Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sponsor responsibility scrutinised

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Monetary rewards from sponsors have contributed to the win-at-all cost attitude of some sport administrators, athletes and coaches that could lead to unethical practices like cheating and doping – and therefore sponsors have a responsibility to play a constructive role to ensure that sport remains fair and clean. This was a recurring theme touched on by several speakers at the Sports Law Conference held at the Sports Scientist Institute in Cape Town in November 2013.

Sponsors who don’t act against corruption in sport are guilty by association, said Skins chairman Jaimie Fuller.
Sponsors who keep on supporting an athlete or governing body that is corrupt, is “guilty by association”, Skins chairman Jaimie Fuller told delegates. He recounted how his anger at the UCI’s disdainful treatment of the US Anti-Doping Agency’s overwhelming evidence against Lance Armstrong resulted in him suing the UCI for devaluing sponsorship in cycling, the formation of the Change Cycling Now movement and Pure Sport campaign.

 “What is the point of Skins selling products to enhance performance and recovery to people who compete at any level, if they believe the top-level sport we’re supporting is rotten to the core? It’s guilt by association and it makes no sense at all,” he said.
Prof Tim Noakes of the Sports Science Institute (right) facilitated the session during which Travis Tygart of USADA recounted the obstacles they faced from the old UCI regime when they presented overwhelming evidence of doping against Lance Armstrong. 
Fuller was one of an impressive list of local and international speakers who addressed topics like anti-doping (and legal challenges), bullying tactics by some sport governing bodies, match fixing, cheating, good governance and the responsibilities of sponsors and governing bodies in sport.  
Playing devil’s advocate for Lance Armstrong reminded prof John Wolohan of the Syraceuse University of the day their car was attacked by lions in a game park during a previous trip to South Africa
The speakers read like a Who’s Who of Sports Law and anti-doping – from South African’s like law and intellectual property prof Steve Cornelius of the University of Pretoria and dr Andre Louw of the University of KwaZulu Natal School of Law, etc. to representatives of international sporting bodies like Urvasi Naidoo (CEO International Netball Federation), Sally Clark of the ICC, Janez Kocijancic of the International Ski Federation and Hinca Pandjaitan of the Indonesian Football Association.
Edwin Moses shared the frustration experienced by elite athletes when they know they are competing against athletes who are doping, and stressed the responsibility of governing bodies to protect these honest athletes.
The big guns in world anti-doping were there in the form of David Howman, DG of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) and Olympic Gold Medalist Edwin Moses, now USADA chairman, and dr Victor Ramathesele, chairman of the South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport.
Problems arise when sponsors turn a blind eye to ethical violations, said prof James Nafziger.
The role of corporate power in sport is ever-increasing – as demonstrated by the millions in sponsorship dollars that motivated athletes like Lance Armstrong to do anything it takes to win, said prof James Nafziger, Director of International Law at the Willamette University in Oregon. This can become problematic when sponsors put pressure on athletes to win, or turn a blind eye to violations, he cautioned.  “Commercialisation of sport can lead to a conflict with ethics,” he said. “Sport as entertainment come at a price.”
Prof Cora Burnett identified the pressure to perform at all times and not “letting the team down” as a factor that can contribute to substance abuse.
Today, many factors nowadays influence professional athletes to abuse substances that will keep their sporting success dreams alive – and help them to do the “jobs” for which they are paid, said prof Cora Burnett, research professor at the University of Johannesburg. Among these factors are the resources spent to develop innovative products and initiatives from corporations.
Netball International CEO Urvasi Naidoo warned that sponsors and spectators will abandon a sport if it can no longer guarantee integrity.
Or, as Urvasi Naidoo, CEO of Netball International, warned: “The financial incentives alone make it easy for us all to see how elite athletes and management are sometimes tempted to break the rules.” But, if a sport cannot guarantee integrity at elite level, commercial sponsors as well as the fans and media will eventually abandon the sport.

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