By Kelsey Erickson, Leeds Beckett University, UK
Growing recognition for the magnitude of corruption in international sport has prompted significant interest in exposing and eradicating wrongdoing in sport; in particular, doping. In light of ongoing doping scandals (e.g., Russian doping), individuals are being increasingly encouraged – and expected – to play an active role in deterring the behavior and whistleblowing has emerged as a primary means for achieving this. Commonly defined as “the disclosure by organisation members (former or current) of illegal, immoral, or illegitimate practices under the control of their employers, to persons or organisations that may be able to affect action” (Near & Miceli, 1985: 4), whistleblowing has proven effective for exposing doping (e.g., Yuliya Stepanova/Vitaly Stepanov regarding Russian Athletics). The behavior has therefore garnered increasing interest from researchers (Erickson, Backhouse, & Carless, 2017; Whitaker, Backhouse, & Long, 2014), the media and anti-doping organisations worldwide.
To encourage whistleblowing, significant resources have been (and are) directed towards ‘Report Doping’ platforms, including the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Speak Up! Platform (WADA, 2017) and accompanying Whistleblowing Program (2016) which outlines the rights afforded to whistleblowers. WADA are compelling those with information on doping to come forward and incentivising the behavior within the WADA Code (WADC; Article 10.6.1; WADA, 2015) by offering the possibility for individuals to have the length of their sanctions reduced (and/or removed entirely) for providing substantial assistance leading to an anti-doping rule violation (ADRV) by another. However, these advances in anti-doping policy and practice largely overlook the complexity of reporting doping in sport.
In situations of whistleblowing on doping, individuals are faced with a ‘true moral dilemma’ – two equally valid and demanding moral options (Erickson et al., 2017; Uys & Senekal, 2008). As a result, individuals must choose between (1) reporting the doping athlete to protect the rights of athletes at large to compete in doping-free sport or (2) staying quiet to protect the doping athlete's athletic career, reputation and wellbeing given the social consequences associated with being labelled a ‘doper’ (Georgiadis & Papazoglou, 2014). Notably, someone gets harmed regardless of the final choice. Complicating matters further, emerging evidence suggests that (potential) doping whistleblowers also need to consider the possible consequences of blowing the whistle for themselves (e.g., loss of contracts, sponsorships, etc.) (Erickson, Backhouse & Patterson, In Preparation). Thus, the behavior is not as straightforward as commonly suggested within the anti-doping movement and facilitating the behavior is not as simple as introducing more ‘Report Doping’ resources and platforms. Indeed, alongside the dilemma posed by whistleblowing, (potential) doping whistleblowers are further faced with: (a) an absence of evidence-based whistleblowing policies, (b) a ‘win at all costs’ mentality in sport (Richardson & McGlynn, 2015), (c) the threat of retaliation from a range of stakeholders (e.g., fans, sponsors, media) who are not directly attached to the individual/organization against whom they are reporting (Richardson & McGlynn, 2011, 2015), (d) (the perception that) athletes who report doping are treated more harshly than doping athletes (Whitaker et al., 2014), (e) the existence of a ‘code of silence’ and ‘omerta’ in sport (Shipley, 2013; Whitaker et al., 2014; Kimmage, 2017), and (f) a lack of knowledge and education related to whistleblowing (Whitaker et al., 2014). Against this backdrop, how can we encourage the behavior?
The global anti-doping movement is increasingly encouraging and expecting whistleblowers to come forward, but the complexity of the behavior and potentially significant (personal) costs cannot be overlooked. In order for the anti-doping movement to accommodate and facilitate whistleblowing on doping, a shift in whistleblowing culture – from condemning to celebrating the behavior – is necessary. A critical step towards achieving this is implementing evidence-based whistleblowing policy and procedures. Such action will send the message that organizations recognize and value the courage it takes to come forward with doping information. Given the significant number of barriers posed to potential doping whistleblowers, courage is certainly at the heart of any whistleblowing case.
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