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

Round-up on compliance issues in sports

Sports and business are close partners all over the world. From this intimate relationship between athletics and commerce comes a huge variety of compliance issues. Huge revenues are made by individuals and organizations connected to all sorts of sporting events, ranging from professional leagues in the United States to the Olympics or other international competitions, and everything in between. For fans, there are demands from all directions for their attention and money. For organizations such as league administrations and companies that work servicing the sports industry, ethical issues are aplenty in their consumer and trade practices.

  • Doping has been a hot topic in competitive sports since the public controversies over the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, revelations surrounding high-profile athletes and even national athletic programs that have engaged in doping have been unrelenting. The one constant is that testing and ongoing oversight programs seem to be unable to effectively eliminate doping practices. Agencies charged with oversight over doping testing are often insufficiently supervised or resourced. In the meantime, the doping trade is continually innovating and moving into new markets, such as Ethiopia:  Inside the doping hotspot of Ethiopia: dodgy testing and EPO over the counter
  • The summer’s heavily reported-on transfer of Neymar from FC Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain has opened up the black box of transfer protocol among elite football players and their clubs and managers. Uefa, European football’s governing body, faced tremendous public, club, and league pressure to scrutinize the trade and contract negotiations for fair play considerations. As record-breaking deals are being made by clubs, transfer rules and good faith conduct in those deals are being questioned more closely than ever:  Record Neymar transfer threatens to shake up elite football
  • The system of discipline employed by the NCAA is well-known by all college football fans. These disciplinary actions range from probation from eligibility and bans from playing in championship bowl games to restrictions on recruiting and reductions in scholarship funding. However, is this discipline fairly applied or effective in reducing or eliminating future violations? Public opinion has long been that the NCAA singles out certain institutions for sanctions while turning a blind eye to others, possibly based upon how much attention the discipline will get in the media – so is the real purpose of the discipline not really deterrence, but just naming and shaming? The efficacy of the discipline in doing much more than causing embarrassment is uncertain, throwing the whole enforcement scheme into question:  How Damaging is Probation?
  • The NFL has been the subject of ongoing academic and medical criticism for its handling of the medical issues surrounding repetitive head injuries suffered by players. Studies in brains from deceased players indicate overwhelming evidence of damage consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a disease which impats the brain with devastating consequences, similar to Alzheimer’s. The NFL has historically pushed back against the evidence and even refused to let players see their medical records, with their defensive motivations clear – football is big business, and if people are afraid to let kids play football, or feel it is immoral to do so, because of concussion issues, then the future of that business is in doubt:  Head Games: The Moral Calculus of Football and CTE
  • As sports and business go together, so do sports and another major revenue exploiter: gambling. While the rules of athletic bodies often prevent players from gambling to avoid match-setting, it can’t be ignored that the tone of much of the culture around watching sports, at least, is dominated by betting companies. Gambling advertising regulations in sport are certain to be considered in response to the obvious commercial pressures that come from these advertisements which are splashed all over stadium interiors and television broadcasts:  High stakes for gambling firms as pressure grows to curb role in sport

Like the markets and the economies of the world, sports are becoming increasingly globalized as well. As athletes move around the world from one country to the next to work and compete, and as business standards are translated across cultures, expectations and norms become all the more complicated. The business of sports is sure to be a growth area for compliance considerations as the entertainment aspect of athletics continues to expand.