Integrity is the foundation upon which sport is built. Demonstrating conduct that is honest and ethical; providing safe, fair and inclusive environments; playing by the rules. These are things that help define sport and underpin its value to our society.
UK Sport’s new strategy sets out an unequivocal commitment to win with integrity. The public wants us to keep winning but they want us to win the right way. Ever-increasing athlete, sport and public confidence in the way we win is therefore essential to ensuring that success creates a strong platform to reach, inspire and unite the nation.
Integrity is not just an issue for high-performance sport. Enhancing integrity must be a whole-sport endeavour, and we will therefore be working closely with all the Sports Councils across the UK on this. Our focus is principally on conduct-related issues, given the more established regulatory frameworks covering other integrity areas such as anti-doping, safeguarding and match-fixing, however we recognise the intersectionality that often exists between these.
Progress to Date
High-performance sport attracts remarkable people working at the very limits of human endeavour. The nation is hugely proud of its athletes and coaches. They have excelled at recent Olympic and Paralympic Games and established the UK amongst the world’s most successful sporting countries.
We know that most people in sport have the right standards and values to navigate the complexity of accelerating human performance within a challenging, supportive and nurturing environment. However, a system founded on the pursuit of sporting excellence must also strive for excellence in integrity.
In 2017, we took new steps to support sports to enhance their high-performance culture and integrity. We established a Culture Team to support National Governing Bodies (NGBs) to further develop positive cultures in their high-performance programmes, led by a new annual Culture Health Check. We also established an Integrity Team to support NGBs to deliver their responsibilities to uphold the integrity standards that they set within their sports.
As we start the Paris 2024 cycle, this paper sets out our future priorities for sport integrity, to help ensure that instances of unacceptable behaviour are as low as possible and (when they do occur) that they are dealt with swiftly and effectively.
UK Sport, alongside the other Sports Councils, is not a regulatory body and, therefore, has no legal power to oversee the conduct of sporting organisations and the people within them. However, as a leadership body in sport, and an investor of public money, we have a clear responsibility to do as much as we can to influence and lead positive change. We have identified four priority areas to enhance the integrity of sport and will be exploring these ideas across the Sports Councils and our key partners and stakeholders.
We will develop these priorities in the coming months and reflect on them in the context of the findings of the Whyte Review, which is expected to report later in the year. This will be an important moment for us all in sport, and we want to listen to and understand its conclusions. Once that has taken place, we will set out a clear integrity strategy for the future.
1. Enhancing Independent Disclosure and Complaints
Sport, and in particular high-performance sport, is not a normal operating environment; it is a ‘contested space’. Highly committed athletes and coaches collectively and continuously strive to push the boundaries of physical and mental human capability. This ‘contest’ has consequences for dispute resolution and often decisions relating to performance, wellbeing and treatment are matters of judgement. Disputes must be resolved efficiently and effectively, or they can fester and grow. Trust is a precious commodity and is frequently a casualty in disputes. Where trust is lost or impacted, it is often best rebuilt through independent resolution. The earlier this happens, the better the outcome.
Ensuring effective disclosure is foundational to this work. Dispute resolution starts with a person finding the courage to speak out. Without a trusted way for people to make an initial disclosure, the rest of the process is rendered ineffective. Accessible and trusted disclosure routes can help everyone raise any concerns they may have. Some people may be comfortable raising issues through the routes offered within their own sports organisations however others may not, and we now see disclosures taking place through various channels. The option to use independent disclosure routes may provide greater efficacy, efficiency and trust.
We also want to ensure there are trusted, efficient and effective mechanisms for investigating and resolving complaints, once they have been identified. Some sports are able to operate effective and efficient complaints processes, however others may welcome the opportunity to use an external and independent-led mechanism to support the delivery of specific aspects of their integrity responsibilities. We feel it is worth exploring how such a mechanism might add real value to sport where these issues are felt most acutely.
2. Clear Integrity Standards for Everyone in Sport
We believe there needs to be greater clarity about the integrity standards that are expected across sport and the high-performance sporting community. Defining, explaining and assuring these expectations can help to drive a more consistent standard of practice, whilst giving greater confidence and certainty to those operating within it.
In many areas these integrity standards already exist, albeit to varying degrees of specificity, clarity and visibility. In other areas they may need to be developed. In almost all cases there is scope to produce further guidance as to how they can be met, and the merits of doing so.
We will use our position and resources to support the high-performance sporting community to enhance integrity standards, whilst also using our funding relationship to ensure that such standards are then met.
3. Trusted Independent Bodies to Support Athletes and High-Performance Professionals
We continue to invest in the British Athletes Commission (BAC) to support its growth and enable it to extend the independent advice and guidance it provides to British athletes. More recently, we and Sport England, have also funded the BAC to support the individuals coming forward to contribute to the Whyte Review.
The BAC has made considerable progress in recent years. We believe the increase in its casework is reflective of a sporting community that is now having more conversations about the challenges experienced within high-performance sport, as well as an endorsement of the BAC’s enhanced status as a valued and trusted independent athlete body.
We are working with the BAC to ensure it is resourced to meet its core responsibilities in the coming cycle. We do not wish to compromise the ability of the BAC to act as an independent body and would step away from this funding relationship if the BAC feels that it compromises its ability to operate independently.
Much of the focus on integrity issues in recent years has been around athletes, and rightly so given their unique position at the centre of high-performance sport. However, we have also heard the repeated calls for more support for the coaches and other performance professionals that are critical to supporting athletes on their journey.
We will be working with coaches and other performance professionals to help establish and promote an independent body to support them with independent advice and guidance, complementing the work undertaken by the BAC for athletes.
4. Growing the Integrity Capability and Capacity of NGBs
In recent years, we have been working to develop the network of integrity-related people and knowledge across the high-performance sporting community. We are seeing levels of expertise continue to increase, in addition to more sports identifying the need to recruit more people into integrity-related positions. High-performance sport, like all sport, needs high-quality administration.
However, we recognise that increasing expectations in the area of sport integrity will provide resource challenges, especially at a time when many sports have had to make hard decisions to reduce the size of their workforce due to COVID. Therefore, we will be exploring how we can make additional funding available to sports to help build their own capacity and capability in this area, to deliver against our collective commitment to win with integrity.
Working together, both as a high-performance community and across all the Sports Councils, is essential if we are to protect the integrity of sport and continue to grow a thriving sporting system. We will continue to develop the thinking around these priorities, with a view to revisiting them later in the year once the Whyte Review has reported, and then setting out a clear and ambitious strategy for integrity across the sporting system.