Conference themes

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 2024 are:

  • Autocracy vs. democracy: Which side is sport playing for?
  • Clearing sport: Countering crime, protecting integrity
  • Can sport be sustainable? The impact on climate and the environment
  • Sports journalism: A watchdog for society or a pet for showbiz?
  • Abuse and agony: How can sports organisations effectively safeguard athletes?
  • Pursuing diversity: How to make up for power imbalances in sport?
  • In the wake of scandal: What is the future of anti-doping?

Below you can find more detailed information about what is behind each headline.

Submit your abstract/storyline

If you would like to be part of Play the Game 2024, we are welcoming abstracts via our application system. 

Read more about how to take part in the conference in our call for papers

Photo: Rob Carr / Getty Images

Autocracy vs. democracy: Which side is sport playing for?

The Russian invasion of Ukraine was a watershed moment – also in sport. Since then, the debate over Russian participation in sport and sports governance has been ever-intensifying. Is peace and human rights best served by excluding or welcoming the delegates from the country committing the crimes of aggression?

The question opens a wider perspective: With the spectacular sports investments made by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other autocratic regimes, is sport selling out the social and cultural values it claims to promote or are concerns over lack of human rights and democracy just attempts to defend old privileges?

The growing influence of autocratic states at the highest level of federations, clubs, and tournaments also raises doubts about sport’s genuine interest in embracing transparency and democratic principles.

Play the Game 2024 will ask if the values of modern sport are inherently democratic or more compatible with authoritarian governments. Are the sports organisations wilfully silent on these issues? We will also discuss how human rights can best be secured within and around the global sporting community.


Photo: Joe Skipper / Getty Images

Clearing sport: Countering crime, protecting integrity

In the past decade, good governance has emerged as a prominent theme in international sports politics. Numerous reports, resolutions, and reviews have been published by sports organisations, governments, and research bodies – including Play the Game. And yet, sport organisations and governments seem reluctant to change from within. Scandals involving sports officials, be it cases of corruption or abuse of athletes, continue to emerge, further undermining the trust in sports governing bodies.

So far, governments have hesitated to intervene at the global level, citing respect for the concept of sport’s autonomy. At the national level, few countries have created agencies to oversee sports, and state prosecutors step up their efforts in investigating sport, but can they effectively match the international cooperation between sport’s crooks and their wealthy benefactors, be it states or individuals?

Inspired by nearly 200 sports integrity experts, Play the Game launched the report ‘ClearingSport – towards an agency countering crime and protecting integrity of world sport’ in June 2023. This initiative alongside other (national and transnational) provisions against sport’s transgressions will be a pivotal topic at Play the Game 2024.

Play the Game 2024 will also discuss the increased interconnection between the rise of advanced technology, sport, and criminal activities in cyberspace. This multifaceted relationship between sport and cybercrime appears in several forms: From the use of artificial intelligence to the rise of cryptocurrency and its potential role in illicit transactions and dubious sponsorships in sport, to the advancement of financial crimes and tax evasion schemes.

Play the Game 2024 will examine the latest developments in the use of technology and the implications for the sporting world, as well as delve into the various forms of cybercrime that have impacted the sports industry, including match-fixing, gambling, and betting-related offences.


Photo: Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Can sport be sustainable? The impact on climate and the environment

Climate change is one of this century’s largest societal challenges – and sport cannot escape this threat. A newly published study concludes that even a smaller number of countries than today may be able to host the Winter Olympics by 2050; another finds that 89 percent of athletes report that changing weather patterns that are affecting competition conditions.

But the challenge goes beyond protecting sports disciplines. With its attractive events and influential role models, how can sport realise its potential to inspire supporters across the world to live a more sustainable life or to motivate policy makers to adopt more aggressive environmental policies? How can sport best compensate for the climate impact of its mega-events, infrastructure projects, and transnational travelling?

Play the Game 2024 will bring together experts, athletes, and sports leaders to present the latest findings on how sport and climate change are affecting each other, promote existing good practices at local, national, and international levels, and discuss how sport can contribute to the global sustainability agenda.


Photo: Thomas Søndergaard / Play the Game

Sports journalism: A watchdog for society or a pet for showbiz?

Society’s watchdog – or showbiz’ pet? This was the fundamental question to the sports media raised at the first Play the Game event in 1997. Since then, the media industry has undergone a revolution, but the question remains the same: Are journalists in sport at the service of a worldwide entertainment industry, or should they serve public interest by raising difficult questions that need to be addressed?

