Who Watches the Watchers? Sports Governance – A Very Hobbesian Problem

Posted by   Matt Pocock  at Friday, 14 October 2016 01:27:37

Matt is studying for a MSc in Sport Management at the University of Stirling.

In 1651, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes published his most famous political work, Leviathan. Leviathan laid out Hobbes’ vision on how society functioned, how a legitimate government is created and was one of the earliest influences on what is now known as ‘social contract theory’.

In Leviathan, Hobbes sees humans existing in a ‘state of nature’, ‘a war of all against all’ which he describes as a lawless society in which humans would compete with each other over the basic resources needed to survive. As a result of this constant battle for survival, life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. The only way to escape the state of nature is for humans to band together and agree to appoint a sole arbiter (the titular Leviathan) that will settle all disputes between individuals, allowing them to live freely under the Leviathan’s upholding of the law.

So what does this have to do with sport organisations and governance?

Well every sport is governed by its own set of rules. While there is nothing physically stopping me from picking up the soccer ball during a match and running with it, I would be breaking the rules of the game by doing so. These rules of every sport have been created by a group of individuals or clubs coming together and agreeing that these rules, whatever they may be, are the rules of the game. Now to enforce these rules the individuals or clubs must form a governing body which defines the rules and deals with disputes between individuals and clubs in the fairest manner over the interpretation of the rules, just like the role of the Leviathan that Hobbes wrote about over 350 years ago.

In sport, every individual and club must agree with the decisions that the governing board makes, if they do not then the governing body can place sanctions upon them or expel them from the sport entirely. If enough individuals or clubs agree to break away as has happened in Darts with the PDC splitting away from the BDO in 1993 or the split between Rugby Union and Rugby League in 1895, then they can form their own game and rules. But even in these extreme circumstances such the rogue individuals/clubs still have to create a governing body in order to uphold the laws of the game and settle internal disputes. It might not be the Leviathan they have left, but it is still a Leviathan all the same.

And this is the root of a lot of the problems that occur within sports governance. For a governing body to be independent and fair to all its members, it must remain outside the influence of any one or more individuals or clubs, however this leaves the governing body unable to be truly accountable to its members and thus free to run the sport in whatever fashion it chooses. This creates an unsolvable conundrum of how do we govern the governing bodies of our sports without adding additional governing bodies or affecting their independence by limiting some of their power.

This in essence, is what agency theory is within sports organisations, the governing bodies for sports have agency over the sports they each manage. But with no-one to answer to then it is very easy for these organisations to become corrupt internally in some form as individuals become tempted to act in their own self-interest. The biggest and most-high profile example of this is FIFA, which was found over the last few years by the FBI to be suffering from millions of dollars-worth of financial corruption which influenced the decision-making process around the bidding process for tournaments.

FIFA are not alone in this, the IAAF is also under a lot of pressure currently about corruption as well, as is AIBA for match-fixing and even the IOC can’t escape the accusations of dodgy backroom dealings. When levels of corruption are so high that it becomes part of the culture of the organisation, the resistance to external governance and auditing grows even further.

Can this be stopped from occurring? In short, the answer is not completely, as the way international governing bodies currently operate prevent this. However as alluded to above, if the culture of the organisation can be moved away from self-interest and agency theory to one of responsibility and to act as stewards, managing the day to day governance of the sport, then it will at least limit the spread of that corruption within that governing body even if it can’t stop it at the very top levels.

This stewardship theory of governance is vital to keeping sports in contact with the membership and stakeholders that support them. In fact, it was both the BDO’s and the RFU’s mistake in not doing this that led to the splits within those respective sports.

But how do we change that culture? That is the tricky question, as it is not immediately obvious to those who are corrupt that they are behaving improperly.

Is travelling to a meeting by free business class train corrupt?

Probably not.

Is taking payments in exchange for voting a certain way on a decision corrupt?


But is staying in a 5-star hotel for a week all expenses paid when there are cheaper 3-Star hotel alternatives an abuse of privileges?

It’s difficult to call.

