Ethical behavior in sports is much more than just playing by the rules. It requires such qualities as respect, honesty, decency, responsibility, etc. Unfortunately, nowadays many athletes neglect these qualities, acting according to their selfish interests.

The relevance of this work is dictated by the fact that nowadays the sphere of sport is experiencing a global crisis of ethical problems. In the 21st century, such phenomena as match-fixing, the use of banned substances, aggression and betting are more common in the field of sports than ever, which also emphasizes the relevance of this study.

This work aims  to analyze the most pressing ethical issues in the international sports movement and to develop specific recommendations to improve the management of ethical issues in the field of sport.

Major ethical issues in the international sports movement

The sport is now identifying several significant ethical issues stemming from current sporting practices. In this work 4 major issues will be analyzed: match-fixing, illegal betting (or gambling), doping and aggression, because we believe that, among the many, these are the most pressing problems of today’s sport ethics.

Starting with match-fixing, Dr Declan hill, probably the foremost expert in match-fixing, argues that match-fixing is prosperous due to three rather specific factors: [1]

  1. Match-fixing takes place thanks to the presence of huge illegal gambling markets. These markets are often networked through international crime syndicates.
  2. Low wages for players and referees, especially in lower national leagues. Players and referees willingly settle for easy money, as their wages often do not meet their needs.
  3. Finally, the third factor that Dr Hill highlighted is the corrupt national leagues.

It is worth noting that the very complexity of identifying match-fixing makes this problem growing to an incredible scale. Thus, match-fixing is one of the most acute and frequent ethical issues in modern sport.

Sport has been inextricably linked to betting since its emergence. However, in recent years, betting has gained a huge influence on the outcome of sport events, leading to match-fixing. Since the greater part of the industry is illegal and official records of transactions are often missing, “illegal betting” is one of the major problems of the modern sports industry. [2]

Doping is the use of banned substances by athletes to improve their performance. There are five classes of banned drugs, the most common of which are stimulants and hormones. There are health risks associated with their use and they are banned by the sport's governing bodies.

There are a large number of reasons for the use of prohibited substances:

  • Injuries are an integral part of sport, and prolonged physical limitations and problems can lead athletes to take banned substances in an attempt to speed up the recovery process.
  • Some athletes feel significant pressure to perform at the highest level and resort to doping because they see no other way to reach that level.
  • Many athletes do not know which substances and methods are on WADA's official banned list. This ignorance can lead to a positive doping test through improper nutrition or dietary supplements.

According to the World anti-Doping Agency (WADA), substances are prohibited when they meet at least two of the following three criteria: they increase the performance of an athlete, pose a threat to his health, violate the "sport spirit". [3]The use of illegal drugs is a significant problem in modern sport. Not to mention the fact that it does not correspond to the «sport spirit», drugs of this kind entail devastating consequences for the athlete's body. Besides, most doping tests are conducted by national authorities, who may not be ‘very keen’ to find evidence of taking banned substances that will subject their athletes to disqualifications.

The biggest scandal involving the use of illegal substances is probably the case of Lance Armstrong. In January 2013, retired American cyclist lance Armstrong admitted using banned drugs in an interview with Oprah WInfrey and was stripped of seven victories in the Tour de France and banned for life from the sport. It was a huge scandal, a shock to fans, and a massive blow to the world of sport.

What was striking is that, in the words of Lance Armstrong, it was commonplace for ‘that culture’.  The slogan ‘Victory at all costs’ prevailed in this culture. Even before the race, he knew that he would win. To the question ‘Did you feel wrong?’ Lance Armstrong said ‘No. And that is scary.’ [4]

Here we face a huge problem - most people who commit misconduct in sport do not feel that they have done wrong, they do not take themselves for those who have broken the rule or acted unethically. For them, the phrase "Sport is a field of equal opportunity" is viewed quite differently: they believe that they have equal opportunities in the use of illegal drugs, simulation and other things. An athlete can never be sure that his opponent is "clean". Nowadays, there are always various suspicions and speculations about athletes. And quite often this, rather than a simple desire to win at any cost, pushes an athlete to use a banned substance – he wants to have an equal opportunity with someone who has potentially used a banned drug, even if such athlete is not in the competition. This problem is demonstrated in the so-called "the dirtiest race in the history of sport" - the 100-meter race at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. 7 of the 8 participants of the race failed a doping test. This clearly demonstrates the very "culture" that Lance Armstrong was describing.

The problem of violence and aggression in sport is paradoxical, since, as some argue, aggression is a quality necessary in sport (especially at the highest levels); it is therefore not surprising that sport attracts aggressive people. At the same time, many argue that sport produces aggression in people. It is also important that acts of aggression in sport are not only permissible, but are enthusiastically welcomed by many fans. [5]

There are two types of aggression in sport – ‘hostile’ and ‘instrumental’. The first one is to harm the opponent for the sake of harm itself. The purpose of ‘instrumental’ aggression is the victory in a competition, recognition of the coach etc. [6] However, one should not confuse aggressiveness and assertiveness. If there is no intention to harm the opponent and the athlete uses legal means to achieve their goals, then this athlete is not aggressive, but assertive. The difference is that the intention, when a person is assertive, is to establish dominance rather than harm the opponent. [7]Spectators may also exhibit ‘hostile’ or ‘instrumental’ aggression when they insult or throw objects at an opposing team athlete. [8]

Thus, we have considered four major ethical issues in sport. All these issues are pressing and global, they must be addressed. The causes of these problems can be different - from the internal state of a person to the influence of external factors. However, all these reasons lead to unethical behavior in the sport. We are facing a global crisis against which certain measures must be taken.

