Q&A with James P. Moore Jr., CEO of the Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society

What were the motivations for the Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society launching the Global Sports Conference, an unprecedented event covering the pressing issues of the day within the industry of sport, in June 2020?

From perspectives here in the United States to those around the world, it is clear that we stand at the precipice of a societal, cultural and political inflection point.

The search for accountability and real-time problem solving from nation to nation leaders, both in the public sector and private, has never been more critical. Frankly, bringing deep experience to addressing modern challenges and brokering opportunities within evolutionary business, government and society was the rationale for founding our Washington Institute.

More specifically, sport has served as a mirror of our world’s history at each juncture. The issues that it encapsulates, be it corporate social responsibility (CSR), to the integrity of the games themselves, to protections and fair play in an era of digitization, past, present and future concerns matter to individuals from all walks of life, including world leaders.

The Washington Institute’s Global Sports Conference is not just about lectures and ‘death by powerpoint’; it must have interactivity, impact, and forge a tangible result. Addressing the signature, historic and 21st century issues and opportunities of sport and how global sports, including the Olympics and World Cup, influence business, government, and societal dynamics are the motivating factors to our getting involved and launching a holistic discussion, one that we plan to have inspired future generations of athletes, corporate executives, and political leaders alike.

The Global Sports Conference brings together the best and brightest in the industry, perhaps for the first time, from host nation representatives to political actors to stewards of enterprise. Learning from past lessons, they can broker solutions to the challenges impeding the integrity of the business of sport, while ensuring its DNA encourages mutually-beneficial investment in people and communities.

We look forward to welcoming everyone to the Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society’s inaugural Global Sports Conference.

You speak of addressing certain often ignored issues, which must include emerging market human rights and local employment in the hosting of events such as the World Cup. How does the Washington Institute look to play a role in this discussion?

Let’s face it. There have been human rights concerns in sport dating back to the dawn of the Olympiad. They have evolved and often tragically expanded during the course of human history and despite best intentions from all stakeholders, growing concerns in sporting events have outweighed the solutions to them systemically.

However, there has been tremendous opportunity brokered through sport and the hosting of sporting exhibitions. Emerging markets from around the world have more and more opportunities to be endowed with a tremendous showcase, a platform to promote perhaps newfound best practices and ultimately the values and cultural distinctions that make each respective host nation incentivizing to both travel and tourism and multilateral investment.

And so we need to openly examine the economic trends that foster human rights failures to be part and parcel of so many exhibitions, to assuage concerns through tangible commitments and re-instill global trust in the process.

Employee safety issues during the Olympics or World Cup stadium construction operations have raised important questions – dangerous conditions, long working hours, an inadequate complaint system, even deaths on the job, have created a myriad of serious labor infractions.

There is also the question of addressing lingering human rights matters in the host countries themselves. I see sport as an opportunity here; a prospect for a host nation to address rights groups, realign policy and let the world know that they are open for newfound dialogue and enterprise discourse.

Further, looking at the tragic xenophobic events in the South Africa of 2019, for instance, which, as host nation to the World Cup of 2010 would then be deemed as an aberration, it is pertinent to ensure the unifying power of sport maintains in each nation’s citizenry and the communities that shape it. This is an impetus on every business, government, and civil society organization involved and who comes to benefit from such an exhibition.

At home, health concerns and the rights of athletes are issues brought to the surface daily in the consciousness of national sport. We will look at retirement for National Football League (NFL) players, their healthcare and the steps that have been taken in the spirit of best practices to avoid risks, such as concussions. This was once a taboo subject to address in the past; it will now be biennial.

There is no room for ‘sportswashing.’ We look to play a central role in hosting the discussions that emphasize fair play both on the pitch and with regard to human rights, reflecting upon what has not worked historically and fostered together on-site, newfound solutions that can bring about tangible change.

To the crux of your question, the hosting of a major sports venue should be a proponent of national job creation and foreign direct investment (FDI). We take our role in enhancing this process and in the opportunities abundant for emerging market prosperity through sport very seriously.

For background, you were considered one of the most pragmatic leaders at the U.S. Department of Commerce, during your role as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Trade and Development and as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for International Affairs, where you personally undertook the task of negotiating a series of trade agreements for the United States with Japan. So let’s talk about finance and let’s talk about Tokyo 2020. What are some of the challenges facing sponsors of major exhibitions such as the coming Olympics?

