Mike McNamee

Founder, MAiSI

The MAiSI Project is a groundbreaking Masters degree in Sports Ethics and Integrity. What sparked its creation?

Well, the idea of writing the first Masters degree in Sports Ethics has been with me for two decades, but it is only in the last few years that the institutions of sport are waking up to the threats to sport. I had not established an MA before because I could not foresee any vocational opportunities for its graduates to follow. Along with others, I have been working hard to get sports organisations to consider an obligation to develop ethics and integrity functions and in particular to develop the role of Sport Integrity Officer. The time has come for that development to come to fruition and it’s the job of the MAiSI consortium – six universities with research excellence in sport ethics and integrity work – to provide the first generation of Sport Integrity Officers and to persuade national and international federations that they now need to “walk the walk”.

You’ve lectured in the fields of education, medicine and engineering. What led to your focus in sports ethics?

I have a dual background in sports science and in philosophy. My first degree was in sport and while doing that I was captivated by philosophical thinking. That interest took me to my higher degrees in philosophy of education but with a strong emphasis on ethical scholarships. I decided in about 1990 that what I wanted to do was to combine my love of sport with my love of philosophy, and sports ethics was the obvious intersection for me to develop. Since then I have been trying to show how ethical problems in sport arise in a whole spectrum of other contexts like education, engineering and technology, and of course medicine, where doping stories are almost an everyday occurrence.

What challenges are facing the sporting industry in terms of ethics? Is it limited to banned substance abuse?

Doping is clearly the issue that makes the headlines most frequently. But really the panoply of sports ethics is very broad indeed. It ranges from discriminatory treatment (ablism, racism, sexism, and so on) of any kind, to child safeguarding, performance manipulation, whether by “fixing” the event beforehand and often intersecting with criminal agencies and actors, to more structural matters, like how to organise a fair competition, whether league plus knockout competitions are inherently flawed, and so on. The list is seemingly endless.

Has integrity in sports failed up to now? If so, what has led to the decrease in managing sporting integrity?

The answer to that question hangs on how you understanding the concept of “sport integrity”. On the one hand the lack of integrity showed by athletes in trying to utilise improper ways of winning has always been with us – right back to the ancient Greeks – and always will be. What is new is the explosion of commercial interests in sports, especially elite sports, that still have governance practices that have not kept pace with the commercialisation processes. Much of sport, even some high-level sport, is only possible through volunteer involvement. With that comes an ethos that may note be especially sensitive (for good reasons as well as bad) with the widespread recognition of ethical failings across sports organisations. Of course, there is the high-profile cases of corruption and bribery that clearly has fuelled a perception that sports are on a downward spiral that needs arresting.

What inspires you in this particular field?

If you had said (a) that there was a massive child protection issue in sports 25 years ago, no-one would believe you. Yet the work of my former colleague, Prof Celia Brackenridge, demonstrated through strong research and user engagement that sport would have to wake and respond to the crisis.  She made great strides internationally in that move, and that – among other things and other people – has inspired me to make the MAiSI project a great success.

What value do you see for someone attaining a Joint Master Degree in sport Ethics and Integrity through the MAiSI Project?

As the world’s media has woken up to the match fixing threats, sports institutions have recognised how this is a threat – ethical and commercial – to the very soul of sport. In addition, sponsors have woken up to their powers as supporters of sport, and are sick and tired of their products’ good name being associated with unethical practices. The value of a MAiSI degree is that – in one person – we can develop the multidisciplinary toolkit needed to advance the shared agenda of racism, sexism, doping, match fixing, as a coherent and unified response to help sports respond to integrity threats in the round. 

How many scholarships are available?

The Eramsus Mundus Programme of the European Commission has supported us with a large grant for three two-year intakes to MAiSI. In 2017 we offered 18 scholarships to some of the brightest students who will become the class of 2019. We have money for two more rounds of funding taking us to 2021. We have also been actively seeking funding for scholarships from major international organisations, both sporting and non-sporting. We are very grateful to Stuart Page, CEO of Enigma and part of the Chelsea Group, for funding one additional African scholar from 2017 to 2019, and also to Rene Fasel, the President of the International Ice Hockey Federation, for funding a European one too. We are actively seeking support as partners or simply contributors to the MAiSI programme to provide industry relevance in addition to the research and teaching excellence that the MAiSI consortium offers.

How big do you see this programme becoming? 

Although MAiSI is a European funded project our students come from all over the world; only four of our current cohort are European. The MAiSI project is a global one – that has been my ambition from day one. The challenge is to get the sports industry, understood in its widest sense to include government agencies, physical education associations, sporting clubs and federations, sports media, and all those who love sport to gather behind this movement. We all know, as Mandela said, that sport can be the most powerful agent for social change, but it won’t happen on its own! It is my firm belief that the MAiSI graduates will make a difference to sport across all these levels in the years to come.

What future would you like to see in sports ethics? How can the MAiSI Project help secure this future? 

Understanding the ethical potential of sport is a lifelong educational project. It is critical that we influence the educational agendas to enhance the potential for sport education and physical education to shape children’s attitudes and character in positive social ways. At the other end of the spectrum, we know how powerful elite sportsmen and women are as role models, so we clearly need to connect the whole spectrum of sport to give coherence and power to the Sports Ethics project. But this will only be done when we realise that expertise is needed in history, law, philosophy and management in order to create the expertise that is required for Sport Integrity Officers. MAiSI consortium cannot do this alone, and it is great to see that more international federations are waking up to this need, and other political agencies such as MINEPS are attempting to make physical education a compulsory part of every child’s formal learning. If we care about sports, then we have to be committed to developing this expertise and to empowering Sport Integrity Officers to protect and promote good sport.