Excellence in sport is achieved by giving everything of ourselves; our bodies and our minds. It exposes everything that we are and leaves us nothing to hide behind other than the truth.
So when sports people can’t be their authentic selves – for fear of discrimination, oppression, reprisals or hate – it can be a very difficult world in which to live.
Nowhere was this felt more strongly than at the FIFA World Cup 2022. Qatar’s poor human rights’ record is no secret; leading up to the tournament the Gulf state was widely criticised for the lack of protection put in place for migrant workers and LGBTQ+ people. Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to seven years in prison; there were fears for the safety of gay foreign fans, as well as reprisals for those showing solidarity by exhibiting a rainbow flag, for instance.
The One Love rainbow armband was originally intended to promote a message of inclusion. Seven European captains were to wear the armband during the World Cup but after FIFA threatened them with being booked, wearing it was abandoned.
In spite of this there were moments in the tournament when sportsmen and women refused to be silenced.
Former England defender Alex Scott defiantly wore the armband on the BBC coverage presenting England’s first game, despite the Three Lions opting not to.
She said: “I remember saying to Kelly who was going to interview me: ‘Kelly don’t say a word. All I’m doing is going to put this armband on and it’s going to speak for itself.”
The German national football team, who were also persuaded by FIFA’s sanctions to drop the armband, protested with an on-pitch gesture covering their mouth.
Under the image posted on the team’s Instagram page they wrote: “We wanted to use our captain’s armband to take a stand for values that we hold in the Germany national team: diversity and mutual respect. Together with other nations, we wanted our voice to be heard. It wasn’t about making a political statement – human rights are non-negotiable. That should be taken for granted, but it still isn’t the case. That’s why this message is so important to us.
“Denying us the armband is the same as denying us a voice. We stand by our position.”
Debate about impartiality at the BBC and how its guidelines should be enforced appeared in the sporting spotlight recently after Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker, was removed from presenting duties following a tweet he sent comparing the language of the UK Government’s asylum policy with that used in 1930s Germany. It was seen by many as an assault on freedom of speech, and Lineker’s colleagues Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and Alex Scott all refused to appear on the BBC out of solidarity until he was reinstated.
These are just a few prominent moments from the last year where we’ve seen sportsmen and women using their positions to defend integrity in sport. And, as we approach this year’s Sport Industry Awards, it will be these and similar moments which fall under the spotlight and are celebrated with the awarding of the Integrity and Impact Award.
Previous years’ winners include human rights lawyer Kat Craig for her role in evacuating the women’s national football team from Afghanistan; Marcus Rashford for his passionate campaigning against child food poverty; Megan Rapinoe for highlighting racial and discriminatory divisions in the United States; Raheem Sterling for his contribution to the fight against racism in football and using his platform to highlight many social issues within the sport; and finally Rachael Denhollander who became the first woman to publicly accuse former USA Gymnasics doctor Larry Nassar of sexual abuse – and was crucial in ensuring his downfall.
Sport not only has the power to bring people together, improve lives and inspire but also to be a vehicle for change. In order for sport to be all these things to everyone it needs to be fair and transparent. As a leading due diligence provider in sport, we have a responsibility to support the industry in maintaining transparency and integrity in the way that it operates to ensure that the essence of sport is protected at all costs.
The Sport Industry Awards is on Thursday 27 April. InsightX sponsors the Integrity and Impact Award.