Addressing ethical issues in sport

As mentioned earlier, match-fixing is a huge problem in modern sport. They are difficult to identify, especially in low-level competitions. Ways to solve problems must be through searching for their causes, and the sphere of sport is no exception. The most likely reasons for athletes to participate in match-fixing are financial difficulties and pressure from another player or other person. Match-fixing is an easy way to earn money, and players, despite the harsh punishment of a lifetime ban from participating in sports activities or even a term in prison, are willing to commit this act for the sake of financial well-being.

It is not possible to solve this problem from a financial point of view. In the lower leagues, players receive a small salary, and the solution to the problem of match-fixing will not be solved by increasing it, not only because the club owners will not accept it, but also because in some cases, participation in a single fixed match can bring a player more money than his salary for a few months. [9]

In 2017, Dr Deirdre O'Shea and Dr Tadhg MacIntyre from University of Limerick conducted a study that surveyed athletes on match-fixing. Of these athletes, 12% participated in a fixed match, 15% suspected that they had been involved in fixed match and another 15% percent confirmed that they had been offered to participate in a fixed match. [10]Moreover, the key issue is the lack of knowledge about the illegal nature of match-fixing and the intricacies of what constitutes a match-fixing. Nearly half of the players in the survey said they were not sufficiently aware of the betting rules or sharing insider information rules they were required to comply with. One in five survey participants mistakenly believed they could bet on an event they were taking part in. Professional athletes have noted that at the lower levels of sports competition, they had little awareness of the rules, risks and reporting procedures.

Therefore, in our view, athletes should take a science-based training course that can be used to educate athletes on this issue, which would help them to ensure their safety and eliminate their vulnerability to match-fixing. However, this does not completely prevent athletes from participating in such events, so awareness of the risks and penalties of participating in match-fixing is a mandatory next step.

This problem also needs to be solved from the legal side. In many countries, the criminal code contains responsibility for participation in match-fixing. However, in practice, these actions in most cases are not considered as a criminal offence. The participants of fixed matches are usually given a ban of relatively short period of time. Thus, it is necessary to consider participation in match-fixing as a criminal offense, and to bring the perpetrators to justice for participation in it according to the criminal code.

Regarding the problem of illegal betting, it is necessary to implement and develop such programs and committees as IBIS (Integrity Betting Intelligence System) within the framework of the International Olympic Committee. The IBIS program is a fraud-prevention tool within the Olympic Games. In the framework of this program, there is reinforced monitoring and exchange of information between law enforcement agencies, sports organizations, bookmakers and regulators. Bookmakers need to conclude contracts with sports organizations, monitor "suspicious activity" in the framework of betting and notify the organization directly. This system proved to be a great example of the IBIS program during the Olympic games in Sochi and Brazil. [11]We believe that it is necessary to create an international system of responsibility on the example of IBIS, which would have a large budget to deal with illegal betting around the world and to maintain a sufficient level of independence from sports officials.

Turning to doping,  the rapid development of technology and science allows us to bring the fight against it to a whole new level. In 2009, WADA (World anti-doping agency) presented to the sports world the so-called “biological passport of the athlete’, the basic principle of which is to track selected biological variables over time, which indirectly reveal the effects of doping. [12]

WADA needs an increased budget in order to become independent of sports officials. Then it could improve the quality of testing and conduct more investigations. An athlete's biological passport is a promising tool in the fight against doping, and such tools along with the right attitude can take this fight to the highest level. Furthermore, outdated testing methods, corrupted sports organizations, are all due to a lack of eligibility. The main reason why many athletes around the world use doping is due to the trust in the system and support for the existing rules, and until this system is finished, doping will continue to be a pressing problem of modern sport.

Regarding aggression in sports, decisions and recommendations should be primarily educational.

First of all, at every competitive level and for every kind of sport, the "fair play" rule should come first in the code of conduct and also become a mandatory element of the guidelines for coaches. Second, referees are also under enormous pressure during games. Improving their ability to concentrate, control the game and cope with pressure will allow them to perform their duties more competently, thereby avoiding mistakes that lead to aggressive actions by athletes or fans. As for the aggressive behavior of fans, segregation, prohibition of drinking alcoholic beverages at sports events can lead to a decrease in the level of aggression of spectators. [13]

In addition, the media should promote campaigns to reduce violence and aggression in sport, which will also include involvement of athletes, coaches, management, officials and spectators. [10] Coaches, athletes, and authorities (such as the police) should participate in seminars on aggression and violence to make sure they understand the topic of aggression, why it occurs, the cost of aggressive actions, and how aggressive behavior can be controlled. [3] Athletes should participate in programs aimed at reducing the tendency to aggression. Also, when signing contracts with athletes, these contracts should include mandatory courses on the control of aggression.


Our research demonstrates the importance of taking action as we are currently facing a global crisis of ethical issues in sport.

Nowadays the state of the problems is extremely serious. Fixed matches are increasingly common, as they bring people easy money, it is also extremely difficult to identify such matches. It is worth noting the huge ignorance of athletes about what they can and cannot do in terms of regulations.

Regarding anti-doping measures, first of all, we would like to note the lack of competence in the fight against it. Athletes trust the existing system because the punishment is born only by those who are unluckily caught. In general, if most countries consider doping as a criminal act, allocate a decent budget to anti-doping organizations, while fighting corruption in these organizations, and improve methods for collecting doping samples, doping can be more than successfully fought.

Regarding the measures to fight aggression, with the implementation of special programs for athletes to develop understanding and awareness of what aggression is, how it manifests itself, what it can lead to and, most importantly, how to control it, the problem of aggression in sport can be, if not eradicated, then significantly mitigated. Also, the conduct of anti-aggression campaigns, which would involve athletes, coaches and referees, would contribute to the maximum awareness of how pressing this problem is in the modern sports movement.


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