At the Play the Game conferences, we welcome all contributions that are relevant for the discussion of national and international sports politics. We welcome abstracts and storylines that address the challenges of modern sport, as well as those that contribute to solutions.
The main themes for 'Play the Game 2022 - is there a cure for sport?' were:
- Human rights in sport: Duty or dilemma?
- #sporttoo? Is abuse a matter of individual misconduct or a system failure?
- Recovering from COVID: Finding a cure for sport
- Activism from athletes and fans: New occupants in the powerhouse of sport?
- Who can best provide integrity? Sport and governments in a tug-of-war
- CAS: Who controls the court of sport
- Winds of change: The role of sport in climate change
- Advancing technology: Towards a new normal?
Human rights in sport: Duty or dilemma?
2022 will highlight the uneasy relationship between sport and human rights like never before. The Olympics in Beijing and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar highlight a fundamental question that will not go away: How many human rights concerns must be sacrificed in the name of ensuring global sports cooperation? How far should sport be held responsible for transgressions against human rights?
Will the human rights agenda fade out as rich authoritarian regimes raise their investments, sponsorships and political engagement in world sport?
Play the Game 2022 will analyse the mega-events in Beijing and Qatar, the changing power balances in the international sports organisations, and analyse how the organisations can most effectively turn their proclaimed human rights commitment into practice.
#sporttoo? Is abuse a matter of individual misconduct or a system failure?
Scandals of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse continue to appear in different sports and nations. Some lead to suspensions and bans for individuals, like in Haitian and Afghan football, while a few others like the US Gymnastics scandal have led to changes in policy and sports governance. Cases that reach the public domain are typically linked to elite sport, but surveys show that violence and abuse also exist in grassroot sport. Unlike other cultural spheres, it seems international sport has not had a #metoo moment with a global call for cultural change. What can sport do to provide safety for athletes, whatever their level, gender, and age?
At Play the Game 2022, experts and survivors will highlight best practices and programmes, promote reporting mechanisms, and discuss how to provide the best possible protection against all kinds of abuse in highly competitive sports environments.
Recovering from COVID: Finding a cure for sport
Professional sport has never known a real economic crisis since the 1960s where television sets spread to every corner of the globe, and ingenious businesspeople discovered the golden triangle composed by sport, broadcasting and sponsorships. But COVID-19 has shattered the foundation of the big commercial enterprises called sports clubs and laid bare how fragile their finances are. Will the crisis lead to economic reform, transparency, and budgets in balance?
Grassroot sport has also been affected by severe restrictions, but new trends have emerged from the lock-down. Will they be sustainable, and will the lost practitioners find their way back?
The Olympic movement has used the crisis to advocate for a so-called European Model of Sport where professional and grassroot sport are linked together in mutual financial solidarity. Does this model actually exist? Is it correct, as top IOC people claim, that without solidarity from top sport all the little associations will disappear? Who is really financing grassroot sport, and what drives participation in physical activity?
Play the Game 2022 will bring the latest facts and promote solutions to how we best organise sport in Europe and beyond.
Activism from athletes and fans: New occupants in the powerhouse of sport?
With increasing strength, athletes raise their voices as individuals or through collective action. From the streets of Minsk in Belarus to the sports arenas in the U.S., athletes put their lives or careers at risk by opposing what they see as oppressive institutions. Will athlete activism make every sports arena a symbolic political battleground – or was it already so by definition? Play the Game will take stock of the latest developments in the way athletes try to control their careers and leave their marks on society.
Lately, also fan groups have upgraded their activities in formal and informal ways. Will fans act more collectively, and will sports spectators become political consumers and use their remote controls and willingness to subscribe to sports channels to affect the behaviour of professional sports? Freedom of speech is a core goal for Play the Game, and the 2022 conference will look at how this basic right unfolds in sport.