Where do we draw the line between improper behaviour and proper behaviour by our governing bodies? If we’re not watertight with our definition of corruption, then that just leaves loopholes that can be exploited by those who are corrupt and we’ll never break the cycle of bad governance.

In light of this rather downbeat and negative view of sports governance, perhaps we should go back to Thomas Hobbes for some words of comfort. As he wrote, and as Sepp Blatter found out to his cost, ‘no matter how big or powerful a despot is, even the greatest of tyrants must sleep sometime.’

References and Bibliography

BBC News

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

The Guardian Newspaper

VOA News

Hobbes, Thomas (1651), Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil

Hoye et al, (2005), Sports Management – Principles and Applications, Routledge

King, N. (2015), Sports Governance, Routledge

Moorhouse, Geoffrey (1995). A people’s game: the centenary history of rugby league football, 1895–1995. Hodder & Stoughton.


Dr Irene Reid – School of Sport, University of Stirling

As International Women’s Day 2016 approached, last week I was drawn once again to Blossom: What Scotland Needs to Flourish, the book by journalist and broadcaster Lesley Riddoch in which she examines contemporary Scotland through issues such as health inequality, land and property ownership, language and culture. A year ago I was intrigued by the chapter about women, particularly the section where Riddoch reflects on the production of The Scotsman newspaper on 8th March 1995. In 1995 Lesley Riddoch, then assistant editor of The Scotsman newspaper, was given the green light to develop an issue to mark International Women’s Day; the paper was renamed The Scotswoman for the day. One sentence in Blossom resonates loudly: ‘Sports coverage was another headache’ (Riddoch 2014: 253).

When I first read this statement and Riddoch’s explanation I was unnerved. Of course I knew I’m untypical of women in Scotland when it comes to participation in sport and being interested in connections between mediated sport and ideas of nationhood. I’ve been immersed in formal organised sport since my teens, and I’ve followed sport on radio and television and in newspapers throughout my life –this it seems is unusual. I read the paper from the back pages to the front, although I’m convinced that’s to do with my left-handedness therefore not so odd. As an undergraduate student, my research considered the relationship between sport and the media in Scotland. These themes have infused my subsequent research, influenced in no small part by newspaper essays by the late Ian Archer and the late William McIlvanney on the national resonance of sport in Scotland. Riddoch’s assessment was discomforting/

It’s helpful therefore to consider the significance of that edition of a national Scottish paper in 1995. The Scotswoman was a world first: a mainstream newspaper written, produced and edited by women it provided an alternative to the ‘unreflectively male-oriented’ perspective of mainstream media (Riddoch 2014: 250). The Scottish first of 1995 was followed by mainstream papers in other countries in subsequent years, but it was not repeated by The Scotsman. That edition on International Women’s Day 1995 was a first, and it was about more than just adjusting the title of the paper for the day, but, as Riddoch explained, this presented a challenge:

We wanted women as actors in the news not passive objects. But the truth was then and still is now, that women just don’t make the ‘news’ as it’s conventionally defined (Riddoch 2014: 253).

Sport wasn’t the only daily fare that provided a headache for The Scotswoman team in 1995. In the spheres of politics, foreign affairs, and the economy for example the images and voices were predominantly male; men were the actors. But in 1995 perhaps the realm of sport more than others really was a problem; in 1995 did sports news mean men’s sport … or more specifically fitba with a wee bit of rugby union thrown in?

In 1995 I was working in England. I didn’t buy a Scottish daily paper back then and I didn’t see The Scotswoman on newsstands and digital versions of Scotland’s newspapers weren’t on the radar. I’ve therefore no first-hand recollection of how the editorial team resolved the conundrum of sports coverage on International Women’s Day 1995. Scotland in 2016 is in some respects different to the nation it was, and the social, cultural and political resonance of sport in Scottish society remains fertile research terrain. Where does women’s sport sit in 2016? Gut instinct tells me women’s sport and women’s contribution to sport in Scotland is still a marginal concern for the mainstream media. Set against this backdrop, with another International Women’s Day imminent, last week I returned to Riddoch’s discussion around The Scotswoman and asked myself if a Scottish newspaper repeated that 1995 initiative: Would sports coverage still be a headache?