Over the past 15 years, a select group of journalists has reshaped the global sports political agenda through their groundbreaking investigations. At Play the Game 2024, we will facilitate workshops where some of these journalists can share their inspiration and experiences, and we will explore ways to strengthen and fund in-depth sports journalism, recognising its crucial role in holding power to account.

We will also discuss the role of the media in the most debated sporting event in history: The FIFA World Cup in Qatar 2022. How was the media’s framing? Is the critical journalism on Middle East investments in sport just an expression of Western prejudice? Can we expect journalists to be equally critical when mega-events over the next decade will be held in Western countries?

The conference will bring together experts from a variety of disciplines, including media studies, sports journalism, communication, and sociology, to share their research and insights. Through keynote speeches, panel discussions, and interactive workshops, attendees will gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities presented by the intersection of sports and media.


Abuse and agony: How can sports organisations effectively safeguard athletes?

Shocking stories of sexual, physical, and psychological abuse have appeared in escalating numbers in recent years, even though female athletes have tried to draw attention to abuse for decades. While athletes come forward at great personal sacrifice, perpetrators – be it coaches, officials or peer athletes – often go untouched and maintain their roles in sport.

Are sports organisations capable of providing effective measures against abuse and which mechanisms could they apply? Can we build safety structures across nations and create safe spaces for athletes to speak up? In what ways can retaliation against victims and whistle-blowers be prevented, and how can survivors be compensated, rehabilitated and reintegrated into the sport – if they wish so? Should such principles of legal representation and rehabilitation back into sport apply to perpetrators as well?

Play the Game 2024 will bring together survivors, experts, and other key actors to share their personal stories, provide best practices, discuss how athletes are best protected against all kinds of abuse, and unpack the culture that has allowed abuse to flourish since the beginning of organised sport.


Photo: Gualter Fatia - UEFA / Getty Images

Pursuing diversity: How to make up for power imbalances in sport?

While there are ongoing commitments to inclusion and diversity in all spheres of society, sport is lacking remarkably behind. Six decades of discussing gender balance have caused little progress; sports governance is still a man’s world. Is it time for gender quotas in the boardrooms? What new perspectives will improve inclusiveness in sports politics and practice?

Meanwhile, another gendered issue causes great rifts in elite sport. Attempts to promote the rights of transgender and athletes with variations in sex are sometimes met discriminatory rules and regulations, judged necessary by some to preserve fairness at the expense of inclusion. How can such rifts be healed?

In terms of cultural and geographical diversity, the Global South and low-income countries have for half a century been the pillar on which international sports presidents build their power. The one-nation-one-vote system has proved an obstacle to democratic reform. However, voices of athletes, coaches, media people, and academics from the same nations are still marginalised. How can we empower these groups? Additionally, indigenous people continue to face racism and other forms of discrimination in sport. Since Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic cauldron in Sydney in 2000, has anything changed?

Play the Game 2024 will address such questions by gathering athlete voices, as well as experts and sports leaders, who can contribute with new perspectives, best practices and inspiration to work towards a more inclusive and diverse environment – both at grassroots and elite levels.


Photo: Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images

In the wake of scandal: What is the future of anti-doping?

Officially, the Russian-international doping and corruption scandal is done and dusted. If it was not for the country’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s athletes would again be welcomed in international sport.

The scandal, however, has left divisions in the international anti-doping community that are not easily overcome. Governments struggle internally over their distribution of contributions to WADA, and anti-doping hardliners in return are concerned that governments cannot be held legally accountable for anti-doping transgressions.

Further, the number and pace of new suspensions beyond Russia continues at a high rate, with some countries seeing very large numbers of athletes sanctioned by WADA. Data on doping prevalence or anti-doping effectiveness remains shrouded in uncertainties. No one knows if doping is getting better or worse, or whether oversight, education and punishments are actually effective.

Doping continues to be an inherent issue in sport that impacts athletes’ health, the competitiveness of sport, and damages the reputation of nations. Consequently, a range of questions are still left unanswered:

How are different nations and sports approaching the issue of doping? Who should be held accountable when protected persons - such as minors - test positive? Are current structures sufficient to address doping in sport? Can WADA enhance its legitimacy and independence as the main actor on the anti-doping scene? Who should be held accountable for doping – nations, NOCs, or athletes?

By bringing together experts, athletes, coaches, and sports organisations, Play the Game 2024 will explore the latest developments in doping and its impact on the sports industry, and address structural challenges and accountability mechanisms.

Submit an abstract

If you would like to be part of Play the Game 2024, we are welcoming abstracts via our application system. 

Read more about our call for papers

Play the Game 2024
Play the Game 2024

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