A detailed review of the IAAF governance reforms

Published 01 June 2018 By: Sean Cottrell, Kevin Carpenter


On 1 July 2014, Michael Beloff QC, the Chair of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Independent Ethics Commission, launched an investigation into the mishandling of Russian athletes’ Athlete Biological Passports (ABP). He appointed an independent investigator, Sir Anthony Hooper,1 a former England and Wales Court of Appeal judge, to conduct the investigation. The investigation, report and decision of the Ethics Commission on 7 January 20162, along with the real-time media coverage, built an immense amount of pressure on the IAAF to review and reform its governance structures.

Running parallel with the investigation, Lord Sebastian Coe, a Vice President of the IAAF since 2007, was elected as President of the IAAF on the 19 August 2015.3 Lord Coe was elected on a mandate to reform the governance of the IAAF following athletics’ biggest scandal which exposed governance weaknesses in the structure of the IAAF, principal of which being the extent of the power vested in the role of President – which was allegedly exploited to an unethical extent by then President, Laime Diack4.5 Overall there were a lack of checks-and-balances which allowed multiple conflicts of interest and lacked a whistle-blower mechanism.6

Lord’s Coe’s mandate commenced after IAAF World Championships on the 30 August 2015.7 On the 5th July 2016, the IAAF Governance Structure Reform Forum, led by sports lawyer Maria Clarke, the chair of the IAAF Governance Structure Reform Working Group8, started a six-month consultation process which, resulted in several recommendations to amend the IAAF Constitution were approved by the IAAF Special Congress on the 3 December 2016.9

The main reforms

As highlighted in the “Time for Change – IAAF Reform10 document the reforms focused on:

  1. redefining roles and responsibilities including empowering Member Federations and ensuring stronger Area presentation;

  2. a greater voice for athletes;

  3. a better gender balance; and

  4. independent anti-doping, integrity and disciplinary functions.

For the implementation of these reforms the IAAF has chosen toprioritize the changes to our integrity functions in 2017 and includes the fundamental governance changes through until 2019, which allows for the development of rules, practices and procedures to support those changes”.11

Whilst the reforms, when put in the context of an ever-evolving international sports governance landscape, could be the subject of a book within itself, this chapter will focus on highlighting the most significant reforms that were introduced. It is beyond the scope of the chapter to analyse the effectiveness of these reforms, principally given it is most likely too soon to be able to have an understanding how effective these reforms have been.

Congress, Council and Executives Board roles and responsibilities

The 2017 Constitution set out the roles and responsibilities of the governance of the IAAF. The key responsibilities are set out below.


The Congress is the general assembly of the IAAF’s 214 Members and the highest authority of the IAAF and is convened biennially in conjunction with the World Championships (Article 6). The Congress alone has the power to amend the Constitution, with each Member having one vote. Although this power must be exercised in accordance with Article 13, given the experience of other international federations, it may be questioned whether the one-vote-per-country approach achieves the appropriate balance between a representative and democratic process and the need to avoid a concentration of power/influence.12

The Congress alone has the power to approve the following upon recommendations made in accordance with this Constitution (Article 6.3):

    • the members of the Disciplinary Tribunal;

    • the Independent Members of the Integrity Unit Board;

    • the members of the Integrity Unit Board Appointments Panel; and

    • members of the Vetting Panel.


The Council is responsible for overseeing and supervising the activities of the IAAF, as parts of its redefined role of the “guardian of the sport13, and must report to Congress every two years (Article 7). The Council consists of 27 Council Members:

    1. a President elected by Congress under Article 6;

    2. four Vice-Presidents elected by Congress under Article 6;

    3. a Treasurer elected by Congress under Article 6;

    4. fifteen individuals elected by Congress under Article 6; collectively referred to as “Elected Council Members”.

    5. Area Representatives: Presidents of each of the following six Area Associations in accordance with their constitutions: Africa; North America, Central America and the Caribbean; Asia; Oceania; Europe, and South America.

27 members appears on the face-of-it to be too large a number to be truly effective when making such important decisions as selecting host cities for IAAF events, deciding the competition calendar and appointing Commissions, and it will be interesting to see if any murmurs arise that a small powerful number of those Council Members will essentially direct the decisions of the Council as a whole, as appeared to happen with the FIFA Executive Committee during Sepp Blatter’s tenure as President.

No more than one Council Member may come from any one Member. In addition, each Council Member must be Eligible in accordance with Article 19 (Eligibility and Vetting Panel – discussed below).

At least six Council Members, including at least one Vice-President, shall be female. This increases the two female Vice-Presidents in the 2019 Constitution. A set election criteria to try to create a gender balance is established under Article 36.6 of the 2019 Constitution. This process involved a multi-stage election process that requires a minimum number of each gender as follows:

  • seven (7) of each gender, for the elections in 2019

  • ten (10) of each gender, for the elections in 2023

  • thirteen (13) of each gender for the elections in 2027 and thereafter.

It is a positive step to see this being address, and although the authors recognize this is a positive step one questions, without being privy to the full rationale behind this, why there is such a long lead in time to create what would be considered a gender balanced Council.

A key responsibility of the Council is the appointment of a Chief Executive Officer.

Role of Chief Executive Officer (“CEO”) (Article 6.21-26) & President (Article 8)

Both the CEO and President are subject to Article 19 (Eligibility and Vetting Panel).

The role of the CEO is to manage the operations of the IAAF, except for the Athletics Integrity Unit, which is managed by the Head of the Integrity Unit. The terms and conditions of employment for the Chief Executive Officer shall be decided by the Council. The CEO is responsible for the day-to-day management of the IAAF (except for the Athletics Integrity Unit) in accordance with the directions of the Council and the President, the rules, regulations, policies, and procedures of the IAAF and within such limitations and delegated authority as may be established by the Council. The Chief Executive Officer is appointed by, and accountable to, the Council. He or she receives direction from and is responsible to the Council and the President. If there is any inconsistency between direction of the President and the Council, the matter shall be referred to the Council.

The role of the President is to be the lead representative of the IAAF and the sport of Athletics. The President will be elected at each Election Congress meeting in accordance with Article 6.26(a). The President is the main spokesperson for the IAAF in the IAAF in accordance with the Rules, and Regulations, and the policies and procedures decided by Council the powers and responsibilities. The President Chairs meetings of Congress, lead the activity of the Executive Board, oversee the activities of the Committees, Commissions, working groups, taskforces and advisory groups between Council meetings and perform such other tasks and duties as are delegated to the President by Congress, Council and the Executive Board. No person who has served three (3) consecutive terms as President shall be eligible for re-election as President” (Article 6.25). This could see a President serve 12 years in the position of President, which is in the authors’ opinion a long time, or alternatively, drop in an out of consecutive terms. This may not be a significant issue when considering the other provisions highlighted in this chapter; it is a fine balance act between creating a platform that gives the President enough time to develop in their leadership role and make their mark and given too much time in their position that can leave the role open to abusive leadership as we have seen in the past.

The role of the Executive Board (Article 9)

The Executive Board composed of the President, the four Vice Presidents and the Treasurer. The Executive Board are required to meet on at least one occasion between each Council meeting and more often if required to deal with any urgent - business that may arise. All decisions of the Executive Board must be reported to the Council at its next meeting.

Integral Structural Changes

As set out in the "Time for Change – IAAF Reform" paper Lord Coe one of the key reforms was to create “A leading edge integrity framework which no other international sports federation has in place sits at the heart of our reform proposals,” while acknowledging why they were necessary:

“We also must ensure with urgency that we have independence and meet gold standards in our integrity and anti-doping functions including our disciplinary processes.

In the lead up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games we had to make some very dif cult decisions, including suspending one of our own Member Federations.

