How Diversity Dominated SIGA’s General Assembly; an Opportunity for Change in Sport

Report by IMMAF Brand, Commercial & Communications Director Isobel Carnwath

Something is blowing in the wind right now; and that appetite for cultural change was no less apparent than at the recent Sport Integrity Global Alliance Forum and General Assembly in Rome (29 – 30 January). The iconic buildings of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI) played host to both events, and most significantly to SIGA’s first Council elections.

Launched in 2016, against the backdrop of well publicised corruption in sport and a crisis in public confidence, SIGA has in its formative phase rallied an impressive roster of names with its battle cry to end corruption in the sector. SIGA’s members and supporters include the likes of Mastercard, Deloitte, the European Professional Football Leagues, Dow Jones, PwC, the World Bank and the Commonwealth Games Federation among others. SIGA has even secured the blessing of His Holiness Pope Francis, as a papal message was delivered to delegates via Monsignor Melchor Sánchez de Toca y Alameda, Undersecretary of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

(Ironically) at the foot of CONI’s fascist, Mussolini murals of the 1930s (main picture), SIGA’s members seemed more readily stirred than even its founders had anticipated in their collective push for better diversity through the echelons of the emerging movement. In the wake of #MeToo which seems to have sparked a flame for naming an elephant in the room, SIGA members ran the torch all the way home.

Densign SofiaSIGA has from the outset been broad in its inclusion of non-Olympic and unrecognised sports, a mark of its commitment to challenging to the ‘Old Boys’ network. Indeed, the newly elected Council includes two representatives of unrecognised governing bodies, International Mixed Martial Arts Federation CEO Densign White (pictured) and E-Sports Integrity Commissioner, Ian Smith. White also stands as current Chairman of Sporting Equals, which works to promote representation of disadvantaged Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in UK sport.

SIGA has too demonstrated its desire to give a platform to younger voices. In the latter part of 2017, SIGA added Youth Protection to its pillars of Good Governance, Financial Integrity and Betting Integrity. Young representatives invited to speak at the Integrity Forum included Special Olympic Athlete Gilmour Borg and SIGA’s Millennials Matter representative, Jade Beason.

However, SIGA’s members demanded deeper inclusivity in the appointment of its inaugural, elected Council and in the prioritisation of the organisation’s activities for 2018.

SIGA Council Member, Brian Lewis (CANOC)

SIGA Council Member, Brian Lewis (CANOC)

Ad Interim (and now elected) Council Member Brian Lewis of the Caribbean Association of National Olympic Committees was instrumental in highlighting the need for a more diverse representation of both gender and ethnicity in SIGA. He cast the organisation’s ultimate chances of success as interwoven with its capacity for broader cultural engagement. He also asserted that SIGA cannot afford to become an elite club that excludes the poor. In doing so, he set the tone.

Going into the General Assembly, thirteen men had applied for Council roles. The absence of women as nominees generated vocal calls from members for gender diversity, led affirmingly by male proposers. In response, Chairman Franco Frattini recommended and co-opted, on-the-spot, four female members to the council – Angela Melo (UNESCO), Salam Al Shawa (Qatar Airways), Cindy McCain (McCain Institute) and Shellie Pfohl (US Center for SafeSport), which in turn increased the Council’s ethnic mix. It was further agreed that Youth representatives should be recruited to the Council and to each of the SIGA panels. Frattini fairly pointed out to the membership its collective responsibility for nominating applicants for SIGA roles.

Salam Al Shawa, SIGA Council Member

SIGA Council Member,Salam Al Shawa (Qatar Airways)

Other proposed initiatives include a SIGA roadshow in 2018 to take the integrity issue out to a pancontinental audience, and Chairman Frattini also committed to a review of SIGA’s membership and revenue structures.

Diversity is of course a broad canvas, and delivering equal representation across gender, ethnicity, culture, age and economic status can be challenging. Meanwhile, the most immediate challenge to SIGA’s mission is the same as of almost any start-up –  consolidation of funding to build an administrative team armed to square with the colossal task ahead. But if the team, led by new CEO Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros, can effectively harness this impetus it could initiate a far deeper change in sports culture:

The idealisation of amateur sport originated in European class systems, its administration has roots in elite British boarding schools and these values and structures were proliferated through the Empire. A movement born now has unprecedented potential to challenge deeply entrenched values in the sporting establishment and to maybe even pioneer its reconstruction.

For information about the Sport Integrity Global Alliance go to
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FIGMMA's Saverio Longo & Vito Paollilo with IMMAF's Isobel Carnwath & Gosha Malik at the SIGA GA

Representing MMA at the SIGA GA: FIGMMA’s Saverio Longo & Vito Paollilo with IMMAF’s Isobel Carnwath & Gosha Malik

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