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Volume 22 No. 6

Opinion

I’ll never forget my first trip to the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. I had just finished competing in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in the United Arab Emirates in 2014. It was the first time that I had been forced to face the issue of gender inequality head on when I had to wear an “abaya,” a traditional full body covering cloak common in Arab states if I wanted to enter the mosque. The stark realization that I had been sheltered from any true gender-specific restrictions most of my life was shocking.

I have been competing at an elite level in judo for 15 years. I’ve fought in two Olympic Games and hold a bronze medal in the under-57kg category from the 2012 London Games. I love judo, I love the Olympic movement, and I love being a strong, independent woman.

Marti Malloy celebrates her bronze-medal win in judo at the London Olympic Games in 2012.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
In an attempt to avoid sounding callous, insensitive or uncaring, I’ll start by pointing out that women today are still struggling on many fronts with issues related to sexism. As an American, I have been fortunate enough to be born in a country made up of courageous trailblazing women who will stop at nothing to see women gain equal pay, exposure, rights and recognition. I know there are millions around the world who are not so lucky and live in danger every day because they are female. I don’t mean to marginalize them or oversimplify the issues surrounding their struggle. But my reaction to sexism has always been pretty simple: I just don’t accept it.

I still remember my freshman year of college when I learned what Title IX was. This historic piece of law was a shock to me. I actually said to myself, “We had to make this law in order for people to treat each other fairly?” As you can see, I was very naive. Or maybe I was just lucky. Maybe it’s the way I was raised or my personal experiences growing up with three brothers while training in a martial art that made me this way.

I first stepped on the judo mat when I was 6 years old and since then there has never been a question in my mind about what women can do or achieve and what men can do or achieve. For me, they have always been the same because I was never taught that I should expect different things from different genders. For example, at judo practice we would warm up by doing 100 pushups and 100 sit-ups. Our coach would make everyone do them the correct way whether you were a boy or a girl, old or young. I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to this type of standard regarding women’s vs. men’s abilities from an early age and being able to identify where double standards existed. I guess I have my family life to thank for that.

I knew that I was chosen to lead because of my character and my ability. … Why is it impressive that I happen to be a girl?
My mom was the oldest of four sisters and grew up on a dairy farm, taking on the roles of what at that time were considered the “first son’s” responsibility. Herding cattle, hunting, horseback riding and raising livestock were things that my grandfather could not do alone, and so my mom did them with him. It didn’t matter that she was a girl, it mattered that it was necessary.

Fast-forward to my upbringing. I’m the only girl among three male siblings and start a martial art like judo while all my kindergarten friends (and my brothers) were taking ballet. Fast-forward even further to when I am 21 and am named team captain of the San Jose State University judo team my junior year. The impressed looks from people when they learned that I was the leader of a 25-person team consisting of mostly men was insulting to me. I knew that I was chosen to lead because of my character and my ability to set an example through my training and attitude. Why is it impressive that I happen to be a girl? I always thought, “I’m best suited for the job!” I understood that I was the first woman to have that role and that most people’s surprise stemmed from the unconventionality of it. But for me it was not unconventional. I had been bossing boys around and beating them up at practice and in tournaments since I was 6. It was my norm. So while men on the SJSU team were bigger than me and could probably overpower my 5-foot-3, 130-pound frame, that didn’t mean they could demand respect any better than me. That confidence is something I have developed and learned through a lifetime of nonacceptance for gender-specific roles or abilities.

Fast-forward to the place I am in now. With two Olympic Games and two degrees under my belt, I find myself facing the next phase in life, the professional one. I know that the belief in my abilities that I have developed throughout my life have prepared me to face whatever this new stage brings. I plan to continue not accepting any standard that tips the scales in a gender-specific direction rather than in an ability-based direction. Why should I?

The good part about all this is that as I have aged I have experienced less and less of the “Wow, you’re in a position of power and you’re a girl, how amazing,” reactions. We are by no means done fighting to make the world recognize where double standards run rampant and to bring equal rights to women across the globe. But with the strong voices of women everywhere and from every walk of life becoming louder every day, we are getting closer and closer.

Marti Malloy (@Martidamus) competed for the U.S. Olympic judo team in two Olympic Games and earned her master’s degree in mass communications from San Jose State University in 2015.

Similar to laws and regulations in business, without rules, the game of sport is dead. Think about it. Throwing a ball is just throwing a ball — until you devise a method for determining a winner, specify which ball to use, and draw a line from which to launch it. That’s when it becomes a sport.

Of course, wherever rules exist, there are people who’ll attempt to cross the line. It’s not a new phenomenon. During the past year especially, news headlines have been dominated by scandalous allegations of doping, match-fixing, bribery, tax fraud and cheating. There’s no evidence that dishonesty runs more rampant today. However, while increased coverage and scrutiny can encourage honesty, it also can serve up constant reminders that the sports we love may not be meritocracies. With every legendary athlete and storied sports organization that falls from grace, our trust erodes a little more.