These decisions are not easy and have fully tested the existing framework in which we operate.14

The key changes to the constitution saw the introduction of:

  1. The Integrity Code of Conduct which took effect from 3 April 2017 (Article 17);

  2. The introduction of Disciplinary Tribunal (Article 18); and

  3. The establishment of the Eligibility and Vetting Panel (Article 19).

Integrity Code of Conduct

The Integrity Code of Conduct (ICC) was introduced to “fulfil these objects and comply with the Constitution” (Rule 1.2) and replaces the former Code of Ethics. The ICC applies to a broad application across a range of persons and entities (Rule 3.1) including:

  • IAAF Officials

  • Area Officials

  • Member Federation Officials

  • Persons and entities bidding to host, or hosting, International Competitions

  • Persons who are engaged by or acting on behalf of the IAAF including IAAF Staff

  • Persons and entities who are participating in Athletics in International Competitions, including but not limited to Athletes and Athlete Support Personnel

  • Such other persons who agree in writing to be bound by this Code.

Whilst the ICC is commendable it its objectives and sentiment, and a measure the authors would like other International Federations and National Governing Bodies to adopt, it remains to be seen how this will be applied in practice given the finite resource of the Athletics Integrity Unit. That said, the scope has been limited (Art. 3.2) to a degree as this only applies to Area Officials and Member Federation Officials as limited to their relations or dealings with the IAAF.

The ICC only applies to alleged violations or any complaint or information where the violation is alleged to have occurred on or after 3 April 2017 (Rule 5.1). Any proceedings filed with the Ethics Board “prior to 31 December 2016 under the Former Code of Ethics or any predecessor codes of ethics will be governed by the substantive provisions of the Former Code of Ethics or predecessor code of ethics (as applicable) and other applicable IAAF Rules in force at the relevant time”. Where there is an “alleged violation of both this Code and any predecessor code(s) of ethics arising out of the same incident or set of facts, or where there is a clear link between separate incidents, the matter will be referred to the Integrity Unit” (Rule 5.6).

The Integrity Standard is set out in Rule 6 which places high standards “Applicable Persons”:

  1. Honesty: to act with utmost integrity and honesty at all times including acting in good faith towards others and with mutual trust and understanding in all their dealings and in particular not to forge any document, falsify any authentic document or use a forged or falsified document;

  2. Fulfil Duties: to actively fulfil their duties and responsibilities with the IAAF with all due care and skill and in good faith and in particular not to act outside of their authority;

  3. Clean Athletics: to protect clean athletes and not engage in Doping, and in particular to comply with the Anti-Doping Rules;

  4. Maintain Integrity of Competition: to ensure the integrity of, and not to improperly benefit from, Athletics competitions, and in particular to comply with the Manipulation of Sports Competitions Rules;

  5. Disclose Interests: to ensure conflicts of interest are minimised and interests properly disclosed as specified in the Vetting Rules and the Conflicts, Disclosures and Gifts Rules;

  6. Minimal Gifts and Benefits: to ensure that any gifts, hospitality or other benefits which are offered, promised, given or received are strictly in accordance with the Conflicts, Disclosures and Gifts Rules and any related guidelines and in particular

  7. Protect Assets: to protect the assets of the IAAF and only use or authorise others to use them within the authority granted, and in particular not to misappropriate any such assets regardless of whether this is carried out directly or indirectly through, or in conjunction with, intermediaries or related parties;

  1. Proper Conduct: to conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner and in particular to refrain from using language or conduct that is obscene, offensive or of an insulting nature towards another person;

  2. Equality: not to unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, sex, ethnic origin, colour, culture, religion, political opinion, marital status, sexual orientation or other differences and in particular to encourage and actively support equality of gender in Athletics;

  3. Dignity: to safeguard the dignity of individuals and not to engage, (directly or indirectly) in any form of harassment, whether physical, verbal, mental, sexual or otherwise;

  4. Maintain Confidentiality: to keep confidential all information which is entrusted to them in confidence unless permitted to disclose such information under any Rule or this Code, or required to disclose such information by law. In addition, information obtained in connection with an Applicable Person’s role or activities in Athletics that is not confidential may not be disclosed for personal gain or benefit, nor be used maliciously to damage the reputation of any person or organisation;

  5. Fair Elections: to conduct their candidacy for any role or position within the IAAF, Area Association or Member with honesty, fairness, and respect for others and as otherwise specified in the Rules Concerning Candidacy for IAAF Office;

