PtG Article 25.10.2015

Silence must be broken – Play the Game 2015 opens

More than 350 delegates are participating in the ninth Play the Game conference, taking place in Aarhus, Denmark. The conference opened with calls for more reforms and stronger dialogue in international sport.

“If we want the new reality in sport and physical activity to become better than the old one, we have to ensure that it is accompanied by an open, unrestricted  dialogue that invites everybody and excludes no-one, and where all questions are welcomed, especially the difficult ones.”

With this appeal, Play the Game’s director, Jens Sejer Andersen, welcomed the participants at the ninth Play the Game conference at the opening in the City Hall of Aarhus, Denmark.

More than 350 journalists, researchers, sports politicians and other stakeholders from 45 countries have come to Aarhus, Denmark to help answer the overarching conference question ‘Global sport: reform or revolution?’ Apart from participants coming from most of Europe, also overseas countries such as Japan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Australia and the US are represented, demonstrating that sport’s problems are truly international.

Delegates were welcomed by the chairman of Play the Game and Danish Institute for Sports Studies, Johs Poulsen, stressing that the conference agenda is gaining support.

“Play the Game has moved from being considered an assembly of provocateurs and political extremists into being a valued partner and a valued forum for discussing ‘The homeless questions in sport’ – as we like to put it. More and more stakeholders agree with us that an informed public debate on challenges and potentials of sport, based on independent analysis and involvement of all stakeholders is not an evil – but a necessity to bring sport forward,” Poulsen said.

Leaders must take the lead

Although more attention has been directed towards the governance in sport, sport leaders still do not sufficiently meet the same expectations that they demand from athletes, said Danish Minister of Culture, Bertel Haarder.

“How can we expect athletes to say no to doping, when we hear the stories of the leaders of the sports organisations and of governments covering up doping cases? How can we expect the athletes to refrain from match-fixing and corruption on the field when the leaders are arrested for corruption in the board room? How can we expect the athletes to report whereabouts and undergo financial scrutiny when the sports organisations can be criticised for lack of financial and democratic transparency and the lack of good governance?,” Haarder asked and called on leaders in sport to stand up and prove worthy of the trust vested in them.

"The leaders must necessarily take the lead," the Minister of Culture underlined.

Mayor of Aarhus, Jacob Bundsgaard also deplored the state of leadership in sport organisations and especially in FIFA. "Sport and perhaps especially football has the wonderful ability to bring people together. Nothing else but sports are able to break down the barriers in the way that sports can do," Bundsgaard said.

"So it hurts every fibre of my body when I see this mismanagement of leadership in sporting organisations. There is need for a democratic spring in some of these organisations and this makes this conference very, very relevant and perhaps more relevant than before."

While approving of the autonomy of the sports movement, President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council, Anne Brasseur, argued that transparency and accountability must be in place. If the organisations do not live up to this, public authorities must step in, she said.

"I am attached to the autonomy of the sports movement but I just refuse the idea that some leaders of major sports organisations could act as monarchs who rule outside the rule of law and abuse powers and resources, which are entrusted to them," Brasseur said and directed a punch at FIFA.

"In football a player gets a yellow card as a warning and then a red card and is send off. FIFA has been stacking up the yellow cards for too long, now it is time for red. [..] It is time to blow the final whistle on it. Game over," Brasseur said, something that caused the audience to burst into applause.

The situation in FIFA will be further debated in Monday night’s session in The Old Town. Read more here

Silence from the sports organisations

In his opening speech, Jens Sejer Andersen addressed a lack of response from the established sports organisations like the IOC when it comes to answering the hard questions that sport faces today concerning corruption, doping and other forms of foul play.

Using the example of Marius Vizer and his fateful opening speech of the SportAccord Convention in April this year, in which he questioned key politics of the IOC, Andersen pointed to the dangers involved in highlighting problematic issues in organised sport.

"Those were the dangerous questions that ended the influence of Marius Vizer in international sport – apart from his position as judo president," Andersen said.

"Most of SportAccord’s staff has been fired, and the ruins have been taken over by people of undisputed loyalty to the IOC without any intentions of rebuilding them. […] And the questions? As it happens so often in sport, they are left unanswered."

Whistle blowing can make sport a little more clean

Via a Skype connection, two who have dared to talk about issues that are often left unsaid in fear of the repercussions, joined the delegates in the City Hall.

Yuliya and Vitali Stepanov have stepped forward and openly shared their experiences with systematic doping in Russian athletics. They are now living outside of their country and have been advised to keep doing so for safety concerns. 

Asked of how sports could better protect whistle blowers like themselves, Vitaly Stepanov called for the establishment of witness assistance programmes, which would make the national federations more inclined to work responsibly.

In spite of the price the couple has had to pay, they do not regret their participation in the documentary made by German documentarist, Hajo Seppelt, who will be speaking later at the conference.

"We have no regrets and obviously we are hoping that by doing our small part maybe we can help make sport competitions a little more fair and honest so clean athletes have more chance," the Russian couple said.

44 session during the conference

In no less than 44 sessions, conference delegates will be able to ask the much needed questions that may help bring forward a change in the way sport is governed today.

Some of the governance discussions will be supported by new evidence from the Play the Game report ‘Sports Governance Observer 2015’ benchmarking all 35 international Olympic federations on how they perform on selected principles of good governance. Moreover, issue like doping in sport, match-fixing, sport for all, trafficking and mega-events are among the themes to be discussed the next four days.

Ending his speech, Andersen called on the delegates to actively engage in the discussions and to break the silence:

"Raise your voice, stand up for your expertise and opinions and be ready to get moved by your fellow conference delegates […]It is now time to Play the Game."

Download Jens Sejer Andersen's opening speech. 

More information about Play the Game 2015


Play the Game 2015 takes place in Aarhus, Denmark from 25-29 October at the Marselis Hotel - Aarhus.

More about Play the Game 2015 on the conference website