How to define “Ethical” Behaviour- Steven Falk

January 13, 2012

By Steven Falk

Mr Richard Desmond, the owner of four British national newspapers and of Channel 5 TV was questioned at the Leveson Inquiry into press behaviour & practices recently. When asked if he applied ethical standards to the editorial decisions taken by his titles, he replied as follows:-

 “Ethical, I don’t quite know what the word means…We don’t talk about ethics or morals because it’s a very fine line and everybody’s are different.”

This is certainly a revealing insight into the perspective of a powerful news baron and given the influence of the media on how the sports industry is reported and perceived by the public, may go some way to explain the behaviour of certain organisations and individuals within the sector.

From Sep Blatter to Luis Suarez; from members of the Pakistan cricket team to Mervyn Westfield at Essex CCC; from the drug cheats in the saddle to those on the track, all have chosen to compromise their personal integrity in the pursuit of success. This may have been to achieve financial rewards, increase their personal profile or simply for the glory and prestige. Whatever the motivation, it was and is the wrong thing to do. Perhaps they justified their actions by suggesting that complying with ethical behaviour and morals was too difficult given that ‘it’s a very fine line and everybody’s are different’.

Given the pressures on sports organisations and individuals to deliver success and the magnitude of rewards accruing to the winners, perhaps it is no surprise that reliance on individual integrity is no longer sufficient to keep the practice and business of sport on the straight and narrow.

Rather than deliver a long, legalistic charter of rules to govern ethical behaviour, I offer the following concept to apply as a test if there is ever doubt over the compliance of any given behaviour:-

–        Ethics means doing the ‘right thing’ rather than the ‘wrong thing’.

–        The right thing means complying not just with the rules of any relevant law or code of                          behaviour, but also with its spirit and intention.

–        If in doubt, apply the following test;

  • Should your questionable behaviour as an individual or that of your organisation be accurately reported in the media, would you be happy with these reports being read by your closest family members?

  • If the answer is ‘No’, then your behaviour is unethical.

  • If the answer is ‘Yes’, then you are probably Richard Desmond.

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From 2001 to 2009, Steven was Marketing Director at Manchester United Football Club. Steven served as a member of the Executive Committee of Manchester United and a board director of Manchester United Foundation, the club’s charitable trading arm. In January 2010, he launched Star Sports Marketing, a specialist sports marketing consultancy. For more information, please visit

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