Speaking soon after being appointed to chair the newly created ethics commission for athletics’ global governing body, the IAAF, Michael Beloff QC took issue with the description of sport as ‘life’s magnificent triviality’, a phrase coined by one of the foremost sportswriters of his generation, Hugh Mcllvanney. Beloff pointed out that, apart from the fact that sport grips very large numbers of people around the world, it now also ranks among the biggest industries globally.
As our cover feature ‘Getting sport back on track’ makes clear, sport now generates eye-watering amounts of money. The London 2012 Olympic Games had an overall budget in excess of £11bn, with in the region of £1.4bn of that coming from international and domestic sponsorship. In 2014, FIFA made $2.4bn from the sale of television rights, $1.6bn in sponsorship deals and $527m in ticket sales for the World Cup in Brazil. As a competitor, winning is no longer simply about kudos, but can bring major prize money, sponsorship deals, and a lifestyle that sportsmen and women even 40 years ago could not have dreamt of.
Of course, where there’s big money, there’s an incentive to cheat – and an incentive to pay large amounts of money to cover up the cheating. Various documentaries on Lance Armstrong and the recent film The Program showcase the lengths that the seven times Tour de France winner went to in order to achieve what, even at the time, appeared too good to be true. Armstrong continues to point out that he was far from atypical. Cycling’s done much to clean up its act. But, across pretty much all major sports, the list of those caught out by tightening rules, testers or whistle-blowers is long and growing. Corruption scandals at FIFA and the IAAF have made clear that the days of agreements in sport being done on the back of an envelope or on the basis of a handshake really do need to be consigned to history.
Suffice to say sport has a major governance issue, and this is the subject of our in-depth coverage, with input from those such as Beloff – and his equivalents at the World Anti-Doping Agency and other leading sports bodies – who are doing their best to ensure that, in future, sport develops in a more positive direction. Serious measures need to be taken because, as Past President of the IBA Akira Kawamura, also a member of the IAAF’s ethics commission, says, ‘the sports world is now too gigantic and too important to control internally’.