Having spent a few days pondering the headache sports coverage presented for Lesley Riddoch and her production team I noted today with interest the news that The Scotswoman will be on our newsstands once again. Twenty-one years after its first appearance, The Scotswoman will return on International Women’s Day 2016 (‘Scotsman symbolically re-branded for Interantional Women’s Day’, http://www.scotsman.com/news/politics/scotsman-symbolically-re-branded-for-international-women-s-day-1-4048251, March 7 2016). I don’t have long to wait to find out: is sports coverage still a headache, or 21 years down the line, will the challenge of shifting the male-oriented content and perspective of one newspaper for one day be interesting reading for Scottish women interested in sport?


Boiling frogs…and why the administration of international sport is not going to get any better. Leigh Robinson

It’s been a bad few months for the administration of international sport. What with corruption, fraud, drugs and conflicts of interest the ‘value’ of sport in recent months has been pretty much in creating media profits and building journalist profiles. The activities of FIFA and the IAAF are a journalist’s delight with new allegations and stories emerging each day. However, it would be naive to think that these organisations are simply a couple of bad apples in what is otherwise a well-administered industry. I suspect that there are a number of sports that are running around, trying to put their house in order, thankful that the spotlight has not fallen on them…yet!

Without doubt the administration of international sport is diabolical and needs to be transformed. However, any attempts to do are ultimately doomed to failure, for a number of reasons:

  1. The IOC, the organisation at the top of the international sport food chain is not the best role model for improving sport administration. There have been indications that this is improving under the stewardship of Thomas Bach, who recently published his allowances of 225,000 euro, which he receives as a volunteer for the Olympic Movement. However, the speed with which Bach said that Russia would be welcome at Rio 2016, undermines the extent of the changes that WADA has requested and demonstrates a lack of commitment to the processes and procedures of cleaning up a corrupt sporting system. With this stance he has thrown into doubt his credibility as a game changer in the administration of international sport. He is also the head of an organisation where the appointment of members is not transparent and is certainly not representative. We also have no idea at all about how Games hosts are chosen as this is the responsibility of a primarily unelected membership who holds a secret ballot. Yes, things are better since the Salt Lake City scandal, but not much and not at all in terms of accountability.
  2. Sport is self-regulating. Other industries will find this extraordinary, but there are few legal obligations imposed on sport. Violence on the field is punished by the referee and/or by a discipline committee – even instances of what would be a criminal offence in any other environment. Impropriety within sport administration has been ignored, dealt with quietly, or come under the scrutiny of ethics commissions, which are predominantly made up of those also in international sport administration. The charges have been bought against FIFA officials by U.S. Federal prosecutors have come about because of years of work, despite significant evidence of wrongdoing that was ignored by those within the sport. If this hadn’t happened, those of us outside of these organisations would have been unaware of the extent of the corruption. Even now, despite all of the evidence against him, Platini could stand for election as President of FIFA if the Court of Arbitration for Sport accepts his appeal against his 90 day ban from football, something that will seem incomprehensible to those in other professions.
  3. But let’s get to the real problem and the boiling of frogs! It may be an urban myth, but apparently when you put frogs into water and turn the heat up slowly, they don’t realise what is happening and can be boiled to death. Please note that I’ve never tested this! This is exactly the problem with international sport administration and poses the greatest challenge to overcoming the corruption that is endemic in international sport administration. I’m going to be generous and say that very few corrupt people enter sport administration – it’s the structure of sport administration that corrupts some.