We know sports can play a critical role in uniting racially and economically diverse countries and cultures in the common pursuit of athletic excellence, driving economic progress and development along the way. For those bridges to be built, though, athletes, fans and sponsors have to trust that the system isn’t rigged. In turn, athletes and sports organizations must have the integrity to adhere to agreed-upon standards and live by both the spirt and letter of the rules. Void of conviction and honor, sports cannot thrive as honorable professions or as profitable business models.

Is it too late to restore integrity to sports before corruption wins the game?

Absolutely not. But, those who govern athletics cannot act alone. Business must join forces in a shared effort from multiple sectors — including government, law enforcement, academia and civil society — to restore trust and inspire real, lasting change. As leaders, we must take the lessons we have learned in the global business landscape and apply the same processes and guidelines to sports.

This is why in April, more than 40 groups representing varying sectors gathered in Madrid, under the umbrella of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance, a new, independent coalition dedicated to salvaging the reputation and credibility of sports. SIGA recognizes the urgent need to collectively generate new ideas and drive reforms in the areas of governance, financial integrity and betting.

The organization intends to influence and help strengthen good governance across the whole of the sports industry through better regulations, stronger oversight, more stringent monitoring, and by holding organizations accountable to codes of conduct with very clear, unambiguous consequences for bad acts and actors.

Addressing these issues in an industry as diverse as sport will require immense coordination and hard work from people willing to put aside their own interests to achieve common goals that benefit. Our two organizations, Deloitte and The International Centre for Sport Security, have signed on as passionate and committed supporters of SIGA — and ask that others do the same — because we believe it is possible to restore honor, integrity and glory to sports. Our athletes, and their fans, deserve no less.

In this age of transparency, all business leaders have an incentive to proactively and unequivocally support the establishment of best practices and international standards to preserve the integrity and viability of sports institutions that give us entertainment, a sense of pride, avenues to break barriers and national economic prosperity.

SIGA offers a starting point for creating a framework to reform sports and return it to an era when clubs, leagues, associations and other stakeholders relished in the pure joy of the competition. Let’s join together to ensure the rules mean something so that the games — and athletes’ accomplishments — mean something.

James “Chip” Cottrell is a U.S. partner with Deloitte Advisory and Emanuel Medeiros is the CEO of The International Centre for Sport Security Europe. Both serve on the executive council of the Sport Integrity Global Alliance.

I originally thought this soliloquy was going to be about the gender-based imbalance of consequences in the wake of the Hope Solo and Ryan Lochte post-Rio spectacles. But I now realize that these stories, and so many others, transcend gender. This is about our collective expectations of our athletic heroes. And what we are willing to accept from them. And ourselves.

Sure, there is a part of me with lingering feelings of inequity that a female athlete was fired from her job for saying things in a post-match presser that our male stars say pretty regularly. And, dare I say, are often given cultural cred for doing so. (Atta boy, puff your chest, be strong in defeat, don’t let them think they got you). The next stop for the male athlete in this saga (in parallel to a recently levied temporary suspension from USA Swimming) — an athlete who most certainly displayed excruciatingly poor judgment at best — is a national television powerhouse show operated by the Walt Disney Co. Is it our shared sense that, “Well, boys will be boys and sometimes things just get a little out of control. What can you do?”

Ah, what can we do? More on that later.

Nonetheless, these stories continue. Of athletes who are idolized and celebrated by many. Of athletes who, rightly or wrongly, are entrusted with the weight of public expectations of leadership, sportsmanship and greatness. Of athletes who let us down. Yes, the number of athletes who live up to and even surpass our collective hopes far exceed those who do not. But there are sociocultural insights and lessons to be learned from those who disappoint.

I am fully cognizant of the notion that the royal “we” can be blamed, in part, for building our athletic heroes up to be something more than they are or even can be. That we thrust upon them a set of standards that we are not willing to hold ourselves to in daily life. And those of us working in sports organizations are quite often active contributors to the myth-building and idol-worship that helps to set up a sometimes unsustainable façade.

But the real point here is, How do we respond to the fall of those we helped to co-create? What do we expect of them in failure? And what is our role in telling our idols that certain behaviors are simply unacceptable and are not going to be rewarded?

We can begin by refusing to tune in to the (admittedly interesting in a rubber-necky kind of way) train wreck that is Lochte ballroom dancing on prime-time television. We can stop obsessing over social media posts that perpetuate poor sportsmanship yet still reach and influence our kids. We can stop supporting companies who stand by athletes whose actions are egregiously inappropriate. And dare I say, we can, via our sought-after eyeballs, digital stickiness and consumer wallets, stop supporting sports organizations that fail to stand up for ethical behavioral standards in their sports.

Hypocrisy abounds. Penalties are unbalanced. Leaders wield considerable power. What we can control is our shared acceptance, or otherwise, of conduct unbecoming of heroes. We will have the sports landscape that we expect, deserve and fight for.

I embrace the fact that sport is commerce and that we live and work in a market-driven economy. With that, though, comes responsibility for both sellers and buyers to use the power they each have in a way that advances the greater good holistically; not just to make a buck because you can, but to lead, shape and affirm the best of what sport and our athletic heroes can do to move us all forward.

Whitney Wagoner (wrw@uoregon.edu) is director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon.