Research in sport ethics has traditionally focused on the ethical dimensions of the sport event and athletes, however the examination of the principles of ethics to the management and organisation of sport is a relatively recent phenomenon. The tension between the roles and responsibilities of sport as a business, and sport as an ethical and moral aspect of society has forced sport organisations to face an increased number of complex ethical dilemmas. As sport systems throughout the world become further professionalised and bureaucratised, the community understanding of what is ‘good’ is challenged. It is a commonly held expectation that there should be a high level of moral behaviour from those participating directly in the sport event (athletes, coaches, referees), however this expectation has extended to the sporting clubs and organisations which govern the sport itself.
Often used interchangeably, ethics and morality are complex terms concentrating on issues of right and wrong behaviour. Beauchamp and Bowie (1993) stated that the term morality suggests a social institution, composed of a set of standards which are pervasively acknowledged by the members of a culture, or alternatively a social construction. The application of ethics and moral values to the business environment applies across all sectors, including for-profit, non-profit and government, however Rubin (1990) found that the normative ethics, those which society accepts as ethical behaviour, varies from sector to sector. In the non-profit sector, to which many sport organisations belong, Rubin (1990) found that because the community expects more ‘good’, they accept less ‘bad’. As many sport organisations throughout the world remain largely non-profit, linked with the commonly held belief that sport is a foundation for moral behaviours, the idealistic expectation of ethical conduct placed upon them may be different to those of more mainstream business organisations.
Mewett (2003) noted the importance of sport as a social phenomenon which ramifies widely through society to become an intrinsic part of culture and community life. The different expectations of ethical conduct and moral value placed on sport organisations increases the public interest in the ethical dilemmas faced by these organisations. Using the concept of conflict of interest as an example, this paper will examine the tension and difference between the community and social understanding and expectations of sport, and those of the sport organisations themselves.