It is not an overstatement to say that sport’s integrity is being questioned like no time before. It is not just doping issues that confront us – but governance failures in international sport federations, and match-fixing claims at the highest level of sport. We face challenges on a number of fronts, but with doping adversely affecting the athletes themselves, there can be no doubt that it is still the greatest threat to modern-day sport.
In combatting doping, we can be proud by how far we have come since the advent of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in 1999. In light of the Festina scandal gripping the sport of cycling at the time, this Agency was set up as the global response to the need for a harmonious approach to tackle the threat of doping. Of all the things that have been achieved during that time – an international UNESCO Treaty, the Athlete Biological Passport (ABP), investigative powers, partnerships with pharmaceutical companies – we can above all be thankful that there is now one set of global rules in place no matter the sport or country you compete in. Those rules – under the World Anti-Doping Code – have brought fairness to the system, and they are the set of rules under which we all now operate. However, we operate under the Code with our belts tightened, and we in the anti-doping community feel the squeeze evermore with the expanding amount of work we are asked to do.
In light of this work, and the proliferation of doping scandals at the sharp end of sport, I took the opportunity at the WADA Anti-Doping Organisation Symposium in March to raise the issue of expanding our funding, and called on broadcasters and sponsors to consider funding clean sport.
WADA’s annual budget is approximately USD 30 million per year; that money provided through a 50-50 split respective of the two halves of WADA: governments and the sport movement. WADA has to cut its coat according to its cloth, and conducts its activities – which range from education to compliance, research to athlete awareness – effectively.
During my Presidency, the agency has explored new revenue streams to help us meet the challenges of the day. One example is the Anti-Doping Research Fund, the joint creation of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and WADA. Thanks to the foresight of its President, Thomas Bach, the IOC committed to fund up to USD 10 million towards athlete-centred anti-doping research, something which governments were able to match to the tune of USD 6 million. The result was a total pot of USD 12 million which has been put towards innovative science and social science research, helping us develop new and improved detection methods for prohibited substances and methods; and, understand the behavioural reasons behind an athlete’s decision to dope.
Following the outcomes of the recent Independent Commission investigation into widespread doping in athletics, I confirmed at the WADA Foundation Board meeting in November that I would write to governments to ask for contributions towards further investigations, the call for which has become ever-more vociferous following other doping allegations in recent months. I have been buoyed by the commitment of governments of the world to make substantial contributions, which I will now ask the IOC to match dollar for dollar.
Such initiatives are helpful, but to really confront the scale of doping, we all need to dig deeper. Sport is a huge, global business in 2016, and the industry – though regrettably not anti-doping – is awash with money. The sports market is generally considered to consist of sponsorships, gate revenues, media rights (which includes broadcast television) and merchandising. A conservative estimate in 2015 would place its value just under USD 145 billion (Source: PwC Outlook for the global sports market to 2015).
Media rights – the lion’s share of which comes from television broadcasters – is worth north of USD 35 billion alone. These broadcasters, who serve billions of sports fans worldwide, must have an interest in clean sport just as the athletes and fans do. After all, as sport’s integrity is increasingly under threat, it is the fans – the very people that turn on the television to watch sport – which will tune out, and directly affect the broadcasters. Why not, as some have argued for before, suggest some form of tariff on the media rights holders that pay for the sports rights? To impose, for example, a minute 0.5% tariff on this USD 35 billion annual media rights figure would instantly put USD 175 million more in the anti-doping coffers. Increasing WADA’s budget five-fold - that would provide USD 175 million more per year with which to protect the clean athlete. With such extra funds, we could make a greater impact in protecting the rights of the clean athletes, and in turn uphold the integrity of sport. This significant boost to clean sport could allow for further investigations, more quality-based testing, better research, and could allow us to disseminate that all-important values-based education so that we get the message across to tomorrow’s athletes. The question with this is, of course, who would shoulder that cost: the broadcasters themselves, or would they themselves pass it on to the sports federations, many of whom are profitable enterprises, some of whom are not? This is a debate we must now have.
It doesn’t end with the broadcasting side. Sponsorship is also an enormous contributor to the sport industry. Major sports sponsors should start to look at how they might support clean sport. Take pharmaceutical companies, for example, with whom the anti-doping movement has strong relations. While anti-doping has an interest in protecting the rights of the clean athlete, the pharmaceutical industry has a significant stake in ensuring that its products are being used for legitimate medical reasons, not for abuse by athletes seeking an edge.
The annual value of global sport sponsorship is thought to be approaching a staggering USD 50 billion (Source: PwC Outlook for the global sports market to 2015). Sponsors are the sport industry’s fastest growing source of money, investing a significant amount of money not only in sports events but in elite athletes so that they can bask in the glory that comes from a sport star’s success. For sponsors, all the benefits such association with a sport or a star athlete can have may be easily tarnished through their athlete’s doping scandal. Doping is a threat to the sponsor’s business, so why would sponsors not want to fund clean sport, and have a stake in the positive values clean sport exudes? Such a move would be in step with public opinion, and from a public relations perspective would be advantageous, too. As one person suggested to me, why does an organization that sponsors an athlete, who has been sanctioned for doping, not attribute the money it would pay the athlete during that sanction to the anti-doping movement, instead? That is surely where its interest should lie.
We need to rally all sport’s stakeholders – including broadcasters and sponsors – to the clean sport cause. The public loves sport. In fact, gate revenues are estimated to cover one third of the sport industry’s total value (Source: PwC Outlook for the global sports market to 2015); clear evidence of the public’s desire to watch sport en masse. Public opinion is also firmly in favour of a level playing field, and so we all have a duty to protect the clean athletes and ensure the fairest, most efficient system possible is in place for athletes across the world. Sport, government, athletes, broadcasters and sponsors alike share this important duty.
Sir Craig Reedie