By Brian Minikin
The recent events around the election of the FIFA President and his subsequent resignation in the face of mounting opposition and resentment highlights the best and the worst of the system that is ‘sport organisations’. The subsequent excessive coverage by both print and electronic media is unprecedented and suggests a level of importance attached to sport that is at best questionable. For everyone who has spent a life in sport, how often have you referred to your governing board as ‘THEM’. Such a reference is often used in frustration at the apparent ineffectiveness or inaction of the board or its leadership. At all levels of sport, from clubs, through associations to national governing bodies and international governing bodies of sport, the ‘Sepp Blatters’ of the world thrive and survive in a system where vote buying, nepotism and conflict of interest are ‘currency’ for survival. Positions in sport organisations appear to encourage a sense of self importance that is reinforced by social constructs that give particularly the position of President, a position of ‘power’ based on their role as chair of the board and representative of the organisation at events and meetings. The recent FIFA scandals have prompted many commentators to finally question the ‘system’ that allows someone like Sepp Blatter to attain and retain positions of power in sport organisations. Sadly, FIFA is only the tip of the ‘Ice Burg’ and it is only when sport organisations reach a level of development where the quantities of money attract enough interest to people pay any attention to this ‘system’ at all.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of voting systems that lead to the selection of people in positions of ‘power’ in sport organisations and understand the implications of this when constructing a reform process for a sport organisation like FIFA.
Sport organisations worldwide are established to organise and manage various aspects of the delivery of sport at the community level, the elite level and everything in between. Some of these organisations are government driven, either national or regional, or non-government, driven by the mandate of a membership that takes a variety of forms (Enjolras & Waldahl, 2010), (Hoye, 2006). These organisations are governed by a board that is selected to provide leadership and strategic direction for the organisation and as such the members of such boards may assume varying degrees of power and influence of the sport they are concerned with and beyond (Mittag & Putzmann, 2013), (Forster, 2006).
In their capacity as leaders of non-profit organisations, governing boards are expected to provide leadership and good governance, acting in the best interests of members (Herman, Renz, & Heimovics, 1996). In recent times sport organisations have moved towards increased bureaucratisation and professionalism as part of a process of modernisation.
Within the United Kingdom, there appears to have been a concerted attempt to ‘modernise’ national governing bodies for sport (Houlihan & Green, 2009), (Walters, Trenberth and Tacon, 2011) through specific funding initiatives driven by UK Sport in particular. (UK Sport, 2003), (UK Sport, 2004). Government funding Agencies, such as Sports Scotland (Sport Scotland, 2013) place a high emphasis on good governance in sport organisations and have initiated specific programs tied to funding that encourage the establishment and practice of good governance in sport. In many cases this has included a review of Board structure and practice. Similar trends are seen globally, (Australian Sports Commission, 2012), and even in developing countries where principles of good governance are pursued through the Olympic Movement and its funding programmes as administered through Olympic Solidarity (IOC 2008). It appears that little attention has been paid to the selection processes employed to form the Boards that govern Olympic Sport Organisations and the consequences that these processes might have on their effective governance. There has however been some effort made to ensure that board structure is improved by selecting people with specific expertise to join boards that were hitherto, solely composed of elected members (Walters et al, 2011), (Taylor & Sullivan, 2009), (Auld, 1997).
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) through Olympic Solidarity states the following:
“All members of the Olympic Movement should adopt, as their minimum standard the Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic movement as proposed by the IOC”. (IOC, 2008, Recommendation 41).
Central to this is the intention that members of sport organisations have the right to vote and express their opinion on issues through a clearly defined and appropriate forum. Among many other considerations this document highlights the need to establish clear and fair rules for all democratic processes such as the election of office bearers. (IOC, 2008, Page 3).
Concern over the governance of sports organisations, particularly high profile international organisations such as the Federation of International Football Associations, (FIFA) and even the IOC itself are well documented in both academic literature and throughout the press. (Jennings, 2012), (Mason, Thibault & Misener, 2006), (Simpson & Jennings, 1992), These concerns are beyond the scope of this review other than to suggest that they have prompted some government and non-government agencies that fund sport to scrutinise more closely the governance of the organisations they support. This includes to some degree the structure of governing boards and personnel selected to them.
