As I reflect on 2016, what strikes and saddens me when looking back on the headlines is that it has been yet another disastrous year for the governance and integrity of sport.
Since 2015 – when the FIFA crisis stunned the world of football and sport – competitions, clubs and institutions across sport have continued to be dragged from one integrity crisis to the next.
Over the last 12 months, we have seen a catalogue of high-profile match-fixing cases, doping cover-ups, institutional corruption and governance problems and more recently, a wave of heart-breaking stories involving historic child abuse.
As an industry that actively promotes strong ethics and values, good governance and integrity, how has modern day sport hit rock bottom? And most importantly, as 2017 comes into focus, where does it go from here?
It is clear that there is now a genuine and growing public demand for systematic change in the way sport is governed, the systems and processes that are in place as well as a clear appetite for greater transparency and improved ethical and social responsibility from sports organisations and their leaders.
Despite the challenges sport has faced in 2016, as someone who has worked in the field of transparency, accountability and anti-corruption for over 40 years across the public and private sector, I believe though that there is still hope for sport.
Whilst it is clear from the events of this year that significant challenges remain, as we look forward to 2017, I believe that next year there is a great opportunity to restore trust and inspire real, lasting and positive change in the field of sport governance and integrity.
Some have asked why is this needed and why is change required? Well, clean and well-governed sport is the foundation that trust, integrity and credibility are built upon.It also sows the seed for other positive values like teamwork, fair play and respect – which are so fundamental to sport.
As a result, this is why, as International Centre for Sport Security (ICSS) group chief executive officer, I would like to propose a simple three-point plan for sport in 2017 which, if implemented, can help restore trust and help steer a path towards good governance in sport and improved ethics and integrity.
Step one - Introducing clear and transparent policies.
As a first step, it is absolutely critical that clear and transparent integrity policies and standards are introduced for clubs, leagues and other amateur and professional competitions to follow.
This is highlighted by the recent and heart-breaking child abuse scandal that is affecting football in the UK at the moment. With the aim of better understanding governance and transparency across European clubs, research conducted by the ICSS has shown that only 5.8 per cent (41 out of 702) top-flight football clubs across Europe make reference to having a child protection policy on their websites, with this number dropping to just four per cent (28 out of 702) when you remove Premier League clubs.
These statistics, along with the sobering stories emerging in the UK, highlight the potential far-reaching impact that this scandal could have across different countries and across other sports, as well as the importance of openly communicating key integrity policies to the general public.
Step two - Independent vetting and universal standards.
As a next and equally significant step, it is important that any integrity policy is vetted by independent experts in their respective fields and that recognised standards are consulted upon and agreed at a local, regional and international level.
As with any other industry, good governance in sport is as much about process as it is about policy thus it is crucial that the policy in place has been checked and verified by independent experts.
Step three – Implementing, enforcing and regulating.
And lastly, greater resources must be allocated to ensuring integrity standards and policies are implemented, enforced and regulated at all levels.
Enforcement and implementation is now essential in putting good governance into action but, most significantly, 2016 has seen further question marks raised over whether sport has the capability - or even the desire - to properly regulate itself.
As we approach 2017, it upsets and saddens me to see that dark clouds continuing to overshadow sport and continued questions being asked about how sport is governed.
With the ongoing fallout of the first and second McLaren Reports, as well as recent comments by five ex-FA Chairmen of football governance to cite just two examples, if all sectors of the industry fully commit themselves to these three steps then we can inspire real, lasting and positive change.
The need for urgent and collective action is greater than ever.
Throughout my career, I have been a strong believer in collective action and combining resources to achieve a common goal and as one member of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance - an independent coalition of over 70 international organisations from all sectors of sport – I believe that, whilst many challenges remain, 2017 can be a year where all sectors of sport unite and work together to ensure good governance lies at the very heart of every organisation in sport.
If these basic steps are embraced by sport at all levels, then we stand a strong chance of restoring trust and putting integrity back into sport in 2017.