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A blueprint for the future of sports governance

Thursday, 16 July 2015 By Kevin Carpenter

On the morning of Wednesday 27 May 2015, FIFA, the world governing body of football, was plunged into the deepest and most high profile crisis in its 111 year history.1 This came hot on the heels of a number of other sports facing governance problems including (but by no means limited to):

  • Cycling – the unravelling of the Lance Armstrong doping affair and the publication of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission’s report;2
  • Cricketcontroversial changes to the division of power with the International Cricket Council giving Australia, England and India far greater control over the world game;3
  • American football – the handing by the all-powerful NFL Commissioner of various scandals, most troubling of which being domestic violence by some of its players.4

Sport has over a number of years exhibited on too many occasions chronic failures in its governance meaning many sports governing bodies (‘SGBs’), be they international federations or national governing bodies, are unfit for purpose and have forfeited the right to have a pragmatic attitude to the integrity of sport be it on or off the field of play. Sport can no longer believe it should be treated differently than any other sector in society, that it is in some way unique, because good governance engenders trust between all stakeholders allowing sport to flourish from both competitively and commercially. Only the highest possible standards of ethics and governance can now suffice.

This article sets out what are, in the author’s view, the broad actions that SGB’s need to implement (to the extent that they have not done so already) to reform sports’ governance to a gold standard, which must be the objective in this most important sector of society. All of the areas are underpinned by the guiding principles of: transparency, accountability,5 neutrality, co-operation and proactivity. It is acknowledged that a one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for all SGBs and that governance must be tailored to any organisations’ financial and human resources. Therefore, SGBs should consider working with a broad range of stakeholders on some of these reforms to share the cost and risk but at the same time enhance the expertise applied. This could mean stakeholders within the sport, cross-sport, nationally and internationally.

Separation of powers – The powers vested in and exercise by the legislature (the organ of the sport that makes the rules), the executive (the organ responsible for the day-to-day running of the sport) and the judiciary (the disciplinary body that enforces the SGB’s rules) must be clearly separated to ensure legitimacy of the SGB.6 Not all sports have this in place or the lines are blurred. The separation of powers is a fundamental tenet of democracy which applies equally to sport to provide ‘checks and balances’ on the powers exercised by an SGB.7

Appointment of a chairman - To both work alongside and supervise an executive leader of the governing body (i.e. the president). When appointing the chairman there should be no requirement that the candidate has played an active role in the sport previously (see cf. art. 24 par. 1 of the FIFA Statutes for an example of such a requirement8), however there will of course be a published specification and objective criteria for evaluating the candidates.

The addition of independent members to the executive9 - each SGB executive board must have at least 25% specialist non-executive members (‘NEMs’).

Voting by the legislative arm of the SGB changed to enhance transparency and lessen the risk of corruption – When matters reserved to the sport’s legislature occurs an appropriate balance needs to be struck between the need for a representative and democratic process and the need to avoid a concentration of power/influence. For instance, here is an example I have devised which I believe would work for the FIFA Congress which currently has a one vote per member system for its 209 member associations. On matters reserved to the Congress, there could be 60 votes split equally between the six Confederations which cover each of the members. To determine how each individual Confederation’s 10 votes will be cast, their member associations will vote and the percentage split will be reflected in the number of votes. For example, where there are two candidates (A and B) for the Presidency or countries to host the World Cup, the Confederation for Africa CAF holds a vote with the outcome that 36 of their member associations vote A and 18 vote for B. This would translate into CAF’s 10 votes at the Congress being cast 7 votes for A and 3 votes for B.

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Written by

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter

Kevin is a advisor and member of the editorial board for LawInSport, having previously acted as editor.

Kevin specialises in integrity, regulatory, governance and disciplinary matters. His expertise and knowledge has led him to be engaged by major private and public bodies, including the IOC, FIFA, the Council of Europe, INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), as well as making regular appearances internationally delivering presentations and commenting in the media on sports law issues.

His research and papers are published across a variety of forums, including having a blog on LawInSport.

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