The Australian Sports Commission (ASC, 2012) make the following recommendations on the structure of a modern sporting organisation (Principle 1.8: page 6):
- “comprise between five and nine directors
- Have a sufficient blend of expertise, skills and diversity necessary to effectively carry out its role;
- Have all directors being independent, regardless of whether they are elected or appointed;
- Have the ability to make a limited number of external appointments to the Board to fill skill gaps;
- Institute a staggered rotation system for board members with a maximum term in office to encourage board renewal while retaining corporate memory;
- Be broadly reflective of the organisation’s key stakeholders, but not at the expense of the board’s skills mix and the organisation’s objectives”.
These guidelines are more or less agreed to by Walters et al (2011) and Taylor & Sullivan (2009) in the context of the United Kingdom, and appear consistent with the basic principles of good governance in Olympic sports, promulgated by the Olympic Movement. However no such definitive recommendations appear to have been made for sport organisations that operate in other parts of the world, particularly in non-democratic systems or in the developing world. In themselves such recommendations may create conflict with the democratic principles that theoretically underlay the governance of sport organisations. Nevertheless, it would appear that if the principles of good governance are to prevail, the method by which the board of a sport organisation is selected may have a significant impact on the type of people who are assigned the responsibility of guiding the strategic direction of the organisation. It might be argued that to do this effectively, there needs to be active participation by the membership of the organisation. (Enjolras & Waldahl, 2010).
Governing boards are established to oversee the strategic direction of OSOs and in general these Boards are formed through the endorsement of an established membership that gives it authority and legitimacy to act as the ’voice’ of the membership. (Hoye, 2006). Hirschman (1970) establishes the concepts of voice, exit and loyalty as being fundamental to the establishing the legitimacy of an organisation and this is reflected in electoral processes that are based on the principles of democracy (Mittag, 2013), (Enjolras and Wardahl, 2010). In the case of sport organisations, this is understood to mean ‘representative’ democracy which is based on the idea of elected individuals who represent a group of people. In this case it is the membership structure of the organisation that will determine who is eligible to vote and who is eligible to stand for a position that represents the membership.
The founding principles that govern member based organisations such as sport organisations appear to have evolved from a euro-centred view that is reflected in the establishment of the IOC’s basic universal principles of good governance. (IOC, 2008). Given that a majority of members on executive bodies of international sport governing bodies, are from Europe, (Geeraert, et al 2013a), (Geeraert, Alm and Groll 2013b), it should come as no surprise that the structures established for selecting members of sport organisation governing boards are biased towards European culture and values. The way in which these are viewed outside of Europe can differ significantly to such an extant that practices considered criminal in some parts of the world are quite acceptable in others. It is the international governing bodies for sport, such as the International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) and the International Football Federation (FIFA) that establish the fundamental guidelines by which their member national bodies operate. These national bodies have in turn established guidelines for their member bodies within the national boundaries for governing their organisations. In general the structure of a board and the process by which its members are selected, are well documented in the respective constitutions or statutes that govern these organisations. These describe how the selection procedure is conducted for choosing the people who are to make up their respective governing boards. Taylor & Sullivan (2009) note the inadequacies of Board structures that have evolved from the non-profit sector in coping with the demands that occur in sports organisations that lean towards a degree of commercialisation.
Selection to board positions
“History suggests four main methods of selection to political office are available: drawing of lots, heredity, the use of force and voting”. Besley (2005): 50.
Within the political environment of sport organisations it may be possible to find examples of selection to governing boards using any one of the methods suggested by Besley (2005), although the drawing of lots to rotate and share office responsibilities does not appear to have gained much favour.
