Swiss Sport Integrity: The Guardians of Morals and Ethics in Swiss Sport

Since the beginning of the year, sport in Switzerland has had a new central reporting office – Swiss Sport Integrity. We spoke to Markus Pfisterer, head of its new ethics unit.

Götz Klempert

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When the Olympic flame is lit in Beijing this Friday (4 February), some 3,000 athletes will be competing for medals. The sporting events will be conducted in the much-evoked Olympic spirit, meaning they should be free of doping, racism and discrimination. Lawyer and former athlete Markus Pfisterer who himself took part in the 2006 Winter Paralympics in Turin, is unable to comment on whether the idea of fair play is actually being realised in reality by all participants at the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. However, in his new role at Swiss Sport Integrity, Pfisterer wants to do all he can to investigate violations of the ethics rules in Switzerland and a digital whistleblowing system has been set up for this purpose.

Illustration people doing a ski race

Mr. Pfisterer, in the next two weeks, the eyes of the sporting world will be focused on Beijing. Can you follow the Winter Olympics like a fan or is the ethics expert always sitting in front of the screen as well?

First and foremost, I enjoy the competitions, whether it’s the Olympics or other major events. I have experienced sport from different perspectives, such as in my younger years as a cyclist at elite level and then later in disabled sports as a participant in the Paralympics and World Ski Championships. As well as that, as a member of the Foundation Board of the Swiss Paralympic Committee, on the Board of the Disabled Sports Association and, most recently, for over ten years as Managing Director of Swiss Cycling. These different insights certainly help me in my current work to classify a lot of things correctly. Of course, it has to be said that sometimes critical thoughts go through your head that the average sports consumer might not think about, yet my enthusiasm for honest sport prevails.

As head of Ethics at Swiss Sport Integrity, however, you mainly have to deal with the black sheep. The foundation continues the activities of the Swiss Anti-Doping Foundation but now deals with ethical misconduct in addition to doping violations. What is the idea behind this?

With the Ethics Department for which I have been responsible for several months, we have a completely new area of responsibility and therefore go one step further than the classic anti-doping authority. Swiss Sport now has an independent point of contact to uncover and eliminate wrongdoing as quickly as possible. 

What are the advantages of this new orientation?

Swiss Sport Integrity replaces the reporting offices of Swiss Olympic, which is the Swiss National Olympic Committee and the national sports federations. This is a great relief for the federations because they can now concentrate their resources and competences on promoting their sports. For the athletes, however, it is also positive as they now have a contact point that is independent and guarantees both anonymity and maximum protection for those involved. 

Since the beginning of the year, the new BKMS® whistleblower system has made it possible to report grievances or suspicious cases via www.sportintegrity.ch. How was the system received in the first few weeks of operation? 

Very well! On average we received one report per day, not always new cases but from time to time additional information. Sometimes, however, we in the ethics department are not the right contact. For example, if the tips concern the sport-specific regulations, then we pass them on to the corresponding organisations. We are responsible for all kinds of discrimination, cases of physical, psychological or sexual abuse, but also for structural deficits that encourage ethics violations. 

Whistleblowers do not have to reveal their identity…what role does that play? 

That is a very, very important point – a large part of the initial reports are received anonymously. Some whistleblowers then reveal their identity later, in the second, third or fourth contact instance once a certain trust basis has been established. In this context, the protected mailbox is also of great importance as it enables anonymous communication. In this way, we can give people feedback on what is happening with their tips or ask questions if details are still unclear. 

What are the procedures when a tip comes into your digital mailbox?

First of all, we check the jurisdiction and whether the persons or organisations concerned are subject to Swiss Sport Integrity. Then we try to find out more about the facts. If this corroborates a suspicion of a violation of the ethics statutes, an investigation is opened and then, if necessary, a report with request for sanction is sent to the Swiss Sport Disciplinary Board who make the final judgement. This can then be appealed to the International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). 

You have already highlighted the benefits of a digital whistleblowing system. What other tools do you use to process your cases?

The digital whistleblowing system has indeed proven its worth, not only because it allows for anonymous communication, but also because of the intuitive user interface – both for the whistleblower and for the people who process or record the cases. We are currently also examining a case management tool in order to better handle procedures in both doping and ethics on one platform as well as to further simplify the interaction of the many different areas. 

Finally, one last question. You yourself are an enthusiastic skier and come from a winter sports nation. Which competitions are you primarily interested in at the Olympic Games?

I will mainly use the opportunity to watch sports that are otherwise not broadcast frequently on television. As I am Swiss, I am of course also looking forward to the alpine skiing and snowboarding competitions, as well as Nordic skiing. 

Whistleblowing Report

Umfassende Studie über Whistleblowing in europäischen Unternehmen

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EQS Group editor Götz Klempert

Götz Klempert

Editor | EQS Group
Originally from Germany’s Ruhr region, Götz Klempert’s first journalistic steps brought him to sports fields and pigeon breeding clubs. For 20 years, he has been reporting for various media on shares, stock exchanges, capital markets and now also the world of compliance.