  6. Fair Bidding: to conduct their candidacy for any bid or proposal to host any International Competitions with honesty, fairness, and respect for others and as otherwise specified in the Rules of Conduct Applicable to Members and Candidate Cities Wishing to Host World Athletics Series Competitions and Other International Competitions Organised by the IAAF;

  7. Neutrality: to remain politically neutral in their dealings on behalf of the IAAF with government institutions, national and international organisations;

  8. Reporting: to promptly report to the Integrity Unit any act, thing or information which the person becomes aware of, which may constitute (on its own or with other information) a violation of this Code;

  9. Comply with Rules

  10. Protect Reputation: to protect the reputation of the IAAF and not act, or fail to act, in any manner which may:

  1. adversely affect the reputation of the IAAF or Athletics generally; or,

  2. bring the IAAF or Athletics into disrepute; or,

  3. be contrary to the objects of the IAAF; or,

  4. be prejudicial to, or adversely affect the interests of, the IAAF or Athletics.

Importantly, Rule 7.2 sets out what is not covered by the Rule 7:

  1. any protests made prior to a competition concerning the status of an Athlete to compete in the competition in question, under the Technical Rules

  1. any protests or disputes arising out of the field of play, including, without limitation, protests concerning the result or conduct of an event as specified in the Technical Rules.

The first sentence of ICC Rule 7.3 says that it will be a violation of the ICC for an Applicable Person to attempt, or agree with another person or entity, to act in a manner that would constitute or culminate in the commission of a violation of this Code, whether or not such attempt or agreement in fact resulted in a violation.

However, in contrast in the second sentence, there shall be no violation where the Applicable Person renounces his attempt or agreement prior to it being discovered by a third party not involved in the attempt or agreement (ICC Rule 7.3). It could be argued that this finding of no violation should be predicated by the need to report in ICC Rule 8, as this does not currently appear to be the case as this Rule 7.3 is currently drafted.

Rule 7.4 established that an “Applicable Persons shall also violate this Code if they assist, encourage, aid, abet, conspire, cover up or engage in any other type of intentional complicity involving a violation or attempted violation of this Code”. Applicable Persons shall cooperate fully with the Integrity Unit and the Disciplinary Tribunal and any person appointed by either of them, including any investigator appointed by the Integrity Unit. It will be a violation of the rules for:

  • refusing or failing without compelling justification to cooperate with any reasonable investigation carried out by the Integrity Unit or other competent authority in relation to a possible violation of this Code..;

  • obstructing or delaying any investigation that may be carried out by the Integrity Unit (or its designee) or other competent authority in relation to a possible violation of this Code…;

Rule 8 creates an obligation to “report, as soon as practicable, any act, thing or information which they become aware of, which may constitute (on its own or with other information) a violation of this Code, including any approaches or requests to engage in conduct that may constitute a violation of this Code.

IAAF Vetting Rules (VR)

The VR introduced the role of the Ethical Compliance Officer (Rule 9) who is responsible for assisting in the conduct of the Vetting process under the oversight and direction of the Screening Body and alerting the Vetting Panel or Screening Body immediately he or she becomes aware that an Applicant or Existing IAAF Official is, or may be, no longer Eligible. The Ethical Compliance Officer is a senior role that sits within the IAAF and liaises closely with the Vetting Panel and AIU. They have a positive and continuous obligation for the Ethical Compliance Officer to ensure that the Rules are consistently applied.

As highlighted earlier in the Chapter, all IAAF Officials are subject to Vetting as set out in Rule 10 of the VR. Each IAAF Official must consent in writing to vetting to participate in an election or appointment process and this can be ongoing throughout their term (Rule 10.1.1). The written consent shall include (Rule 10.1.2):

  1. consents to use of personal data and waiver of privacy rights (in accordance with applicable data protection and privacy laws and regulations) as required for purposes of carrying out the Vetting; and

  1. acknowledgement by any Applicant (and reiteration by any Applicant who is an Existing IAAF Official) that, in pursuing the proposed candidacy or appointment, the Applicant agrees to be bound by these Rules and the IAAF Code of Ethics or, upon its adoption, the Integrity Code of Conduct; and

  1. agreement to timely submit for review by the Vetting Panel an accurate and complete Declaration Form or, as the case may be, Vetting Disclosure Form.