Phillips (2011) asserts that in establishing a “Good Governance Code for European Team Sport Federations”, there is a need to preserve democratic structures and processes as an important component of establishing sound organisational structures. What does this really mean? Sport organisations that adhere to democratic processes in order to establish their legitimacy and governance themselves become influenced by well-established political processes. The challenge for all sport organisations that wish to establish and maintain good governance is to also establish the most appropriate method for selecting their Governors. (Taylor and Sullivan, 2009). It might be argued that selection to board positions should be on the basis of merit and/or possessing a specific skill set that is needed as volunteer based sport organisations move increasingly towards professionalization (Taylor and Sullivan, 2009), (Hoye, 2006). The structures that FIFA have in place today essentially derive from its volunteer based roots. This is an organisation that has far out grown such a structure.
The ballot appears to be the choice of the majority of sports organisations as most representative of good democratic process and is widely encouraged by the Olympic Movement through the Olympic Charter. These ballots are usually carried out in a General Assembly, or Congress, made up of delegates who are either direct members of the organisation or are representatives of organisations that are affiliated to the organisation. For example, a National Olympic Committee (NOC) generally consists of delegates from each of the recognised national governing bodies for sport within a particular country, who are mandated to represent their organisation at NOC meetings and vote for members of the governing board of the NOC.
The Olympic Charter directs that for all Olympic sport organisations, the congress or general assembly is considered the supreme authority of the organisation (Mittag & Putzmann, 2013) and is often written as ‘the highest organ’ of the organisation as described in the constitution or statutes that govern that organisation (Enjolras & Waldahl, 2010). It was intriguing therefore to listen to Sepp Blatter’s victory speech in 2015 as he proclaimed: “this is my assembly and I shall speak”. The Governing Board will generally consist of a Chairperson or President, Vice Chair, Secretary, Treasurer and a number of members either with or without specific responsibilities. The Olympic Charter encourages a four year cycle of office in line with the Olympiad but this can vary from one year terms to four year terms as prescribed in any specific Constitution as approved by its membership. For many sport organisations, their constitution must also meet the requirements established by a parent sport organisation such as a National governing body, or an international governing body and in some countries, also meet some form of legal requirement established in order to register the organisation as a legal entity.
Mittag & Putzmann (2013) provide a compelling discussion on democratic structures in international sport organisations leading to an examination of what electoral system might be best for the establishment of governing Boards. While challenging the ‘one vote – one member principle’, the authors note the variance in size and power of the various international sport organisations and the constituencies within them. Such differences are observable in most if not all international sport organisations. In the case of FIFA, of the approximate 38 milliion registered football players worldwide that are represented by their respective national football federations, 73 countries out of the 210 affiliates have less that 10,000 registered players. Nevertheless they have the same vote at a FIFA Congress as the top 73 Countries who represent 36.4 million registered players. (www.fifa.com/worldfootball/bigcount/registeredplayers.htm). Furthermore, the top 44 nations affiliated to FIFA represent 90% of the worlds registered player which means that they are out voted by a factor of 4.7 – 1 by the countries that represent 10% of the world’s footballers. In the face of figures similar to these that exist in the European sphere, Mittag and Putzmann (2013) propose proportional voting based on registered numbers and even consideration of a ‘two chamber’ system of governance for international sport organisations that would more directly involve stake holders such as: clubs, athletes, leagues and tournaments and even supporters.
There appears to be very little literature that examines the efficacy of ballot systems. Penrose (1946) provides a statistical analysis of the power of the single vote and of the bloc vote and discusses briefly how controlling hierarchies may maintain power by understanding these relationships. Balduzzi, Graziano and Luprini (2012), provide a provocative examination of the dynamics of voting in small committees, considering the mathematical probabilities posed by Penrose (1946) and examining the influence of communication, information aggregation and the role of the informed member in reaching decisions in small committees that often characterise those found in sport organisations. This work warrants further specific application to the dynamics of decision making in sport organisations and in particular with respect to the election of office bearers over the life of their tenure. It may well be that the so called democratic electoral method used in sport simply subscribes to Agnes’ Law that:
“Almost everything in life is easier to get into the out of”.
It is important at this point to understand the dynamics of electing people onto the boards of sport organisations. For the sake of this discussion, the selection of individuals onto boards by appointment will not be included here.