It has been a great pleasure working with our colleagues from both government and enterprise in Japan, and I would like to think the friendly sentiments were mutual. Indeed the Japanese ambassador and his delegation attended my swearing-in ceremony as Assistant Secretary, a wonderful gesture!

You raise a great question and there would not be an industry of sport without the sponsors behind it – Japan notably revealed over the summer that it had shattered an Olympic record in that Tokyo would, at $3.1 billion, soon be hosting the most heavily sponsored event in sporting history.

What each of these corporate partnerships has entailed for global audiences has remained relatively opaque.

Sponsors at each increment (e.g. traditionally understood as ‘diamond,’ ‘gold’ tiers or international to domestic-regional), have a role to play, both in flagging and overcoming associated advertising risks to maintain profitability while leveraging opportunities for their partnerships to be socially impactful. This includes charitable donations, medical or scientific research, and development or anti-corruption endeavors, such as anti-doping promotion. Advertisers have a clear responsibility that is associated with each and every collaboration.

In Japan, this responsibility needs to include the partial financing of urban infrastructure development projects in support of the Olympic games. The private sector has the opportunity to circumvent lumbering bureaucracy that has allowed for worker rights’ to be exploited. While many have contended that the winning Tokyo bid for the 2020 Games ‘monetized patriotism,’ I would suggest there is an open forum at our Conference in the direct lead up to this excitingly historic exhibition for the Organizing Committee of the Tokyo games to divulge the precedent they hope to achieve in sponsorship best practices and public-private partnership (PPP).

We need to ensure the lessons of Athens, the lessons of Rio, are lessons learned in every Olympic games to follow. It is the responsibility not just of sponsors, but of our Team in raising awareness of what can be done to address a growing climate of disillusionment, distrust and, dare I say, disrepair.

eSports and online gaming (and gambling) have been jockeying for legitimacy in the traditional sports arena. With their energetic emergence comes next-generation challenges, such as hacking. Have you considered the inclusion of eSports in deliberations to be held at the Global Sports Conference?

Absolutely! The frenetic energy and enthusiasm behind eSports has swept like a wave around the world. The financial projections for the industry are striking.

This billion-dollar industry has also caught the attention of current traditional sports owners, corporate execs, and advertisers, who are pouring millions of dollars into the production value of tournaments. ‘2K’ competitions are as popular as the real thing. Samsung and Korean Telecom own teams outright, with individual athletes following suit.

The prowess borne of the Fourth Industrial Revolution ultimately means the digitization of sport itself. But how do you regulate? How do you, for example, crack down on underage online gambling and unregulated eSports betting? In an era of ‘big data,’ one cannot simply push ‘instant replay.’ How do you ensure cybersecurity, data protections, and check the manipulation of competitive sport for monetary benefit?

I’ve been reading a book by Steve Case, the founder of AOL, called The Third Wave, which underscores the challenge, one I recently had the opportunity to talk to Steve about and reflect upon. Technology has advanced so quickly, government, business, and society have to do a better job to understand its trajectory, along with that trajectory’s challenges and opportunities.

These are issues that simply cannot be earmarked for a governing body or an array of governing bodies to address. The commitment of all stakeholders involved must be assured and as we look to advocate on behalf of those stakeholders, it is the ethical responsibility of our Global Sports Conference to remain on the cutting edge and host talented leaders, both from the ‘start-up’ eSports community, and those established entrepreneurs and enterprises who have joined the movement, openly and ideally forging a regulatory framework not unlike the Valve Anti-Cheat System (VAC), one that all can adhere to in the spirit of free and fair ‘2.0’ competition.

Where do you envision the Global Sports Conference brand in five years’ time?

I envision us planning for our third conference. The Washington Institute for Business, Government and Society has since its inception been dedicated to empowering governance and enterprise; critically, each sector that serves to benefit from leveraging the opportunities of globalization all the while doing good. While we envision our Washington Institute programs diversifying over time, the Global Sports Conference is launched as a flagship unifier, a biennial event indicative of our core values and beliefs.

We look to capitalize on sport’s cross-pollination into the critical issues pertaining to technology, human rights, geo-polity, commerce, and free and fair competition, creating a milestone on the annual calendar that becomes a ‘must-attend’ event for those at the leadership forefront in business, government, and society. It is up to us to foster such lasting opportunity, lighting the torch that can be passed on into the next generation. I implore and look forward to your readers joining our journey as we look to shine a light on best practices in one of the more indelibly impactful industries to permeate across all sects of human civilization.