Conference themes

Play the Game 2017 is the tenth Play the Game conference, and like at previous conferences, a vast number of issues of critical importance for world sports are up for debate.

See the conference themes here

“Change or be changed” was the warning the IOC President sent to the sports world when the “Agenda 2020” reform package was adopted. Three years later it is time to ask: Did change actually happen? Good governance has become the buzzword of the powerhouses in sport, but will it lead to a better reality? Play the Game 2017 will become a festival for the sports governance debate, attracting sports leaders, critics, researchers and public officials to discuss how to make real progress in sport after years of unbelievable scandal.

If sports autonomy is “an outdated relic from an earlier era” as the IOC doyen Richard W. Pound put it when opening Play the Game 2015, how can we then secure true freedom of association? If the right to autonomy must be earned through to good governance, as most say nowadays, who will decide if a sports organization is not “earning” enough? Will sport ever accept external monitoring of its governance without having control over the result? And is it at all possible to define global minimum standards for sports governance?

Play the Game 2017 will bring the latest case stories of corruption and mismanagement, pairing them with workshops that provide the basic tools for better leadership: Transparency, democracy, accountability, solidarity.

The IOC decision on Russian athletes’ participation in the Rio 2016 Olympics following revelations on state-supported doping caused worldwide outrage and visible rifts in the international alliances in the fight against doping. The conspiracy of state actors and international sports leaders blackmailing athletics stars was another eye-opener. In the corridors of power, an intense struggle over the future of anti-doping unfolds. All aspects of the efforts over the past two decades are up in the air and subject to worldwide debate.

Play the Game 2017 will invite key stakeholders – athletes, medical experts, regulators, lawmakers, and sports leaders – and do its own testing of the current developments. We welcome all contributions that can help the fight against doping become more transparent, fair and efficient.

Nowhere is the political battle over sport as visible and intense as when it comes to global sports events. The battle unfolds at all levels, from the anti-establishment grassroots over middle-class taxpayers up to the world’s most powerful heads of state.

The upcoming FIFA World Cups in Russia and Qatar are bound to stir up political debate on human rights issues. Any legacy of the Rio Olympics seems acutely endangered by political and financial mismanagement on top of a deep societal crisis. Civic action in Boston, Hamburg, Rome and Budapest has left the IOC with only two contenders for the 2024 Olympics. FIFA and the IOC have opened dialogue with human rights groups, promising more focus on societal sustainability, but the results are yet to be seen.

Will the mega-events inevitably drift towards authoritarian regimes where voices and votes of taxpayers are ignored or suppressed? Will nationalistic trends offer a rescue belt for a movement built on internationalism? Will “Agenda 2020” ensure tangible improvement of the environmental and social legacy of future Olympic Games? Can events be organised in a way that increases physical activity on a long-term basis? Should governments invest in local facilities for grass-root sport rather than state-of-the art stadiums?

Key stakeholders will meet at Play the Game 2017 and exchange visions and experiences from what is still a massively successful entertainment industry, but with a high price tag paid by public coffins.

The daily sports practice, the local clubs and teams, the facilities, the events, the leagues and tournaments, the peak performance: The digital and technological revolution is changing all aspects of sport and physical activity as you read these lines. The app on the cell phone has become as important as the right pair of shoes – which, by the way,  is also increasingly equipped with digital features. Like all other parts of society, the classic organisations in sport are struggling to meet the challenges new technologies and new suppliers bring to their goals, their revenues, their members, their very existence.

After years of targeted planning, Eindhoven and the region of Noord Brabant has become a vibrant centre for inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs in sport. As the capital of the “Brainport region” which builds on high-tech, design and knowledge-sharing, Eindhoven is the place to meet some of the most interesting and successful entrepreneurs with a potential to change the sporting landscape for good. How can innovation in sport assist us in making sport much more vibrant and engaging? What can we win, and what are we about to lose? At Play the Game 2017 we will test the new ideas, discuss their sustainability and identify the opportunities and challenges for traditional and new stakeholders in sport.

Was the former WADA-director exaggerating wildly when he said that 25 per cent of professional sport is influenced by organised crime? When insiders claim that half the money flowing on the transfer market is illegal, are they just seeking attention? Or are the hidden figures even larger?

International justice is increasingly aware of the attraction professional sport offers to shady figures with ambitions of tax evasion, money laundering, human exploitation, betting fraud, match fixing and other forms of crime. Star players not only have to defend themselves on the pitch, but also in the court room – where they may well meet their advisors, trainers, managers, club owners and federation leaders.

Still, top sport seems to be a place where money and reputation can be whitewashed without punishment, thanks to its autonomy, its global structure and its spell over fans, media and politics.

As always, Play the Game 2017 will shed light on the darkest sides of sport, highlighting the most prominent cases, analysing the political efforts to combat crime and discuss if professional sport will ever be able to live up to the noble ideas of fair play, respect and community building.

From Salt Lake City to FIFA, from Lance Armstrong to match-fixing, from international athletics to the arrest of an Olympic Vice-President – no major scandal in sport has seen the light of day without energetic and courageous efforts by whistleblowers and independent journalists. Sport has not exactly shown gratitude to those who help wipe out corruption. On the contrary, whistleblowers find themselves slandered, marginalised and vulnerable, while investigative journalists often work with a minimum of resources and opposed even by their peers. Both groups are accused of exaggerating, at least until state investigators step in and confirm that reality was worse than even the fiercest critics could know.

How is the coverage of sport affected by the rapidly changing realities of media and journalism? Is it time to recognize that sport needs external help to clean its house? How can we best protect whistleblowers and ensure their knowledge is used constructively? How can the independent reporting and investigation survive in a time where traditional news media are under pressure from lack of resources and a number of countries with little or no political freedom are gaining influence in international sport? Play the Game 2017 will once again gather some of the world’s leading journalists and eyewitnesses, providing tools and tips for in-depth investigation and making the case for a more transparent world of sport.

American gymnastics, English football, Dutch cycling, Flemish judo, Danish orienteering … no sport, no country seems to be exempt from shocking stories on young athletes who have been victims of a variety of sexual assaults, harassment and abuse by the very coaches and officials who are entrusted to protect them against bodily harm.

Though it has been on and off the public agenda for decades, sexual abuse remains one of the most sensitive and unspoken issues in sport. The personal stories are told at great sacrifice, the burden of proof extremely is difficult to carry, and simple solutions are hard to find in an environment where appropriate psychological and physical nearness between grown-ups and youth is an important quality.

Is sport particularly prone to sexual violations, or is sport just a high-profile area easy to point out as vulnerable by a society where sexual attacks are frequent, although often in secret? How can sexual abuse best be reported and how can we achieve legal safety for everyone involved, providing justice and minimizing individual suffering?

Play the Game 2017 will highlight some current cases and discuss best practices in how sexual abuse can be prevented without creating a daily atmosphere of continuous mistrust.

Play the Game 2017
Play the Game 2017