The IOC’s intervention of AIBA – is this a turning point for international sports governance?

Published 03 August 2018 | Authored by: Tom Bruce, Emily Jamieson, Tom Rudkin

The topic of governance has never been more relevant than it is today. Whether it is the widespread criticism of financial institutions’ practices in the wake of the financial crisis or the very public collapse of companies like BHS prompting wide scale and much publicised inquiries, how organisations are governed is the subject of ever-increasing scrutiny.

This is particularly the case for organisations with passionate stakeholders in the public eye and nowhere has this been more apparent than in the sporting world, where scandals have been plastered across the front pages. Almost all these headlines can be traced back in some way to the governance (or alleged lack thereof) of the organisations in question.

Many of the affected sporting bodies were founded in the late 19th or early 20th centuries by small (often homogenous) groups of enthusiastic amateurs. It is fair to say that times have changed since then but in many ways, sports organisations seem not to have kept up with the pace of change of the world around them.

The Code for Sports Governance1 published by UK Sport and Sport England in 2016 recognised the failings of sports governance compared to other industries, as well as the gap between usual practice and the increasingly high expectations of the government and tax-payer. While not perfect, the mandatory Code should do much to improve standards of sports governance in the UK, at least in terms of organisation and infrastructure, if not human and financial resource.

However, sports continue to be governed in a pyramid structure – with International Federations sitting at the top overseeing national bodies, and huge numbers of individual clubs occupying the bottom of the triangle. Until International Federations are held similarly accountable, sports will continue to fall behind in overall governance standards.

With that landscape as a backdrop, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) unprecedented decision in December 2017 to withdraw funding2 from the Association of International Boxing Associations (AIBA) could be a milestone. This article examines the actions taken by the IOC against AIBA relating to various governance concerns. Specifically, it looks at:

  • The IOC’s concerns with AIBA’s governance practices;

  • The specific concerns over AIBA’s anti-doping practices and AIBA’s decision to outsource their anti-doping management to the Doping-Free Sport Unit;

  • Whether the IOC’s decision to intervene can be seen as a positive step forward in addressing governance concerns at international federations, and whether a new precedent has been set.

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About the Author

Tom Bruce

Tom Bruce

Partner - Farrer & Co

Tom is an experienced corporate lawyer who advises entrepreneurs, corporates, family-owned businesses and sports organisations.

Emily Jamieson

Emily Jamieson

Associate - Farrer & Co

Emily advises on corporate transactions including acquisitions and disposals, joint ventures, investments and corporate structuring. She also provides advice on general company law matters and in relation to corporate governance.

Tom Rudkin

Tom Rudkin

Associate - Farrer & Co

Tom provides reputation management and contentious media advice to the full range of Farrer & Co's clients. He is a member of the firm's Sports Group and, as well as assisting sports clients on reputational, media and other sensitive issues, he advises on sports-based disputes, rules and regulations and commercial contracts. Tom's work spans from advising National Governing Bodies to high profile sportsmen and women. He has also spent time in-house on secondment at the Lawn Tennis Association.

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