Strengthening disciplinary law necessary for safe and sound sport
There is more and more attention for safety in sports. Cases involving abuse of power and (sexual) harassment have great impact on those involved, and receive much (media) attention. Besides that, the sports sector is dealing with integrity problems involving doping, match fixing and criminal interference. It turns out to be difficult to effectively handle these wrongdoings: there are many parties and interests involved, that each have to take on their roles within their parts of the system. This is why the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport has commissioned research into the governance and disciplinary law of safety and integrity in sports. This has been carried out by Andersson Elffers Felix (AEF), the Mulier Institute, Kennedy Van der Laan and Utrecht University. The most important conclusion? The problems are beyond the sports sector's control. This makes enhancing the governance and a revision of disciplinary law necessary. On Wednesday 5 April, the Dutch House of Representatives will discuss this topic.
The goal of the investigation was to gain an overview of how tasks, roles and responsibilities have been divided in the landscape of sports and government. Who carries which responsibility to improve safety and integrity? And how can this system be organised more effectively, so wrongdoings can be handled better and prevented where possible?
The four investigating parties have carried out a broad-scale investigation, in which they involved many parties from organised sports, entrepreneurial sports, legal parties and the government (national and municipal). They also spoke with victims of inappropriate behaviour. With all these partners, they thought about how the system can be improved and what would be required for that.
The outcomes have been captured in the report Samen de lat hoger leggen. Onderzoek naar de governance en het tuchtrecht van veilige en integere sport (Setting the bar higher. Research on the governance and disciplinary law of safe and sound sport). This report has been sent to the Dutch House of Parliament, which will discuss it on Wednesday 5 April 2023 during the sports debate.
Problems are beyond sports sector's control
The research report shows that there are problems that have escalated beyond the sports sector's control. Sports is a broad sector with many clubs, unions and entrepreneurs, which do not always have the capacities to properly handle integrity problems. At the same time, sports organisations are the first place where problems come to light. They have a first responsibility to handle these. But they also occasionally need help too in order to be able to do this well, from the government for instance.
New collaboration model between government and sports required
The government and the sports sector need each other to counteract wrongdoings in sports. The researchers conclude that a new collaboration model between the sports sector and the government is needed. Instead of the question ‘what is the sports sector's responsibility and what is not’, it is more meaningful to think on ‘how can the government and the sports sector act together in order to guarantee safety and integrity’. The role of the government must be based on a united view on public interest for which the government takes responsibility. These interests vary along various types of problems (doping, match fixing, criminal interference and inappropriate behaviour). In the report, the researchers make specific recommendations on the governance involving these various types of problems.
- To not found one central institute responsable for guaranteeing safety and integrity in the entire sports sector. The advise is to work on enhancement within existing structures, with support for sports organisations instead;
- To take a number of decisions regarding the tasks of the Doping Authority Netherlands, but to not change too much about the governance of doping.
- To continue to work on improvements of the collaborations in the Nationaal Platform Matchfixing (National Platform Match Fixing) between sports-related parties and the criminal-law sector. Especially for the triage and investigative functions regarding match fixing.
- To not change anything about the governance structure regarding criminal interference, but to work within the existing structure towards better prevention and awareness in sports, and an improved collaboration between sports, municipalities, the prosecutors' office and the police instead, in order to deal with criminal interference;
- To take big steps in the handling of inappropriate behaviour, which includes the evasion of obligations regarding measures against inappropriate behaviour at sports clubs and the continued development of the Centrum Veilige Sport Nederland (CVSN) (the Centre for Safe Sport Netherlands), as an independent organisation by and for sports.
The roles of disciplinary law and the Instituut Sportrechtspraak (ISR)
Besides governance issues, the researchers also considered the role of disciplinary law in sports and the functioning of the Instituut Sportrechtspraak (Institute for disciplinary law in sport, ISR). In the past years, the ISR received much critical media attention following a number of sensitive cases involving abuse of power in elite sports. The report also includes recommendations on the operations and development of the ISR.
Drafting a joint vision on purpose and character of disciplinary law in sports
The researchers conclude that there are various views on what disciplinary law is and which role it should play. That is not always helpful. Disciplinary law is one of the instruments to prevent inappropriate behaviour and repetition of it, and needs to be used consciously. That is why their advice is to draft a joint vision on the purpose and the character of disciplinary law in sports. This should help in terms of accurate expectations of disciplinary law and clear considerations on the use of disciplinary law or other instruments.
Besides that, they advise to enhance disciplinary law, practised by the ISR, on a number of points. It is important that disciplinary law belongs to the sports sector and that its embedding in the sector has to be safeguarded. This also applies to the ISR, in which the connection to sector parties requires attention.