The election of officials onto the board of a simple club is usually a simple affair. The members are defined by registration which may or may not accompany the payment of a fee. Usually members at this level of sport organisation are individuals, however in very large clubs there may already be seen a number of sub groups of members taking the form of leagues or teams to from which represented are selected to represent the sub group.
Once on the board of a club, a member, usually the president or secretary or both will be eligible to attend meetings of a regional or district body which is a collection of clubs from within a designated geographical or even demographic area. In the case of smaller sporting codes, this level may not exist, with clubs affiliating directly to a national body. The election of officials to the board of the district/regional body would be made from nominations of delegates who sit in the congress of delegates representing the clubs and any special members representing groups such as a league. Once elected here, delegates, again normally either the President or Secretary or both will sit at the meetings of the next level, usually the national governing body.
The President, or Secretary or both of the national body may then attend meetings of their respective continental grouping if it exists, or directly as a delegate to the congress of the International body. The number of steps required to attend international governing body meetings will vary with size and in accordance with the rules and regulations that govern that body. The size and complexity of international governing bodies for sport can vary considerably. (Geeraert et al, 2013), (Forster, 2006).
In addition, the President and/or Secretary General of a national governing body may also have a place on the NOC of the country they reside in and as such be eligible for election to the Board of that organisation as well. At each level of organisation, an elected delegate is expected to represent the interests of the membership that has elected them. In the case of the club, this would be the club members when attending district meetings. If elected onto the district board, the individual then represents all of the clubs within their district to the National Body meetings and so on up to the NOC or international sport organisation that the individual might aspire. There are variations to the selection of members to Boards at all levels of sport governance and these are generally written into the constitution or statutes that govern the organisation. The statutes or constitution should be approved by the membership of that organisation and may be subject to to ratification by a parent body to which the organisation affiliates such as national governing body for sport or a NOC. In the case of NOCs, all approved constitutions must be vetted by the legal department of NOC Relations to ensure that the constitution of the NOC meets the minimum conditions as set out in the Olympic Charter and that they are based on the Olympic Values. These might include selection of delegates by appointment, who are ex-officio by virtue of organisational status such as a sponsor representative or government representative, or be a member for life, immediate past president or an IOC Member, to name but a few.
In theory every selected member is accountable to and should report regularly to the member bloc that has selected him or her to a position in a sport organisation. (Enjolras and Waldhal, 2010). Nevertheless once elected to the Board of an organisation, board members are expected to act in the best interests of the organisation, rather than themselves or the specific bloc that has elected them. (Walters et al, 2011). This may create the environment in which a conflict of interest may occur and as such this is dealt with under the provisions of the constitution that governs the organisation to which the member is responsible.
While a member of a club who has risen to sit on the Board of the sports international body, no longer represents the specific interests of his club, the club may perceive some benefit to have one of their own placed in a position of power in their parent organisation or one in which decisions might be made which could benefit the club, such as placement of new facilities, financial grants and education programmes.
In well developed, large sport systems, the conflict of interest that might occur, may be quite limited, however in developing countries with small populations, it may be possible for one person to hold many positions simultaneously, some of which may be accountable to another held by that person. Regardless of the sport system however, the notion of obtaining power and influence in sport organisations is not new. (Forster, 2006), (White and Kay, 2006), (Hoye & Cuskelly, 2003), (Simpson and Jennings, 1992), (Black & Nauright, 1998), White & Brackenridge (1986).
An analysis by Geeraert, et al (2013b): 16-17, in a survey of 35 International Sport Governing Bodies, revealed that 25 of the elected Presidents and 26 of the elected Secretaries General where from Europe, or around 70% of the most influential positions in World sport governing bodies. This support a view that power in sport internationally, centres around Europe as discussed earlier in this paper. This is supported by the findings of Broberg & Lyck (2013) who using a Sports Political Power index, based on positions held by individuals from specific countries in European and international sports organisations, suggest that seven of the top ten most influential countries in sport are European leading to ten of the top twenty overall. The authors also observe that the majority of sport leaders come from countries that have a strong grounding in democracy and democratic electoral process.