Think about this: a father (and is usually fathers) becomes President of his child’s sport club and as a consequence he gets to attend the General Assembly of his national federation (NF). There will be some reward for this, usually a meal and his expenses, but sometimes accommodation and a sponsor gift bag will be part of the package. Everyone else gets this, so why wouldn’t he? He then becomes part of the executive of the NF, he is a popular chap after all and eventually moving on to become Secretary General or President, which results in paid trips to the General Assembly of the international federation.  He will also be part of the delegation for any major games affecting his sport. These trips will be paid for, often with 5 star accommodation, certainly involve free activities, events and gift packages and in the case of major games, will come with ‘all access’ accreditations and the right to VIP hospitality. Everyone else gets this, so why wouldn’t he? Next time he decides to take his partner, because the room is being paid for anyway and if she has a VIP accreditation she can accompany him to the key events….and it seems to be the norm to bring your partner. In this role, he also gets to vote on who should be on the executive of his international federation and if one of the candidates will make grants available to develop his sport in his country and he will get to administer it, he would be remiss, letting his country down, if he did not to support that candidate. And before you know it, he’s ‘boiled’ –by an incremental process of corrupting ‘reward’ activities inherent within international sport administration that, because everyone else who are in that ‘inner circle’ is getting them, doesn’t require questioning.

There have been calls for the next FIFA President to be someone from outside the sport – even outside sport. This is pointless; changing the top of sport is far too late because people are ‘boiled’ by then. We need to stop the corrupting processes at the very bottom of sport and stop the increasing of rewards associated with holding positions in sport administration. Quite frankly, however, this will be impossible, because it’s those who receive the rewards that would have to do away with the rewards – and why would turkeys vote for Christmas?

So, depressingly, international sport administration is not going to get better anytime soon. Nothing will change until we turn off the heat and give the frog a chance. Until there is a fundamental change in the way sport is structured, the temperature will continue to rise, ever so slowly….



Anti-doping education failing to be consistent across sports

Anti-doping education is failing to be consistent across sports, according to University of Stirling research.

The study, carried out by Dr Mathieu Winand, Lecturer in Sport Management at the University of Stirling, examined the challenges faced by sport federations in the UK in anti-doping education.

Dr Winand said: “The risk of intentional doping in the UK is deemed to be low, so current efforts are mainly aimed at tackling inadvertent doping, which may occur through the use of contaminated supplements.”

However, differences in terms of resources, capacity and priorities between sport federations lead to differences in the delivery of anti-doping education activities across sports, and thus threatened the homogeneity of the anti-doping system and what athletes and support staff know across sports. This is reinforced by the support provided by UK Anti-Doping prioritising high risk sport.

The study also found that there is a lack of clarity on who is responsible for providing anti-doping education to British elite athletes at regional, national or international levels.

In addition, a lack of consistency and co-ordination between the various sports organisations involved in providing anti-doping education may create confusion.

When athletes compete at senior or professional levels, sport federations and UK Anti-Doping are still responsible in theory, but when travelling abroad they are often perceived to be outside the control of their sport federation.

“Senior and professional athletes may also receive additional information from their international sport federation, their professional players’ association and their club or team.

“The lack of coordination between these organisations does not help elite athletes, and it’s difficult to know what athletes actually know or remember about anti-doping.”

Dr Winand calls for clearer responsibilities for sport federations towards the type of anti-doping education that needs to be delivered and the people that needs to be targeted in order to reach consistency across sports. Furthermore, he argues there is a need for better monitoring systems setting objectives and evaluating anti-doping education programmes, as well as collaboration between sport federations sharing good practices. Finally, the role of sport federations in doping prevention is not sufficiently recognised by funding agencies.

The Carnegie Trust-funded project investigated the role and challenges of 12 UK sport federations and UKAD in doping prevention. It was the first study of its kind in the UK to analyse anti-doping education.

The report, entitled ‘Analysis of the role and challenges of sport federations in doping prevention in the UK’, is available to download here.

The research was funded by The Carnegie Trust. www.carnegie-trust.org

Reform of the System – what does that really mean?

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).

The Board

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.

Founding principles

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”.


The pathways

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


8. Jacques Rogge (2001 – 2013)                    12 years

9. Thomas Bach (2013 – current)                     3 years

Source: http://www.olympic.org/about-ioc-institution?tab=presidents

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

Source: http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/the-president/index.html

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.

Further reading

Auld, C. (1997). Professionalisation of Australian Sport: The effects on organizational decision making. European Journal for Sport Management. 4(2): 17-39.

