With less than two weeks to go before the highly anticipated “Sport Future Rendez-Vous 2017”, ThinkSport sat down with some of the top-level speakers scheduled to appear at the event to get an idea of what new insights they plan to discuss. The focus of this year’s edition will be the pressing topics of integrity in sport and the impact of the digital revolution on sport, making it an attractive event for anyone looking to stay tuned into the industry.
Bengt Kayser, medical doctor and professor at the Institute of Sports Science of the University of Lausanne (UNIL), will be the keynote speaker on sport integrity. We asked him to give us a sneak preview of his talk and explain why it is so important for sports administrators to get a handle of the issue.
ThinkSport: The term “integrity” is widely used, but it often seems to mean different things to different people. How would you define “integrity” when applied to sport organisations?
Prof Kayser: The word “integrity” is a wonderful source of misunderstanding indeed and is often used in various ways. Integrity may refer to being true to maintenance of identity, keeping to some core values, and this may apply to sport organisations. It may also refer to individuals, with respect to keeping true to themselves. But such integrity does not necessarily mean acting morally; a person of integrity might act immorally. The word is also used to refer to moral integrity, which relates to keeping to a set of certain shared values that make sense in space and in time. I feel these clarifications are important because it is perfectly possible to imagine a sport organisation that as a body is upright and acts in a coherent manner, but is involved in activities with consequences that are immoral. That’s often when we see clashes.
ThinkSport: Why do values matter in sport?
Prof Kayser: Values matter in sport simply because of what sport is: sport is play transformed into a game following the principle of inventing unnecessary obstacles to be overcome while keeping to a set of well-defined rules. The game only makes sense if everybody complies to the rules. Therefore, sticking to the rules is inherent to sport, it is a value which is of essence. This does not only apply to the field of play, but also to the governance of the organisational structures.
ThinkSport: What is worse in your view – cheating by athletes or unethical practices like corruption in sport organisations?
Prof Kayser: This is a very important question. Cheating has always been and will always be part of sport, but it is the type, volume and frequency of cheating which must be looked at – be it on the sporting field or at an organisational level.
Sport is a human endeavour. Evolution has given us a certain set of functions which enable us to analyse values and decide on what is good or bad, but not everything is clear cut. Of course there are grey zones. We are all hypocrites. We are not perfect. There is no such thing as saints just as there are no “super athletes”. Of course this is something we adhere to. We would like to see the sporting champion also being a super human on and off the field of play, but this is just unrealistic. We are all imperfect and we have to deal with this imperfection. The crucial question is where we draw the lines. Relating to sporting action, that’s why we have umpires, referees and judges. But clearly this is a permanent area of tension and friction, and there is a certain leeway to how one interprets and applies the rules. Corruption is another big problem that needs to be looked at. Whilst most of us are naturally against corruption, it is a phenomena which hits all sectors of society across the globe. Let’s remember, we are all imperfect, but the question is how we tackle this. How far can we push things? Today, a number of sport organisations are clearly facing a crisis and we need to find solutions, to regain control. However, if asked if we can totally get rid of corruption, I would reply “probably not”. It is a matter of finding a balance between what is workable and how to move things into the right direction. We must be pragmatic.
ThinkSport: How can sport organisations regain public confidence?
Prof Kayser: I would call for more transparency, more democracy and the adherence to some basic rules, for instance when it comes to introducing term limits of leadership positions in sport. Sport organisations are quite specific: they are partly set up like governmental bodies, but parts of their activities are increasingly business driven. I think it would be important for them to get some inspiration from democratic organisations, and, at the same time, comply to certain principles which were originally created for companies.
ThinkSport: Looking into your crystal ball, how do you envision the future of sport?
Prof Kayser: I am convinced we can expect important changes over the next 30 to 50 years, mainly due to two major revolutions: first, the advent of biomedical and genetic knowledge; and second, the digital revolution, computing power and artificial intelligence. In my view, both these revolutions will bring important changes to society, with sport being no exception. The specific changes are impossible to predict – futurology has its limits. However, let me give an example for illustration. At the moment, sporting records relate to specific times, heights, weights, etc. This is how we measure and want to define world records. The improvement of world records will necessarily come to an end. Why? Because the 100 metre dash will never be run in zero seconds. At some point, sporting records will not be able to be pushed any further, even if we apply all kinds of different technology.
What could replace our fascination for records of human performance remains hypothetical for me at this stage, but recently we have seen some exciting examples of fading barriers between technology and biology, such as at the Cybathlon event which took place in Zurich last year. The way we run and experience sport may not change within the next 10 or 15 years, but in the long run, these evolutions will have a huge impact. The sports world should be as open as possible to these changes and see them as sources for opportunity. I feel there is often a tendency of sport organisations to go for quite conservative approaches, for instance when it comes to technical applications. Instead, we should rather embrace, in a responsible and balanced way, these new technologies to cope with and adjust to a changing world.