From the dawn of the Olympiad to Tokyo 2020, sports have always captivated and united us as a global society. Where one might otherwise see divisiveness, sports have made communities whole. In times of doubt, they have instilled patriotism. Even during difficult days, they have helped us to define ourselves as to who and what we are.
Consider the prowess of U.S. athletic icon Jessie Owens on full display at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Standing up to hate and to fear and embodying much more than just the spirit of our country in the process, he made all free societies feel enormous pride.
Even today we see progress. The fight for women’s rights in Iran, for example, has made a historic breakthrough with Iranian women being allowed to attend their first soccer match.
While we all may wish to believe that sports are a distinct and separate entity or a reprieve from the daily political and commercial pressures that the world faces, they ares far more than that. In its essence, the industry of sports has been deeply interwoven into our social fabric, reflected throughout our economies, and ingrained within our body politic and the decision-making of our leaders.
Athletes, team owners, club managers, corporate sponsors, and political stakeholders who shape sports today, however, have a profound responsibility. They serve as a barometer for humanity and a measuring stick for the next generation. In effect, sports shines a light on our global and human character.
And although we may have embraced sports as a source of inspiration since the beginning of recorded history, if not cautious and steadfast, we will be letting that generation down.
From allegations of corruption to the sheer waste of billions of dollars and human life in the construction of stadiums and related facilities, we have witnessed failures of sports and, by extension, humanity. We’ve been taken aback by the reputational fall of legends and regime change at major sports governing bodies. A "monetization over merit" approach scandalized what should have been globally-competitive bids for the hosting of major exhibitions in years past.
And today the world is watching. Our young people have never before had greater access to the behind the scenes inter-workings of the sports industry and they are speaking out. In some cases they are naming and shaming. In some, they are commending those standout actors of goodwill.
Take next year’s Olympics in Tokyo. Invoking the spirit of the ongoing green revolution, the organizers of the Games are using their prestigious platform as an opportunity to roll out an ambitious environmental sustainability agenda, one highlighted by an attempt to be the first-ever Olympics hosted on 100% renewable electricity.
Tokyo is not only implementing this initiative as a "green energy" exercise, but the city is leveraging its host nation status as an opportunity to be the environmentally-responsible example for others to follow. It is heeding a call to action for a global society to seek out innovative and practical energy alternatives.
Sports also is at the forefront of the battle for equality and those individuals leading the charge are rightly being commended. In the arena of women’s rights, longtime corporate sponsor Nike is declining to apply what have been antiquated, “performance-related” sponsorship pay reductions to pregnant athletes. This has set an industry benchmark which hopefully becomes the standard.
The fight no doubt goes on. Women’s sports has been one of the key talking points of 2019 with noticeable global growth in sponsorship and broadcast commitments. The U.S. women's team has responded to yet another industry-reform call-to-action. They filed a gender discrimination lawsuit (in March of 2019) over pay, which continues to lag behind that of their male counterparts. Following their victory at the World Cup, momentum has been escalating for a revisit of the pay gap, including a bill in Congress that would ensure equal pay for athletes who represent the United States in all global competitions.
The world is also seeing sports as a contemporary driver of innovation in the fields of research and development, in science and technology. This is both laudable and necessary. In sports, analytics is everything, and big data has enabled observers to indicate athletic progression (and by extension human development) at a rate like never before.
These developments are also providing a call to action. Data protection remains a key challenge, for example. However, other advances have also been made in ensuring the physical security of sports spectators. "Generation 2.0"-emergency preparedness programs, simulation software, facial recognition and smartphone applications are enhancing the role that metal detectors once played at such events.
Globalization and the "Fourth Industrial Revolution," including the leveraging of social media, have served as major boons in tackling challenges in contemporary sports. Nonetheless, there is still work to be done. A cohesive ‘call to action’ for reform in the sports industry has yet to be made.
The impetus for such a call to action is precisely why the Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society will be launching its inaugural Global Sports Conference in June of 2020, taking place by design just weeks before the Tokyo Olympics.
The conference will be a biennial event, drawing together delegates not only from the global sports arena, but the global community at large, including leaders of enterprise, governance and civil society. It will forge tangible applications from interactive discussions on how best practices can address the evolutionary challenges that the empowering force and industry of sports today presents.
The Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society places emphasis on the societal and political challenges of today. Raising greater awareness to the necessary calls to action in sports and sports ethics has a unique role in this process.
By bringing together these major industry players and governmental figures alike, the conference will generate groundbreaking insight into what the future of sports, in the broadest sense, should be. How can breakthroughs in technology and changes in social cohesion and globalization be leveraged? How can the world continue to harness the link of sports to society to drive advancement in the fields of global development, equality, and innovation?
The conference will create a marketplace for cooperation and meaningful action which will lead to a publication of “lessons learned” for dissemination to global sports leaders before the start of the Tokyo Olympics. That is both its mission and distinction in framing the dynamics of this critical industry.
As our world continues to become more intrinsically linked, sports help the world realize that everyone is on the same team. The Global Sports Conference will play its role in advancing an industry under consistent scrutiny. By learning from the mistakes of the past and taking measurable actions in light of them, it aims to inspire the ambitions of the next generation.
That generation has every opportunity to be the ethical fair players and achievers of tomorrow, no matter the result on the field today.
James P Moore is the founder and CEO of the Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society, “Shaping the World Together.” ™© Japan Today