Australian Sport Commission (2012). Sport Governance Principles. http://www.ausport.gov.au/__data/assets/file/0010/485857/ASC_Governance_Principles.pdf.  Retrieved 18 December 2013.

Berrett, T. and Slack, T. (2001). A framework for the Analysis of Strategic Approaches Employed by Non-profit Sport Organisations in Seeking Corporate Sponsorship. Sport Management Review, 4: 21-45.

Besley,T.(2005) Political Selection, Journal of Economic Perspectives 19(3), 43-60.

Black, D., & Nauright, J. (1998). Rugby and the South African Nation. Manchester University Press.

Broberg, P., & Lyck, L.B. (2013). Global Political Power Index. A Report. The National Olympic Committee and Sports confederation of Denmark.

Enjolras, B., & Waldahl, R.H. (2010). Democratic Governance and Oligarchy in Volunary Sport Organizations: The Case of the Norwegian Olympic Committee and Confederation of Sports. European Sport Management Quarterly, 10(2): 215-239.

Ferkins, L., Shilbury, D., and McDonald, G. (2005). The Role of the board in Building Strategic Capability: Towards an Integrated Model of Sport Governance Research. Sport Management Review. 8: 195-225.

Forster, J. (2006). Global sports organisations and their governance. Corporate Governance. 6(1): 72-83.

Geeraert, A., Alm, J., and Groll , M. (2013a). Good governance in international non-governmental sport organisation: an empirical study on accountability, participation and executive body members in sport governing bodies. Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations. Alm, J. (Ed): 190-217.

Geeraert, A., Alm, J., and Groll , M. (2013b). Good governance in international sport organizations: analysis of the 35 Olympic sport governing bodies. International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19406940.2013.825874. Retrieved: 11 December 2013.

Geng, H., Weiss, R.A. and Wolf, I. (2011). The Limited Power of Voting to Limit Power. The Journal of Public Economic Theory. 13 (5): 695-719.

Henry, I., and Lee, P.C. (2004). Governance and ethics in sport, in Beech, J., and Chadwick, S. (eds) The Business of Sport Management, London: Prentice-Hall.

Houlihan, B and Green, M. (2008). Modernization and sport: The reform of Sport England and UK Sport. Public Administration, 87(3): 678-698.

Hoye, R. (2006). Leadership Within Australian Voluntary Sport Organisation Boards. Nonprofit Management and Leadership. 16(3): 297-313.

Hoye, R., and Cuskelly, G. (2003) Board-Executive Relationships within Voluntary Sport Organisations. Sport Management Review. 6(1): 53-73.

IOC (2008). Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic Sports Movement. http://www.olympic.org/Documents/Conferences_Forums_and_Events/2008_seminar_autonomy/Basic_Universal_Principles_of_Good_Governance.pdf. Retrieved: 09 December 2013.

Jennings, A. (2012). The New Lords of the Rings: Olympic Corruption and How to Buy Gold Medals. Transparency Books.

Katwala, S. (2000). Democratising Global Sport. Foreign Policy Centre, London, U.K.

MacAloon, J.J. (2011). Scandal and governance: inside and outside the IOC 2000 Commission. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics. 14(3): 292-308.

Mason, D.S., Thibault, L., & Misener, L. (2006). The agency theory perspective on corruption in sport: the case of the international Olympic committee. Journal of Sport Management. 20(1): 52-73.

Mittag, J., & Putzmann, D. S. N. (2013). Reassessing the Democracy Debate in Sport Alternatives to the One-Association-One-Vote-Principle?. Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations. Alm, J. (Ed): 83-97.

Penrose, L.S. (1946). The Elementary Statistics of Majority Voting. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 109(1), 53-57.

Philips, A. (2011). What should be in a ‘good governance code for European team sport federations. Unpublished thesis. Executive Master in European Sport Governance (Mesgo).

Philips A. (2011). “What should be in a ‘Good Governance Code’ for European Team Sport Federations?” Masters Thesis. http://www.playthegame.org/fileadmin/documents/Good_Governance_in_ETSFs_-_Alex_Phillips_Thesis.pdf Retrieved: 08 January 2014.

