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From Lockheed to Lance: how falls from grace can change the world

Doping in sport, like graft in business, skews the rules of the game.

In the business realm, the United States decided thirty-five years ago to outlaw overseas bribery of government officials. When the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act became law, it was roundly criticized for making American businesses uncompetitive. Foreign companies, after all, were still free to act without the constraint of similar anti-bribery legislation.

But today we see dramatic progress. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention has been a catalyst for a more level playing field. Numerous countries have joined the fight against overseas bribery. Compliance is the new norm. And although it was just a few years ago when payments to foreign public officials were tax deductible in many countries, the spirit of our age has now shifted, and graft is seen for the monstrosity it is.

In the sporting world, it was not long ago that certain countries operated state-sponsored doping programs. The idea was to win medals in order to fly the national flag in the international arena. But in sport, as in business, if a fair fight is really what’s desired, then what’s needed is profound and sustained change.

Sporting heroes are often placed on a pedestal. Their victories provoke admiration, passion and pride, and top athletes become role models for entire societies. But those who cheat in sports can lose their precarious perch atop the pedestal, and their fall from grace can be swift and dramatic.

Again, there are similarities with the business world. Thirty-five years ago, American corporations had a stunning fall from grace. Lockheed, Gulf Oil, United Brands, Northrop, Ashland Oil, Exxon and others were implicated in overseas bribery scandals that brought down governments across the globe. The damage to the reputation of American business, and to capitalism itself, was profound, and the FCPA was enacted partly to repair that damage.

In our time, similar measures are needed to repair the damage suffered by sports through the doping scandals. Lance Armstrong now has to swallow a bitter pill; his triumph was an illusion and attitudes towards him have changed, probably forever.

But his downfall can be the beginning of an effort everywhere to find lasting and not merely cosmetic solutions to the problem of doping.

In 1977, the U.S. launched what has become a transformational fight against international graft. Could 2012 lay the foundations of a new playing field in the world of sport?

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Philip Fitzgerald is a contributing editor of the FCPA Blog.

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