Broberg & Lyck (2013) go onto suggest that by obtaining a high level of political influence in sport, a country may benefit when bidding to host important sport events or meetings.
The majority of Presidents of the International Olympic Committee have been from Europe. Of the ten IOC Presidents, only Avery Brundage, an American, was not from Europe.
Since the retirement of Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001, IOC Presidents serve an eight year term with an option to extend for four years on the approval of the IOC Congress. Prior to that, terms were not capped and this was widely criticised as a sign of poor governance. (MacAloon, 2011). IOC Presidents have been as follows:
1. Demetrius Vikelas (1894 – 1896) 2 years
2. Pierre de Coubertain (1896 – 1925) 27 years
3. Henri de Baillet-atour (1925 – 1942) 17 years
4. Sigfrid Edstrom (1942 – 1952) 10 years
5. Avery Brundage (1952 – 1972) 20 years
6. Lord Killanin (1972 – 1980) 8 years
7. Juan Antonio Samaranch (1980 – 2001) 21 years
TERM AND AGE LIMITS IMPOSED HERE
8. Jacques Rogge (2001 – 2013) 12 years
9. Thomas Bach (2013 – current) 3 years
For FIFA the list of Presidents is as follows:
1. Robert Guerin 2 years
2. Danial Woolfall 12 years
3. Jules Rimet 33 years
4. R. Seeldrayers 1 year
5. Arthur Drewry 6 years
6. Stanley Rous 13 years
7. Joao Havelange 24 years
8. Sepp Blatter 17 years
The length of terms held by senior board members of sport organisations has come under increasing scrutiny. Geeraert et al (2013a, 2013b) note that in the 35 international governing bodies for sport that they have surveyed, the average term for a President is 14 years, ranging from 2 years – 37 years. Sepp Blatter has only just passed that average. Furthermore, only 6 of the organisations studied set an age limit for the President and only 8 have set a limit to the number of terms in office a President may hold their position. Similar observations of the length of time spent in senior board positions for NOCs have been made. It is not uncommon to note a President or a Secretary General in a NOC hold office for more than 20 years. Only 15 of the 204 NOCs world wide impose term limits for their board members.
In a survey of 27 participants in an advanced Sports Management course held in Lausanne during 2013, a number of questions were posed concerning the nature of the boards of their respective organisations, made up of National Olympic Committees, national federations, international federations and government sport organisations. The following is a brief summary of the findings:
- On average the size of Boards was 13, ranging from 7 – 22.
- 18 reported that members were elected by the membership only while 7 said that provision for co-opting members was allowed.
- The election system employed in all cases was by simple ballot, 1 vote per delegate made up of registered members or representatives of members as prescribed in their constitution.
- 18 organisations reported that there was no limit to the number of terms a Board member can hold.
- On average the length of time a current President has been in place was 5 years ranging from 1 – 25.
- The average length of time for the longest serving Board member was 17, ranging from 7 – 30 years.
The findings indicate a degree of uniformity in the voting systems used to select board members, with a clear preference for a simple majority ballot. 2 organisations reported employing the exhaustive ballot system and 5 organisations indicated that their incumbent Board members also cast a vote in addition to delegates from member clubs or organisations. This is a practice that can be observed in some national sport organisations and National Olympic Committees.
There does not appear to be an established position in the literature concerning the ideal length of the term of a board member in a sport organisation, or whether or not there should be a limit to the number of terms a board member should serve. However the notion of limiting the terms of office of board members has been implemented by the IOC itself since 2001 and is encouraged as one of the basic principles of good governance for sport organisations. (IOC, 2008). Furthermore, the IOC encourage a term of office in Olympic sport organisations that revolve around an Olympiad, the four year cycle between summer Olympic Games. However it should be noted that for term limits to be effective, the notion that the member of a board of say a national governing body can no longer be dependent upon them holding a position on the board of their constituent club or association.
