In the lead up to another bumper summer of sport including the Paris Olympics and Paralympics and UEFA's European Football Championships, it is unfortunate to read the latest stories of high profile breaches of sporting integrity from across the globe.

Recently we have seen the case of Jontay Porter, a basketball player who received a lifetime ban from the NBA for "blatant violations" of the associations' gambling rules, including Mr Porter placing bets on NBA games and sharing confidential information about his fitness with sports bettors.

Maintaining sporting integrity is fundamental to the proper functioning of both professional and amateur sport. It ensures accurate outcomes for all competitors involved and develops loyalty amongst sports fans. So what are the key challenges posed to integrity in sport in 2024?

This year has already demonstrated that traditional challenges such as match-fixing, corruption and doping remain key issues for integrity in sport. Just last week the winner of the Beijing Half Marathon was stripped of his medal following allegations that other competitors had let him win. Furthermore, the International Testing Agency (ITA), is already gearing up for its unenviable task of testing athletes for ever more sophisticated doping substances at the summer Olympics and Paralympics.

However, as the traditional challenges have become better regulated, there has been broadening of the concept of integrity in sport to cover issues such as player welfare, safeguarding and good governance practices. In the UK, following a series of historic welfare/safeguarding related scandals across Cricket, Gymnastics, Cycling and Football that have only recently come to light, the government and sporting regulators are now focussing their efforts on establishing robust frameworks and complaints handling mechanisms for integrity related issues.

For example, in 2022 UK Sport, the UK's national agency which handles all Olympic/Paralympic funding, launched "Sport Integrity", an independent and confidential reporting line and an independent investigation process to deal with allegations of bullying, harassment, discrimination, or abuse. Additionally, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport recently launched a call for evidence to understand how sport integrity issues are currently being handled, with a view to understanding how current practices may be improved. It is likely they are assessing the need for further regulation or a new Ombudsman to deal with such integrity related issues.

The increasing number of issues that are now encapsulated by efforts to maintain sporting integrity means that those undertaking this task need to broaden their scope and have extra governance in place.

New technology brings its own challenges. Decision enhancing technology such as VAR, is subject to public criticism due to perceived inconsistencies or errors which some say can undermine sporting integrity. The lesson for sporting authorities has been that new technology should always be accompanied by transparent rules and procedures on how it should be used. Modern technology has also provided new contexts in which sporting integrity must be upheld such as in E-Sports. For example, the E-Sports Integrity Commission (EIC) (based in the UK) takes enforcement action against competitors involved in match fixing and even those who take performance-enhancing substances. A recent high-profile investigation by the EIC led to the ban of internet gamer, Alexey Shyshko, from various sanctioned events, for his deliberate manipulation of match outcomes.

The increased commercialisation of sporting events makes breaches of sporting integrity all the more appealing due to the enhanced opportunities for athletes to game the system and higher financial rewards involved. The proliferation of live sports betting has been an issue in the UK for some time and in recent years has become more widespread in the US with the relaxation of gambling laws across a wide range of states. The customisation and detail involved in what are known as "proposition" bets (bets on parts of a game or event that have nothing to do with the final outcome), create opportunities for the likes of Mr Porter to alter their sporting performance providing outcomes which are of commercial benefit to interested third parties. As sports become increasingly entwined with commercial interests, the temptation for financial gain through illicit means grows. Robust regulatory frameworks, transparency in financial transactions, and strict enforcement of anti-corruption measures are essential to preserve the integrity of sports in a globalised world.

Sporting organisations and the respective governing bodies must grapple with these modern challenges and developments to ensure that sports remain free of manipulation, fraud and that those involved in sport are well looked after.

Sports organisations (governing bodies, federations, commissioners, leagues, societies and clubs) should ensure that they weave principles of sporting integrity into all areas of their organisation. This can be achieved through detailed governance documentation and robust policies which: emphasise the values that all those who are involved with the sport should uphold, prevent against dishonest practices, promote education (e.g. mandating training programmes), and provide accessible complaints procedures to protect against harm and abuse.

At Brodies, we have extensive knowledge of advising on a wide range of sports governance issues. Should you wish to discuss anything raised in this article, please contact Andy Nolan or your usual Brodies contact.

Contributors

Andy Nolan

Partner

Calum Lavery

Senior Solicitor

Catriona Salton

Solicitor

Ally Burr

Associate

Clare O'Toole

Solicitor