University’s Sports Integrity Center Speaks Out Against Injustice in Sports
The Second Annual Noble Purpose and Anti-Noble Purpose Awards call attention to people who are battling corruption in sports and to encourage the next generation of leaders in sports and criminal investigations to work toward change.
November 1, 2023
By Jackie Hennessey, Contributing Writer
When Declan Hill, D. Phil, presented tennis legend Martina Navratilova as a finalist for the 2023 Noble Purpose for Sports Integrity Award, at a globally watched Zoom event last month, he pointed out a tie he was wearing. It was a treasure of his father’s.
Dr. Hill, associate professor of investigations and the director of the University’s Sport Integrity Center, said the tie was given to survivors of the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II. His father sailed “for three and a half years across the Atlantic, risking submarines and torpedoes. His friends were killed every day and week.”
When a young Hill asked his father why he fought, his father told him, “I did it so we could continue to have debate and discussion and the free-flowing of ideas.”
His father was also on the streets of Prague in 1968, at a time when “the teachers, the professors, the politicians, the artists, the union leaders, the people who chose to love in different ways, were carted off to gulags, where they were suppressed and killed.”
Dr. Hill said that when Navratilova arrived in the U.S., “the seed of freedom had been planted in those dark times in Czechoslovakia where she was born, and they flowered and flourished here. Many things can be said about Martina Navratilova. One of them is that she will not shut up. She’s fought for women to be treated equally and fairly in a time when that wasn't even begun to be discussed.”
Hill also said that Navratilova, who appeared in 32 Grand Slam finals and won 18, “discussed openly the beauty of same-sex relations at a time when that was a desert of discussion.”
‘Fight for equity and justice’
The Noble Purpose for Sports Integrity Award advisory panel – called the Justice League – includes internationally recognized athletes, academics and activists who have fought against abuse of athletes, predatory sports gambling, match fixing and other corruption in sports.
From dozens of possible nominees for this year’s Noble Purpose Award, they chose finalists Navratilova; Malcolm Bidali, “a whistleblower against human rights abuses in Qatar in the build-up to last year’s FIFA World Cup;” and Vinicius Junior, the Real Madrid soccer player “who single-handedly took on some of the systemic problems of Spanish sport in confronting a baying mob of thousands of racist fans live on television during a recent match,” Hill said.
Hill then announced Navratilova as the winner. He said there was debate among the advisory council members because in recent years Navratilova has spoken out about trans athletes who compete in women’s sports. But he said the council chose her because “Martina Navratilova has chiseled a career of sporting immortality and fight for equity and justice.”
Navratilova took a few moments to gather herself and wipe away tears. “Coming from a country where I came from, you couldn't speak out,” she said. “In America, you actually can speak out and would not be punished for it. But these days, actually, that's not happening. You speak out, and you do get punished for it. Case in point is that I was a controversial nominee for this award, when to me, I'm speaking out because I speak out for fairness. That's all I've ever done, as much as I could in Czechoslovakia. I always spoke out about that, in America, without penalties, really, until now.
“It is athletes who largely suffer from this lack of integrity in sport,” Navratilova continued. “That is why I will keep speaking out until we figure out a way that's good for everyone. We are not anti-trans. We are pro-women, pro-sports, pro-fairness, pro-equality, and we must find a way where everybody is welcome, but not at the cost of fairness to women and girls.”
‘A passionate professor who cares’
The Center for Sports Integrity’s second annual Noble Purpose Awards event, via Zoom, drew viewers from around the globe. Dr. Hill said his goal is to illustrate to his students – sport management, national security, and criminal justice majors – and to the world what can happen when a single voice becomes a collective voice for change.
Dr. Hill invited Anna Schleck ’23, who graduated from the National Security program in May, to be part of the Justice League and she said it’s taught her so much about the connections between politics, crime, and sports. “I learned that there are so many people dedicated to keeping sports as pure as possible and that they are diverse and talented individuals using their skills to help,” she said.
At the Zoom event, Schleck introduced nominee Malcom Bidali. “In doing research and going through the nomination process, I got to learn how much he sacrificed to make sure the world knew what was going on in Qatar as they were preparing for the World Cup.
“The University and his students are very lucky to have Dr. Hill because he is a passionate professor who cares about his students and goes out of his way to involve them or connect them with opportunities that could open doors to a job or a unique experience such as this,” continued Schleck, who is currently working as a contractor for the Veterans Administration and plans to pursue a career as a national security analyst. “I met people working all over the world in different fields that have connections to sports.”
Investigating a culture of abuse
The Center also presented the Anti-Noble Purpose Award, given to “the person or entity whose actions have demonstrated the worst principles in the sports world.” The nominees were:
The Balkan Match-Fixers – as Dr. Hill described “criminals who have spread match-fixing into sports on every inhabited continent.”
The Executives of PGA Tour – “for cutting a deal with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf behind the backs of the players and the 9/11 victims’ families, whom they had previously used to garner support for their public fight against LIV.”
The Canadian Government – which Dr. Hill said “turned a blind eye to countless incidents of abuse and harassment in their national sports. Thousands of athletes have appealed for an inquiry, and the politicians have demonstrated their true leadership by refusing to allow such a process.”
The Canadian Government was selected as the recipient. Caradh O'Donovan, a former world champion kickboxer and athletes’ rights activist from County Sligo, Ireland, nominated the Canadian government because, “Canadian athletes, advocates and supporters have been calling for the Canadian government to initiate an independent national inquiry into the culture of abuse that exists across all sports in Canada,” she said. Yet that has not happened.
‘These are important issues’
Dr. Hill contacted the Canadian Ministry of Sport to accept the award. When no one responded, he asked the Honorable Rosemarie E. Aquilina, judge of the 30th Circuit Court in Michigan, to speak as part of the event. The Anti-Noble Purpose Award immediately garnered news coverage in the Canadian press, and Dr. Hill indicated that the award has also generated a great deal of official debate in the Canadian House of Commons.
Judge Aquilina presided over the trial of Larry Nassar, the former sports medicine doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, where more than 150 victims testified. She sentenced Nassar to jail for up to 175 years for sexually abusing young female gymnasts who were entrusted to his care.
According to Reuters, Judge Aquilina “called for an independent inquiry into sports across Canada amid widespread allegations of harassment, abuse and bullying.” In June, she testified before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
“I hope this award changes the trajectory of how the Canadian government deals with abuse, which can only happen if they finally listen to Canadian athletes, children and advocates, and immediately call for an independent national inquiry into the toxic culture of abuse across Canadian sport and make immediate and meaningful changes,” she said.
Dr. Hill thanked all of the participants joining from around the world and urged people to move the fight for justice in sports forward. “These are important issues,” he said. “They desperately need to be discussed in these times.”