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Online abuse is biggest shared issue for sports
Fieldfisher regulation event at Merrion

04 Jun 2024 / sports law Print

Online abuse is biggest shared issue for sports

A seminar on regulation in sport has heard calls for more regulation to protect participants and officials from online abuse.

The Dublin event at the Merrion hotel on 29 May was hosted by Fieldfisher, and brought together an expert panel to discuss issues such as disciplinary hearings and anti-doping rules.

Robert Brophy of Interpath, who is a former chief financial officer of World Rugby, said that there was not enough regulation of online abuse, adding that deterrence “isn’t there”.

He cited a recent meeting of sports organisations and governing bodies in Paris that heard widespread concerns expressed about the issue across all sports, adding that a coalition was being formed to lobby for increased regulation.

Brophy described it as “the number-one shared issue” within sport.

Mark Scanlon (League of Ireland director, FAI) told the event that his organisation would “love” stronger regulations on social-media networks to be able to deal with online abuse, describing the issue as “quite challenging for us”.


Brophy also told attendees that, while spending on regulation was significant, it was a “necessary cost” for sports bodies, and was “not particularly onerous” for organisations.

He said that he didn’t think that there was a regulation in any sport that was not absolutely necessary.

Samples from race winners

Darragh O’Loughlin (chief executive, Irish Horseracing Authority Board) said that the regulatory body spent €1.6 million a year on laboratory tests, with samples taken from the winners of every race, and around 4,500 samples in total each year.

Barrister Caoimhe Daly told the event that effective regulation was dependent on sporting bodies having enough resources to withstand any legal challenges being brought.

She cited horse-racing as an example, where samples had to be taken using the correct procedures “like a criminal case”.

“You have to be prepared for the possibility that someone will take issue; and then if you haven't got all the systems in place to do it, it could potentially become a problem,” Daly stated.

She added that sporting bodies had to “invest, and invest in the right way,” to ensure that they set up systems that gave rise to integrity.

‘Robust’ disciplinary rules

Scanlon said that, ultimately, better regulation led to lower costs, as there would be fewer challenges to decisions.

He said that the organisation had rewritten its disciplinary rules in recent years to make them more “robust”, and ensured that a legal chair was in place for weekly disciplinary meetings to make sure that every step was followed correctly.

Former rugby international Bernard Jackman (head of high-performance sport, Horse Sport Ireland) pointed out that the body would make its selection for the Olympic Games on 10 June – 15 days before an official deadline – to allow for any appeal process that might take place.

Scanlon said that technology had improved the disciplinary process, with remote hearings and more streaming of matches speeding up the proceedings.

O’Loughlin pointed to the use of multiple cameras and drones at race meetings, and an increasing use of sectional timings, which could be used to check whether horses were running below their normal level.

Betting information shared

The discussion also covered gambling in sport, with O’Loughlin telling the event that Irish horseracing authorities had a memorandum of understanding with big betting operators on the sharing of suspicious betting patterns, adding that such information had been used to start investigations.

Scanlon noted that UEFA monitored all professional football matches for suspicious betting patterns, while the FAI also had a relationship with bookmakers to alert it to unusual betting on matches.

He told the event that €9.5 million was wagered on League of Ireland matches worldwide each week.

Scanlon said that one player had notified the authorities when an approach was made for him to be deliberately sent off in a match, adding that this case was the subject of a criminal investigation.

Doping ‘still a challenge’

On doping, O’Loughlin said that sporting bodies could never be sure that they were doing enough, adding that testing had to keep pace with doping trends.

He said that some organisations could point to figures showing fewer positive tests.

“Does that mean we're winning? Or does that mean we’re not taking the right samples in the right place at the right time. You can never know,” he stated.

Brophy said that doping was not going away as an issue for sport.

“I think administrators the top sports would say their sports are winning the battle, but I think the actual anti-doping regulators and those people that are in the thick of it would say that it's still a massive challenge,” he added.

Andrew Fanning
Andrew Fanning is a freelance journalist