”Let’s find a different way to do it.” – Independent Integrity Agency for Sport

International Sports Convention, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, 21st March 2024

Independent Integrity Agency for Sport

Alex Phillips, Former Head of Governance at UEFA

Affy Sheikh, Head of Starlizard Integrity Services, Starlizard Integrity Services

Karen Moorhouse, CEO International Tennis Integrity Agency

Darren Bailey, Co-Founder Sport 360 Consulting

Alex Phillips kicked off the discussion by explaining that he has proposed   establishing an entity to look at corruption or integrity issues in sport, similar to the role WADA performs in doping.

He believes match-fixing, or match-manipulation, is a good place to start because there is already co-operation between governments across Europe, and other initiatives are in place.

Then it can look into other issues such as other forms of corruption. He is open to it starting on a European or global basis, and suggests using football as the sport to start with.

Darren Bailey said that the current situation “isn’t fit for purpose.” He continued, “A lot of the corruption takes place in the boardroom…yet we always focus on the players.”

He said that although setting up a cross border programme would be difficult, it can be set up. “We’ve got to spin the culture,” he said.

Karen Moorhouse believes it is worth spending time finding out exactly what the need is.

Affy Sheikh said that in dealing with issues of integrity, there are considerable discrepancies across different sports in terms of resources, skills and appetites. “Sometimes there is an unwillingness to look at the problem.”

Bailey referenced WADA and the extended nature of their processes. The doping code is too long and complicated. “A doping code for an athlete can’t really be read and understood by an athlete.”

And if an investigation does take place, it then takes too long. “We have to get more efficient.”

“Let’s find a different way to do it.”

Phillips said there are two major reasons why an independent integrity body hasn’t been set up yet. Firstly, that there hasn’t been a match-fixing scandal on a major scale that would act as a catalyst for setting up such a body, and additionally that there is a conflict of interest in the current institutions. In terms of punishments for financial infringements in football, he asked: “Why would you kick out your most commercially successful club?”

Sheikh expanded on his theme that there is a considerable difference between how different sports look at integrity issues. Some sports take a positive approach, while others do not. “We look at sports as businesses and therefore brands. We see governing bodies who are so protective of their brand they don’t want to be transparent.”

Phillips said that there is some organised crime in doping, and there is some overlap between doping and match-fixing, and that these are important issues, but he said that safeguarding is even more important. He referenced Paul Stewart’s memorable presentation from Day One of ISC 2024.

There was a significant contribution from the audience, with the ISC delegate stressing the need of a “buy in” from across sports, or the proposed agency wouldn’t get off the ground. He questioned whether this was likely.

Bailey responded by saying that athletes will buy into the idea. He said that there is too much focus on the athlete who has done wrong, but asked: “What about the rights of everybody else in sport?”

Moorhouse said: “It comes back to building trust. The athletes need to understand it is about protecting them and their sport.”

Sheikh added that he believes the vast majority of football matches are not manipulated. He estimated that 99.74% of football matches are clean, so there would be a lot of players interested in maintaining a clean sport, and would therefore buy into the idea.

Phillips said: “Everything seems difficult until it is done.”

If there is a problem with funding, Bailey suggested that private equity businesses would be interested in being associated with it, because keeping sport clean would be a good association for a business.