is acceptable because cultural norms often tolerate and dismiss “minor” dishonesty. Situational context, intuition, or heuristics can be very powerful and override the individual’s obligation to question or consider right from wrong. All opinions about moral behaviour should be thoroughly challenged in order to avoid relying upon false assumptions.
  • The future of lying (Jeff Hancock) – In scenarios such as taking an exam with the opportunity to cheat or filling out a form with the possibility of misstating information, moral reminders of individuals’ legal or social obligations to tell the truth have proven effective in curbing dishonest choices. Could technology and the internet, influences in our society which seemingly have made the truth ever more remote, actually discourage lying by making people’s statements and representations permanent and searchable? Perhaps the accountability of the internet to record everyone’s personal records can encourage them to avoid discrepancies by resisting dishonesty.

Causes of, and rationalizations for, dishonesty and lack of trust are everywhere in both business and life. Because of how common these forces are, it is important to recognize and understand them, so that individuals and organizations may contribute positively to working against their influence.