This consent would have undoubtedly assisted greatly Michael Beloff QC Ethics Commission and Sir Anthony Hooper, back in 2014 when they conducted their investigation into the handling of the Russian ABP cases and the conduct of IAAF Officials.

The Vetting Process (Rule 11) is extensive and, anecdotally, Michael Beloff QC himself said it was one of the most extensive vetting process he had been subjected to.15 This a positive sign given his extensive career as a barrister, arbitrator, and a judge.16

To satisfy an Integrity Check (Rule 12) the Vetting Panel must determine on the basis of all relevant information available to it, that there is no reason to believe that the person is unable to meet the high standards of conduct and integrity required of an IAAF Official which includes:

12.3.1 physically and mentally fit to perform the position being sought;

12.3.2 considered to be of good character and reputation, taking into account whether the person:

  1. is, or has been, the subject of an investigation or disciplinary action, in any sporting context including within Athletics;

  2. is, or has been, the subject of any investigation or disciplinary or other action in which the person’s credibility, integrity, honesty or reputation has been questioned or adversely affected;

  3. has at any time not complied with the law; or

  4. has been the subject of any public controversy bringing the person into such disrepute that his or her association, or continued association, with the IAAF is considered to adversely affect the reputation or interests of the IAAF.

The checks are broken into levels that are appropriate for the position of the person subject to the vetting process.

12.6.1 “Level 1” - For decision-making roles such as those of the President, Vice Presidents, the Chief Executive Officer, Head of the Integrity Unit, Ethical Compliance Officer and members of the Executive Board and its committees, Council, Integrity Unit Board, Vetting Panel, and the Disciplinary Tribunal, the Integrity Check shall include:

  1. review of the Vetting Disclosure Form;

  2. review of any Reporting Statements (for Existing IAAF Officials);

  3. research of publicly available information sources and other information made available to the IAAF;

  4. in-depth specialised research commissioned from independent experts; and

  5. such further inquiry as deemed necessary by the Vetting Panel.

12.6.2 “Level 2” - For roles exercising significant influence in decision-making of the IAAF such as those of IAAF Staff in senior executive management or senior advisory roles reporting directly to "Level 1" IAAF decision makers

(such as directors or heads of functional departments), Chairs of Committees, Commissions, working groups, advisory groups and taskforces, and key consultants and advisors to the IAAF, the Integrity

Check shall include:

  1. review of the Vetting Disclosure Form;

  2. review of any Reporting Statements (for Existing IAAF Officials); and

  3. research of publicly available information sources and other information made available to the IAAF.

12.6.3 “Level 3” - For all other management or advisory roles such as members of Committees, Commissions, working groups, advisory groups and taskforces, consultants or advisors to the IAAF carrying out such management or advisory roles, all IAAF Staff in mid-level management roles reporting directly to "Level 2" senior management or senior advisors and all other IAAF Staff employed by the Integrity Unit, the Integrity Check shall include:

  1. review of the Declaration Form;

  2. research of publicly available information sources and other information made available to the IAAF……

….13.1 If at any time during the course of conducting the Vetting Process, the Vetting Panel decides that any matter pertaining to the Applicant or Existing IAAF Official should be referred to the Integrity Unit, the matter shall be promptly referred to the Head of the Integrity Unit.”

Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU)

The AIU was launched at the beginning of April 2017 with former Director General of the World Anti-Doping Agency, David Howman as Chairperson of the AIU's Board. His Fellow Board Members, Abby Hoffman, Dr. Andrew Pipe and Marc Peltier were approved by the IAAF Council on 12 April 2017. Brett Clothier, one of Australia's leading sport integrity professionals. (AFL)'s Integrity Unit for more than eight years, was appointed as the first Head of Athletics Integrity Unit in August 2017.17

The role of the Athletics Integrity Unit is to protect the integrity of Athletics by combatting any and all forms of corruption and ethical misconduct within athletics.18 It will do this through education and testing, and by investigating and prosecuting anti-doping rule violations and other breaches of integrity within the Rules and Regulations (including the Integrity Code of Conduct and Rules based on the World Anti-Doping Code) (Article 16, Constitution). The AIU is part of, but operates independently from, the IAAF. The Council allocates funding of the Integrity Unit to enable it to undertake its functions and fulfil its (Article 3) and it must report to Council annually (Article 3). Therefore, should greater funding be needed it will be for the AIU Board to put forward a business case. This funding arrangement does allow a level of autonomy for the AIU to decide where they allocate their resources, which - presuming the Board operates effectively, should allow it to be effective as it can be

Board members of the AIU are subject to an Integrity Unit Board Appointments Panel whose role it is to identify, recruit, assess and make recommendations to Congress of the Independent Members of the Integrity Unit Board, (including the chairperson of the Integrity Unit Board) to be appointed to the Integrity Unit Board (Article 16.10). The Appointments Panel is independent of the AIU Board.

The Integrity Unit Board Appointments Panel is comprised of the following three (3) people:

  1. The chairperson of the Integrity Unit Board;

  2. One (1) person appointed by Council who is independent of the IAAF and is experienced in governance and the functions and appointment processes of directors; and

  3. One (1) Council Member, elected by Council

There is no term limit for Panel members (Article 16.15).

Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) 

The DT hears and hear and decides all breaches of the Integrity Code of Conduct in accordance with the Rules and Regulations (Article 18.1). The DT gets it funding from Council (Article 18.2.b).

Part A.4 of the IAAF Disciplinary Tribunal Rules sets out the composition and appoint of the DT in accordance with Article 18.2d of the Constitution. The Council appointed the inaugural members of the DT for the period from 3 April 2017 to the conclusion of the 2019 Congress or any date prior to the 2019 Congress. Thereafter Congress, will appoint the members on the recommendation of Council for a four-year term at each meeting of Congress. Members of the Disciplinary Tribunal may be appointed for a maximum of two terms of office or eight (8) consecutive years, whichever is the greater. (This excludes any prior terms on the Ethics Board or other IAAF judicial or arbitral bodies).19

The DT takes on the functions of the IAAF Ethics Board in respect of any new ethical matters arising since the beginning of 2017. Under the Integrity Code of Conduct, the Tribunal will hear and decide all breaches and has the power to impose sanctions. All decisions will be able to be appealed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.20


It is unfortunate that there has had to be such a high profile and far reaching scandal for the IAAF to take these measures to create structures that create separation of powers from the President, Executive, Council, Congress and the integrity and vetting functions that provide such an important role to keen in check those in positions of authority and influence on the organisation. However, it is acknowledged that these mechanisms are logically and arguable the most extensive of any of the Olympic international federations and in fact the International Olympic Committee. Whilst it is sad it took so much international pressure to force a review of the governance of the IAAF it is welcomed and could establish the benchmark for international sports federations. But, as most lawyers will attest to, the rules are only as effective as their enforcement.

We forward optimistically, but will some reserve, to seeing how effective these changes have been in practice and what further changes to the IAAF Constitutions (2019 Constitution), the review of which starts on the 20 November 2018 and takes effect from January 2019 and replaces the 2017 Constitution.21

This is an extract from the Governance chapter of the LawInSport and BASL Sports Law Yearbook 2017/18. To obtain a full copy of the Yearbook, which contains 10 chapters and over 50 articles like this from the industry’s leading sports lawyers, please visit our website: https://sportslawyearbook.uk/

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Sean Cottrell

Sean Cottrell

Sean is the founder and CEO of LawInSport. Founded in 2010, LawInSport has become the "go to sports law website" for sports lawyers and sports executives across the world.

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Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor. In his day-to-day work he has two roles: as the Principal for his own consultancy business Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions, and Special Counsel for Sports Integrity at leading global sports technology and data company Genius Sports.

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