Gates closing for commercial partners in sport

September 30, 2009

Simon Chadwick– Professor Simon Chadwick, Director, Centre for the International Business of Sport, Coventry, UK. The opinions expressed are his own. –

This summer’s Tour de France was truly historic: the race finished without anyone having returned a positive dope test. Monumental! In a sport seemingly beset with drug problems, professional cycling appeared to have turned the corner, started over, seen the error of its ways, cleaned up its act etc.

Some weeks later however, it was back to “situation normal” when Mikel Astarloza, winner of Stage 16 in this year’s race, tested positive for EPO use. To be honest, the only real surprise about this was that the media singularly failed to refer to the test result as “dope-gate” or some such other gating scandal.

Yet gates elsewhere were swinging this summer like those on a disused farm caught in a tornado. The world of sport witnessed scandals ranging from “crash-gate” to “blood-gate” and beyond (even to situations where women were apparently men – gender-gate?). Crash-gate was the most serious of the summer’s attempts at self-implosion, according to some possibly the most serious sporting scandal of all time.

Indeed, there was a sense amongst certain people that the 2008 F1 Grand Prix in Singapore will serve as a headstone on the grave of sporting credibility: we can no longer trust in or rely upon those involved in sport. Flavio Briatore and Pat Symonds have admitted their guilt and apparently done the decent thing, but others may well be complicit too.

Just how could something so brazen, so dangerous, have remained secret for so long amongst such a small group of people? From whistle-blowing, to organisation culture, the use (and abuse) of power and the basis on which teams compete, the whole saga has been a sad, pitiful, mangled mess of managerial, organisational and commercial issues.

Blood-gate was a lot less controversial than the Renault fiasco, if for no other reason than it was essentially a domestic drama and wasn’t therefore played out in the glare of international publicity. Moreover, while the likelihood of a physically painful outcome was much greater in the F1 case, Harlequins willingness to feign a physically painful outcome was at the heart of bloody matters down at The Stoop.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that the club is not the only one in rugby that maintains a supply of blood capsules, but Harlequins got caught. As with the Renault team, those responsible at Harlequins have either done the decent thing; or else had the decent thing imposed upon them by the relevant authorities. Dean Richards has been the main target of disciplinary interventions because of his prominent role in the affair – strangely, and worryingly, Richards is a former police officer.

While the RFU and the FIA both took a stance in respectively dealing with crashgate and bloodgate, the nature of the interventions was different, and has posed some interesting questions about how scandals in sport should be dealt with. In Renault’s case, the regulatory intervention was much less serious than it was for Harlequins, in part due to the team’s troublesome twins having already fallen on their gilded-swords.

However, Renault suffered more as a result of the commercial consequences than did Harlequins; at a conference late in September, a senior member of the rugby team’s senior management team claimed there had been no problems with sponsors and partners. Renault on the other hand lost its main sponsor (ING) and a secondary one (Mutua Madrilena), both on the same day. The team will undoubtedly have lost money as the result, as well as a considerable measure of commercial lustre.

Essentially, the two cases discussed here have raised an important issue: is sporting scandal dealt with more effectively by regulatory sanctions (as with Harlequins) or by market-led sanctions (as with Renault)?

The latter is controversial, as many people will argue that money got sport into trouble, so can it really be expected to now get it out of the difficulties it faces?

Moreover, it relies upon sponsors and partners terminating their contracts with immediate effect, when in fact adjustments and sanctions may move much more slowly as these sponsors and partners only refrain from renewing a contract once it is finished (which might be years in advance).

Yet regulation appears to have a history of failure: despite everyone’s best efforts, doping still takes place, players pop blood capsules in their mouths and cars get deliberately crashed into walls by their drivers.

As such, if money does indeed talk, then perhaps it is pay-back time and the very big carrot that used to hang from a too frequently ineffective stick should be used as the medium through which cheats are dealt with?

One comment

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Don’t get caught cheating has been an operating guidelines far too long.

Sponsors and property owners must realise that its going to get more difficult to keep things quiet – the world can’t be ‘tightly controlled’ as it used to be.

They can either run the risk of a scandal exploding in their faces and marring the revenues & brand halo they desperately seek – OR take a no tolerance to cheating approach consistently.

If they walk the talk in private, besides their public song and dance, it will send a clear signal to sportsmen who otherwise succumb to the huge temptation [to cheat] and win!

Regulation / dope control/ testing – are required as a deterrence.

But the strongest deterrents are:
No money for cheats
Shaming cheats publicly

Anita Lobo

Posted by Anita Lobo | Report as abusive