With the best of intentions, sport has established systems of governance and methods for selecting those who govern based on social constructs that are essentially European in their ideology. The assumption that European ideology is appropriate in the global context is questionable at best. The selection of governing boards and the President of a sport organisation is generally by simple ballot taken from recognised delegates or registered members. The elected board members are mandated to oversee the strategic direction of the organisation but in theory are completely accountable to the membership through the general assembly. Despite it being documented that the general assembly is the ‘highest organ’ of the organisation, we have seen an accepted social construct evolve that places the President and the board of the organisation above the membership as opposed to being a servant of it. This power dynamic, reinforced by the rather privileged position afforded such people, particular around the events that the organisation owns, has demonstrably led to people seeking to acquire power and hold onto it by clever manipulation of the electoral congress by ways and means that are beyond the scope of this paper. For those who have attended major sports events and enjoyed the lavish hospitality and privilege that comes with being a part of the ‘event family’, you will understand what a ‘heady’ experience it is. For delegates from small and poor countries the attraction of positions on international governing bodies for sport and NOCs can be intoxicating. Merely holding a board position on a major sport organisation can become the primary goal for many individuals. The good of the game?
The system of governance whereby holding a position within one sports organisation, such as a club, is a pre-requisite to holding a position or being able to vote in another sport organisations, such as a national governing body, which in turn may lead to a seat on an international sport organisation or NOC soon removes the individual from their member base and allows them to represent their own views above that of the organisation that they represent. Indeed, in an attempt to enforce principles of good governance, elected members are encouraged to be independent in their actions, which may further encourage this disassociation between members and representatives. It should therefore come as a surprise that the Olympic Movement now encourages all Olympic sport organisations to create an athlete’s commission and ensure that athletes are represented on the board of a NOC and its constituent national governing bodies in order for the voice of the athlete to be heard.
The selection of governing boards by election processes sounds like an effective method of establishing representative democracy for sport organisations but once again, either by managed withholding of information or manipulation of the electoral process, it is a process that is easily corrupted to allow individuals to establish an oligarchy, benevolent or otherwise. As observed by Enjolras and Waldahl (2010), sport organisations operate according to a form of representational democracy where in the annual general meeting or congress provides the opportunity for the general membership to hold accountable, the actions of the board. For this to work effectively however, the board must openly share the information and knowledge by which the board came to a conclusion or reached a decision in the interest of the organisation.
The notion of proportional voting based on the size or influence of constituent members may be worthy of consideration as proposed by Mittag & Putzmann (2013) as this acknowledges the influence that a group of resolute members may have over a larger organisation. The argument being that the vote of an indifferent member may do more harm than good in the context of a sport organisation. It could also be argued however that by increasing the number of votes allocated to a delegate on the basis of say the number of members they represent, economic contribution or some other means of establishing a criteria that would entitle a voting delegate more than a single vote, may lend itself to creating oligarchs based around one or more strong and influential members. In the case of FIFA such a situation could spell the end of significant development funding for the smaller national governing bodies.
A number of authors have suggested that the structure of governing boards for sport organisations, are inadequate. (Taylor & Sullivan, 2009), (Forster, 2006), (Katwala, 2000,) (Auld, 1997). Perhaps it is time that further work is done to examine the methods by which governing boards are selected at all levels of sport, as a basis for establishing the basic principles of good governance in sport organisations that appear to be the concern of many. (Mittag & Putzmann, 2013), (Geeraert et al, 2013a), (Enjolras and Waldahl, 2010), (Australian Sports Commission, 2012), (IOC, 2008).
The FIFA issues have brought to light a need for change and reform to the structure and system of the world governing body for football. It could be argued that the same reform is required across sport in general, at international, national and local levels. This paper contends that the ‘Sepp Blatters’ of the world are not the cause of the system, they are merely products of it. In that context, he is as much a victim of it as he is an architect. Nevertheless the likelihood that there will be real reform of FIFA is questionable if for no other reason than the people who are to make the necessary changes to the system are the very people who are the products of the system and the most in danger of being compromised by any significant changes to it.
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