How game theory can help us design more effective whistleblowing polices for sports (Part 1)

Published 02 October 2019 By: Louis Weston, Sarah Crowther QC

Whistleblower Law

“Whistleblowers1 can play a vital role in protecting the integrity of sports. They have they been responsible for uncovering some of the highest profile cases of corruption in recent years, from the Lance Armstrong case in cycling to the Russian doping scandal in athletics.

That said, the authors are of the view that the prevailing environment can be made significantly more conducive for “Whistleblowing”, i.e. the reporting of a suspected wrongdoing to the relevant authority (which in a sporting context includes match fixing, doping, bullying, abuse, or other breach of the sports’ governing body’s (SGB) rules).

This two part article examines how this might be achieved, with a specific focus on how to design more effective whistleblowing policies. Part 1 (below) is largely theoretical. It looks outside of the law to three interesting scenarios from the behavioural field of game theory to try to give us a better understanding of how decisions are made in difficult circumstances, analogous to that a potential Whistleblower may face when debating whether or not to "report" a suspected wrongdoing. It then identifies ways in which the "rules of the game" might be changed to better incentivise a certain behavioural outcome (i.e. in our case, encouraging more effective Whistleblowing).

Part 2 (available here) is more practical. It first examines the current state of Whistleblowing laws in the UK to ascertain the current "lay of the land" and the lessons we may learn from within the law. It then combines this with the learning from Part 1 to examine why Whistleblowing policies (i.e. the "rules of the game") are necessary and how they might be best drafted or optimised to incentivise effective reporting. Part 2 can be read in isolation for those wanting an overview of key drafting tips.

For more background and information on Whistleblowing in sport, please also see these LawInSport articles:

    1. Whistleblowing in sport – maintaining public confidence in the integrity of sport2; and
    2. Is whistleblowing in sport fit for purpose?3

In addition, the research undertaken by Leeds Beckett University into the athlete’s experience of Whistleblowing is also highly valuable. For a summary and link to the research, please see: Whistleblowing: athletes shouldn't have to choose between their careers and the truth.4


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Louis Weston

Louis Weston

Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Louis is a Barrister practising from chambers at Outer Temple. He is expert in corruption and misfeasance in sport.

Sarah Crowther QC

Sarah Crowther QC

Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Sarah Crowther QC has a broad practice with areas of focus in personal injury, private international law, clinical negligence and public law and discrimination cases.

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