Sports stars are accustomed to the penalty, but could an important concept in public appearances be applied more widely? Chris Ebberston reports.
SPORTS stars are accustomed to the concept of “bringing the game into disrepute”. If they commit a foul on the pitch or even behave badly away from the sports field, they can face disciplinary procedures which bring them in front of tribunals organized by sports governing bodies.
Many professional sports stars are, effectively, employees of their team owners. Some may be on contract as freelance contractors, “hired” to carry out specific tasks – be it to play soccer for Manchester United or to be a quarterback for an American football team or to pitch in baseball.
Even “amateur” athletes are registered with, and agree to be bound by the rules and regulations of national or international governing organizations.
Of course, there are times when the “offence” seems ridiculous. Sports executives can also find that they are regarded with little more than contempt by sports fans. Even the wider public, or the businesses which plough money into sponsoring sports may be embarassed by the irrationality of team owners or the governing bodies themselves.
Without defaming any sport or any sports governing body by mentioning them by name, any one with only a remote, passing interest could probably nominate an organization, perhaps even an individual, whose behavior “leaves something to be desired” or “ill behoves” their standing.
That said, the concept of bringing an enterprise or an activity into “disrepute” does have something about it.
It is difficult to demean an organization or an individual that already has a poor reputation. (I remember once having to sign a contract for a piece of work saying that I would not demean the organization’s reputation. It had amused me that someone clearly believed that the organization in question had a reputation that was capable of being damaged ….)
However, it could be one way of dealing with complaints.
When stars are found guilty of bringing a sport into disrepute, they are usually fined. The sums may vary, sometimes they are a large proportion of an individual’s income, sometimes they are small. But, they are fined.
What happens when as consumers we have a complaint against a business? We can find a name when we telephone a call center. We can find the name of the person who was supposed to answer our questions, organize a service or delivery for us when we called at the store or the office. We can have an e-mail address, but what happens if we make a complaint?
Many organizations have clearly defined grievance and disciplinary policies and procedures. Sometimes individuals can be dismissed if they behave badly, but for making mistakes in the course of a normal day’s work?
For consumers, it appears that even if an organization apologizes, pays compensation even, there is no recourse against the individual who made the error.
Corporations are quick to trumpet the success of an individual as “employee of the week” or month, or whatever, but those who let them down rarely appear castigated in public.
The sports star – who has let down a team or a sport – will have their “wrongdoings” splashed all over the newspapers, radio and television news shows. Others have greater protection from public reprobation.
There is a strong argument that consumers should be able to instigate complaints procedures against named individual staff of an organization – citing that such an individual’s behavior has brought the organization or its activities into “disrepute”.
The complainant would have the opportunity to make their allegations against the individual in a hearing that would be part of the corporate governance of the organization.
Any complaints that were upheld – and the fines imposed upon the individual culprit – would be placed within the public domain.
Such tribunals should, if heard quickly and privately, reduce the potential for staff to become the targets of abuse from customers.
Every individual within an organization – from the “lowliest” cleaner to the most senior executive – would be subject to such a procedure.
It is frequently injust for an employee to lose their livelihood for “embarrassing” commercial or organizational errors, but it would not be injust for fines relative to salary levels to be imposed.
Business – and “the market” – is seen by some as the be-all and end-all of human activity, but as people are the components which contribute so much to business and the market, both as providers and consumers, there should be an appropriate balance between the collective strength of one and the individual weakness of the other.
A corporate offence of “bringing the organization into disrepute” may, just, be one step towards redressing that balance.