UK Sport (2003), ‘Investing in Change’ – High Level Review of the Modernisation Programme for Governing Bodies of Sport, London: Deloitte and Touche.

UK Sport (2004). Good Governance: a Guide to National Governing Bodies of Sport,  London: Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators.

Simpson, V., & Jennings, A. (1992). The Lords of the Rings – Power, Money and Drugs in the Modern Olympics. Stoddart. Toronto, Canada.

Sport Scotland (2013). http://www.sportscotland.org.uk/clubs/help_for_clubs/admin_and_management/governance/ Retrieved December 18 2013.

Taylor, M., & Sullivan, N. (2009). How Should National Governing Bodies of Sport be Governend in the UK? An Exploratory Study of Board Structure. Corporate Governance: An International Review. 17(6): 681 – 693.

Walters, G., Trenberth, L., and Tacon, R. (2011). Good Governance in Sport: A Survey of UK National Governing Bodies of Sport, London: Birkbeck Sport Business Centre. http://www.sportbusinesscentre.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/NGB-Board-Report2.pdf. Retrieved 7 January, 2014.

White, A., & Brackenridge, C. (1985). Who Rules Sport? – Gender Divisions in the Power Structure of British Sports Organisations from 1960. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 20: 95-107.

White, M., & Kay, J. (2006) Who Rules Sport Now? – White and Brackenridge Revisited. International Review for the Sociology of Sport. 41(3): 465-473.

Web Sites:

http://www.olympic.org/Documents/Conferences_Forums_and_Events/2008_seminar_autonomy/Basic_Universal_Principles_of_Good_Governance.pdf. Retrieved 12 December 2013.

http://ec.europa.eu/sport/news/20130502-eu-expert-grp-goodgovernance_en.htm. Retrieved 11 December 2013.

http://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/smart-sport/voluntary-code. Retrieved 11 December 2013.

Sport Management and then there is the ECB

The constant and repeated saga over KP and his right to play cricket for England comes down to one very simple thing. Something is amiss in the management of the game of cricket in England.

KP, great cricketer, legend perhaps, certainly in his own mind, but with brilliance there has to be a downside. Alas KP has a downside that the English cricket managers do not like and cannot handle. Be that as it may. How is it that an incoming Chair, can announce that the door is open for a return of someone who has already been told he wont be? Indeed, what has the Chair of the ECB got to do with selection of national teams at all? Right or wrong, the fact is he is not yet in the post so what he says until that day is actually meaningless. Equally, how is it that the new Director of Cricket can make decisions and indeed announcements on matters such as the England coach and KP, when he is not yet in the Post? On whose authority have all these announcements been made? Andrew Strauss has no legitimacy until he starts work and one would have thought that his duties would be guided by the policies and plans approved by the ECB on behalf of its members.

The governance and management of sport has many issues. The legitimacy of people to make decisions on behalf of the members of an organisation and therefore on the organisation itself is given after following an established set of procedures, ideally laid out in an administrative rule book/constitution/statutes or articles of association. The purpose of establishing a governing Board is to preserve the integrity of the organisation and derive policies to which management implements according to the resources and capabilities made available to it. The rule book is NOT there to be manipulated by cunning individuals who are only interested in getting their own way regardless of the wishes of the members. Sadly in sport, we have seen a social construct to develop that allows individuals such as the Chair of Boards or senior managers, to believe that are greater than the organisation. Not unlike the occasional athlete who believes that they are greater than the game that made them great.

Whatever way you look at the KP issue, one thing is quite clear. The ECB is neither governed or managed either correctly or effectively and gives every indication of being illegitimate in its operations, ceding to the whims of the individual over the organisation. KP may be an egotistical nightmare, but it seems that he is not the only one throughout the ranks of the ECB. Until this is sorted out, incidents like the KP saga as a whole will continue to rise, over and over again and the performance of cricket at all levels of the games in England will suffer.

As an expatriate Aussie, I cannot say that it bothers me much. For KP, go play some awesome T20, make a lot of money and let your bat do the talking.