Who can best provide integrity? Sport and governments in a tug-of-war
Intergovernmental institutions like UNESCO, the Council of Europe, and the EU have stepped up their engagement in sport over the past decade. Numerous resolutions, recommendations, declarations, and charters explain what governments expect in return for massive public subsidies to elite and grassroot sport. The reaction from the sports organisations is mixed: They welcome support but fight to reject binding agreements while defending the so-called “autonomy of sport”.
The tug-of-war is going on in three main integrity areas:
The world’s anti-doping cooperation is still licking the wounds opened by the Russian-international doping scandal. WADA’s rules are strengthened, but is the trust in WADA weakened? Doping control is changing its face from a testing-only regime to more emphasis on investigation. What does this mean to athletes and their legal safety, and how will the anti-doping agencies find resources to investigate?
Another key area of sports integrity, the fight against match-fixing, seems to be in a deadlock. An international convention has finally been ratified, but few countries give priority to criminal investigations. Meanwhile, the unregulated gambling industry is thriving, and data production has become an industry – to the benefit of those who fix and those who fight them.
Last, but not least, Olympic organisations and governments have formed an International Partnership Against Corruption in Sport (IPACS). While several powerful sports leaders are under criminal investigation or heavily sanctioned, the governments still rely on controlling sport through voluntary measures. Will that be enough to stop the crooks?
As always, Play the Game 2022 will be a hub for the debate on the fight against doping, corruption and fixing. In plenary and parallel sessions, key stakeholders will report on the status quo and discuss how to ensure ethics and good governance in a troubled sector.
CAS: Who controls the court of sport
The number of disputes resolved by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) is exploding and nearing 1,000 cases per year. Although dubbed “the supreme court of sport” and deciding cases with great economic, political and personal consequences, CAS does not work on the terms of a normal court. Its finances and procedures are shredded in secrecy. The criteria for selecting arbitrators is unknown, and CAS only publishes 30 percent of its decisions.
Most observers accept that a joint arbitration system for international sport could be a good thing, because it should provide a harmonised interpretation of rules and make decisions faster than ordinary courts can do. However, CAS is run by the Olympic movement and loaded with conflicts of interest. Some of its decisions in strategic matters are inexplicably close to the interests of the bigger institutions in sport. This does not inspire trust among athletes and others outside the power nucleus of sport.
Play the Game 2022 will issue no verdicts but set the court room for a debate on CAS and test the willingness of the Olympic movement to improve its legal system.
Winds of change: The role of sport in climate change
Climate change is a defining challenge of our time. Sport must be part of the solution, but how? Are major sporting events like the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup affecting the climate notably? When the IOC says it will go from climate neutral to climate positive, will it have more than symbolic value? Recently, athletes called on world leaders to deliver on climate action during the COP26 but can athletes and sports bodies do more than campaigning?
Play the Game 2022 will bring up proposals from climate and environmental experts at the conference and let them discuss with athletes and sports leaders how to move beyond 'greenwashing' images and make a real difference for the climate and the environment
Advancing technology: Towards a new normal?
Although technological advances have laid the foundation for a thriving business in and around sport, affecting both sports practice, integrity and betting, the topic leads a silent life in the general sports political debate. But there are many significant new developments in the area of sport and technology that call for a closer examination.
The pandemic has opened new avenues for organising physical activities and communities online. Are we facing a new normal, or will innovation fade when sports facilities and physical meetings open again?
E-sport has grown exponentially on its own, and its relationship with classic organised sport is still under construction. Though completely different in structure, the governance of e-sport suffers from all the challenges known from Olympic sport: Fixing, corruption, gender issues, illegal gambling, conflicts of interest, etcetera.
The sports media landscape has undergone dramatic changes after moving online. Piracy viewing is a growing challenge and has even been used as a sports political tool. Traditional media houses still look for sustainable financing in an era of clickbait and 24/7 entertainment, and one of the victims is investigative journalism which only a few media companies give priority to.
Artificial intelligence and other ways of handling big data is a rising star on the horizon. It opens new opportunities for those who fight crime and corruption, but also for those who work in the shade of the industry.
Play the Game 2022 invites experts and stakeholders to shed more light on a complex and underreported dimension of sport.