The Charger Blog

Recognizing the Guardians of Sports

The University’s Sports Integrity Center recently honored a preeminent sports investigator with its inaugural Noble Purpose Award to call attention to people who are battling corruption in sports, and encourage the public and the next generation of criminal investigators to work toward change.

October 4, 2022

By Jackie Hennessey, Contributing Writer

Richard McLaren was the inaugural winner was inaugural winner of the Noble Purpose Award.
Richard McLaren was the inaugural winner was inaugural winner of the Noble Purpose Award. Photo courtesy of Western University.

They are the lonely fighters who dare to take on problems in sports – abuse of athletes, doping, match fixing, mob-controlled gambling, and sports washing – where nations hide human rights violations and corruption behind the façade of sport.

They speak out often at great personal cost. A government can wipe out their online presence and their family members have been harassed. They face legal action and death threats.

But they, the guardians of sports, keep pushing forward, says Declan Hill, D.Phil., associate professor of criminal justice, and the director of the University’s Sport Integrity Center, which features the first graduate certificate program in sports integrity in the United States. Recently, the Center chose to honor one individual from among three distinguished nominees to receive the first Noble Purpose Award for sports integrity.

    The nominees were:

  • Enes Kanter Freedom, the former National Basketball Association (NBA) player, who has stood up for human rights, democracy, and fair play around the world.
  • Richard McLaren, sports investigator and professor of law at Western University in Ontario, Canada, whose work revealed the extent of state-sanctioned doping among top Russian athletes and investigated widespread abuse of female athletes in Africa.
  • Peng Shuai, a three-time Chinese Olympian tennis player, who, after posting on Chinese social media that she had been assaulted by a senior Chinese politician, was “essentially placed under house arrest, and has been unable to speak out about this important issue for herself or the millions of athletes around the world who face similar trauma,” Dr. Hill said.

The online awards ceremony drew viewers – students, athletes, advocates, leaders in sports integrity, criminal investigators, and journalists from “every continent except Antarctica,” Dr. Hill noted. They listened as Dr. Hill announced the inaugural winner was Richard McLaren.

“Through the numerous controversies, scandals and investigations in sports there has been one person the world has turned to, to sort through the mess and find out the truth: Richard McLaren,” said Patrick Malloy, senior lecturer, and director of the University’s M.S. in Investigations program.

“When Russia was accused of top-level, state-sanctioned doping” McLaren and his team faced cyberattacks and death threats, but they pressed on, uncovering the full extent of the doping problem, Professor Malloy said.

‘It’s safer now more than ever before to speak up, but it’s still not safe enough.’

McLaren thanked the University for calling attention to problems that threaten the very existence of sport from the recreational to the elite professional level. “To be selected among leading voices in sports integrity across the world, it is very humbling,” McLaren said.

He said that many sports organizations and governing boards have created integrity or ethics units but rather than act robustly and make reforms, they have become “the burial grounds for the skeletons of integrity.”

Declan Hill, D.Phil., hosted the online awards ceremony.
Declan Hill, D.Phil., hosted the online awards ceremony.

“It’s safer now more than ever before to speak up but it’s still not safe enough,” McLaren said. “The culture of sport still enables abuse and promotes a cone of silence around abuse which dissuades athletes who are victims from coming forward.”

The event began with the Anti-Noble Purpose Award given to “the government in the world whose actions have demonstrated the worst principles in the sports world,” Dr. Hill said. Qatar won the award over Russia and China.

Karim Zidan, an Egyptian-Canadian journalist who writes about sports and politics, pointed to an investigation by The Guardian newspaper that found that since 2010 more than 6,500 migrant workers had died building the World Cup stadiums in Qatar. “Despite harrowing reports of death and abuse in the construction of World Cup stadiums, the country is still set to become the first Arab and Middle Eastern country to hold the prestigious football event,” he said.

‘It’s my job to make my students’ minds explode.’

The nominees were chosen by Dr. Hill and the Sports Integrity Center’s advisory panel whose members include “Nancy Hogshead-Makar, three-time Olympic gold medal winner, who has devoted her career to protecting athletes from sexual abuse; Richard Lewis, the preeminent journalist on match-fixing and corruption in e-sports; Caradh O’Donovan, world-champion kick boxer and karate expert dedicated to better protection of athletes; Professor Manase Kudzai Chiweshe, a Zimbabwean academic whose work has revealed the dangers of predatory sports gambling in Africa, particularly among poor farmers and laborers;” and Michele Vittorio, who worked on his dissertation with Dr. Hill, “putting together a network analysis of how four organized crime groups in Italy ran an international criminal business with a focus on sports gambling and match fixing.”

Professor Vittorio, who is now a lecturer in the University’s Lee College, says he’s proud that the University has taken a lead, monitoring corruption in sports and teaching the new generations of criminal justice and investigation students to push the fight forward.

Dr. Hill says it’s important that his students understand this.

“It’s my job to make my students’ minds explode,” he said. “Many have never heard of the depth of corruption in sport, how thousands of people can die to build the world’s biggest sporting tournament. So, it’s my job to teach them this but also to show them it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s not inevitable. That’s why the Noble Purpose Award is there – to say these people are doing better.”