Perceptions of integrity in sport: insights into people’s relationship with sport

Supported by a wealth of research, current UK Government policy emphasises the important role of sport in delivering social outcomes. What is not considered in the current policy and academia are the logically plausible adverse associations that would follow when sport is shown to lack integrity, an increasing phenomenon nowadays. If sport is found to lack integrity, then does this alter people’s perceptions and their relationship with it? In this study, we aim to answer this question by examining people’s views on the lack of integrity in sport and their propensity to participate, volunteer and spectate sport in the UK context. Data collected through 18 focus groups reveal a perceived ‘normalisation’ of the lack of integrity in sport and an overall belief that sport cannot manage its integrity. The findings suggest that paradoxically, even though sport is viewed as untrustworthy, people’s propensity to participate, spectate and volunteer in sport remains unchanged. Consequently, even though sport is viewed as corrupt and unable to improve, its perceived role as a mechanism for social outcomes appears to remain unaffected, creating a potentially vicious circle in which sport has little to no pressing urgency or strong motivation to protect its integrity.