Five key lessons from the Rio Olympics
And five steps to improve integrity in sport
For sport to inspire it cannot be tainted with corruption. Although the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro produced many stories of great triumphs and inspired performances, it also had its fair share of controversy.
Here are five key lessons from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games:
1. The Olympic spirit is catching and inspiring – so we need to make the most of it
More than half the people on the planet – 3.7 billion – tuned in to watch the games, which included 10,000 athletes from 207 nations. They had a lot to cheer about that proved how sport can be a force for good:
- The refugee team including swimmer Yusra Mardini, 19, from Syria. She had swam for three hours in the Mediterranean pushing a sinking boat to safety last year.
- Michael Phelps, watched by his three-month old son, winning his 23rd gold medal after a personal journey that saw him go from rehab to most-decorated Olympian ever.
- Nikki Hamblin from New Zealand and Abbey D’Agostino from the US helping each other over the line after falling in the 5000m.
2. Match-fixing is still an issue in international sports
Seven boxing judges were sent home after bouts produced dodgy results. The Guardian newspaper predicted match-fixing would take place in boxing. Irish boxer Michael Conlan, who lost a dubious decision, protested.
The AIBA, which runs amateur boxing, is considering disciplinary action against Conlan, but there is enough evidence of alleged match-fixing to warrant a full investigation by the International Olympic Committee.
3. Sports governance needs an overhaul
The spectacle of Brazilian police arresting Pat Hickey, head of the Olympic Council of Ireland (OCI) and the European Olympic Committee, evoked memories of dawn raids on top executives at FIFA, world football’s governing body. Hickey, who has been head of the OCI for 27 years, is alleged to be involved in a ticketing scandal.
Transparency International brought together experts from around the world to assess the levels of corruption in sport and come up with recommendations for lasting reform.
Read Transparency International’s full recommendations from the Global Corruption Report: Sport here
4. Cheating has consequences
For the Rio Games, 118 Russian athletes were barred from competing by their international sports federations following the revelations of state-sponsored doping. During the games at least four athletes were disqualified for doping. When Yulia Efimova – a Russian swimmer cleared to compete despite serving a doping ban in 2013 – won two silver medals, she was booed.
On 19 August the International Olympic Committee announced that it was stripping medals won at the 2008 Beijing Olympics from Russian sprinters because samples retested using new technology proved positive.
The knock-on effect of these headlines is that when athletes smash records, their performances are called into question. Can we trust what we see? Will today’s Olympic heroes be outed as tomorrow’s cheats?
– cricketer and transparency activist Deryck Murray, in his blog post 'Keeping the Olympic flame alive'
5. Bad behaviour can overshadow sporting success
When Ryan Lochte, a famous US swimmer, collected his medals he received plaudits; when he lied about being held up at gunpoint along with three teammates after a night on the town, he was duly shamed. The incident initially seemed to confirm Rio’s reputation for crime, but as events unfolded it emerged that the athletes had played on that reputation as cover for their own bad behaviour.
Athletes – particularly star athletes who are held up as role models – should understand that they also have a responsibility to promote sporting integrity in all its forms. (Update: Speedo and Ralph Lauren both ended sponsorship deals with Lochte on 22 August.)
Five steps to improve integrity in sport
- A truly independent global agency should be created to harmonise anti-corruption standards in sport, oversee their implementation and investigate alleged corruption in sport.
- International, regional and national sporting organisations should be required to publish detailed information of how they spend their money, verified by independent auditors.
- Sporting organisations should include independent non-executives and have term limits to stop people building powerful, crony networks based on the popularity of sports.
- Governments and funders (including sponsors) of sport must demand greater accountability and a commitment to open data in exchange for funding.
- There should be greater participation in promoting sports governance by all those involved in sport – including athletes, their representatives, sponsors and broadcasters. Everyone has a stake in clean sports.
Editor's note: This feature was updated later on 22 August to correct the age of Michael Phelps' son, link to Deryck Murray's blog post and note that two of Lochte's sponsors had ended deals with him.
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