Scientists discuss limits to the autonomy of sport

22.01.2013

By Katja Høiriis
International sports organisations insist on their autonomy from outside interference, but what limits do national and international laws put on the autonomy of sport? How do the laws of society influence the practices and governance of sports organisations? This is the topic of two research papers produced as a part of Play the Game and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies’ project ‘Good Governance in International Sports Organisations (AGGIS)’.

Daily reports on corruption and mismanagement, voting fraud, bribery and embezzlement are challenging the credibility of international sports organisations. The AGGIS project, initiated by Play the Game and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies (Idan), seeks to identify how the governance standards of these organisations can be improved.

Along with researchers from six European universities and the European Journalism Centre, the AGGIS project has sought to define the concept of good governance and create a tool which can be used by sports organisations themselves or by their stakeholders to discuss the governance standards of the organisation in question.

One of the questions posed by the researchers is how national and international laws influence the governance of the international sports organisations and challenge their autonomy. 

Sport and EU law
In his research article ‘Limits to the autonomy of sport: EU law’, Arnout Geeraert from the University of Leuven provides an insight into how EU law is applied on sporting rules, outlining the boundaries of the autonomy of sport, and gives an overview of how EU law can be enforced on sports bodies. 

Up until 1974, sports organisations had been able to exercise self-governance without any significant interference from the state. However, in its first ruling in the area of sport in 1974, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled that the practice of sport is subject to EU law when it constitutes an economic activity. This means that only activities that are of purely sporting interest can be seen outside of EU law. 

However, in practice it may be very difficult to define non-economic sporting regulations. This, argues Geeraert, sets a clear limitation to the autonomy of sport, as sports organisations in principle cannot devise rules that are contrary to EU law. 

But the CJEU can only rule on the cases it gets, which means that there are several areas within sport and their conformity with EU law that has not yet been investigated by the court. And since these cases only reach the CJEU every so often, it will be a long time before we will be able to get a full view of the impact of EU law on the sports organisations. Meanwhile, the establishment of the system of sports arbitration which has led to the development of a global sports law can be seen as a strengthening of the autonomy of sports organisations. 

The full paper by Arnout Geeraert is available in Play the Game’s knowledge bank

The Swiss regulatory framework
Michael Mrkonjic from the Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration (IDHEAP) has taken a closer look at the Swiss regulatory framework with regards to fiscal and corruption issues in the case of international sports organisations. 

Switzerland is home to a majority of international sports organisations (ISO), including the IOC and FIFA, who have a status as association subject to national private law whose terms are formalized in the Swiss Civil Code. Particularly the many corruption cases involving FIFA in recent years have generated a wide debate regarding the relationship between the Swiss regulatory framework and the sports organisations, also within the Swiss political and legal spheres. 

International sports organisations fall under the legislation of the Host State Act of 2008 and the Swiss Federal Law on the Promotion of Sport and Physical Education of 2012, which has consolidated the status of the ISO’s in Switzerland. On fiscal perspectives, ISO’s are considered public service providers and are entitled to subsidies and tax exemptions. On a criminal perspective, mechanisms of compliance with the law are still not effective, reports Mrkonjic. 

The full paper by Michael Mrkonijc can be found in Play the Game’s knowledge bank

Further research
In order to create standards for good governance in international sports organisations and a tool to measure the level of good governance, the AGGIS researchers has conducted a great variety of research. 

Firstly, the researchers sought to define what the concept of good governance entails. In the paper Transparency, Aline Bos and Frank van Eekeren adress the concept of transparency, by looking at its definition, its different approaches and ways of operationalizing it. In Accountability and Good Governance, Barrie Houlihan discusses and attempts to define the concept of accountability as one of the central elements of good governance is the existence of effective accountability processes. In Implementation and compliance of good governance in International Sport Federations Aline Bos, Frank van Eekeren and Barrie Houlihan adress the issues of implementation and compliance of good governance in international sports federations.

The AGGIS tool sets out to monitor good governance, but why should good governance be monitored, what should we monitor, who should do the monitoring and how can it be done? Simona Kustec Lipicer, Damjan Lajh and Ivana Grgić address these fundamental questions in the paper Monitoring systems of good governance. The monitoring of good governance furthermore presupposes that someone has an interest in good governance. In his paper Stakeholders, stakeholding and good governance in international sport federations, Barrie Houlihan raises a number of fundamental questions about the application of stakeholder theory in the world of international sports organisations. Can stakeholders be properly defined, and are they necessarily supporters of good governance?

The AGGIS researchers Jean-Loup Chappelet and Michael Mrkonjic have also monitored what good governance principles already exist. In the knowledge bank article AGGIS principles of Good Governance in sport, you can find three lists presenting good governance principles from three different senders; international governmental and non-governmental organisations, scholars and the sports organisations. The lists describe when specific good governance principles have been published, sum up the key concepts and present the most important good governance principles. In Existing governance principles in sport: a review of published literature, Chappelet and Mrkonjic has likewise produced lists of published literature on good governance. 

European professional football was also put under scrutiny in two papers. In The 'Social Dialogue' in European Professional Football Michele Colucci and Arnout Geeraert argue that social dialogue in professional football is essentially about the credibility of the sports stakeholders and their capacity to self-regulate their activities in the name of the autonomy that they claim. In The governance network of European football Arnout Geeraert, Jeroen Scheerder and Hans Bruyninckx aim at introducing a new approach in the academic debate on governance failures in professional football. Finally, the paper Worldwide relevance of the Games by Simona Kustec Lipicer discusses the implementation dilemmas of Slovenian sport policy through time.

All the research is available in the Play the Game knowledge bank and on the AGGIS website

See also the AGGIS presentations from EASM 2012

AGGIS conference in April
The AGGIS project was awarded funding from the European Commission to contribute to the Commission’s so-called ‘Preparatory Actions’ initiative which will pave the way for the EU’s future strategies in the field of sport. The project that begun in January 2012 will be concluded with a conference on 8 April 2013 in Brussels. Here, Play the Game will launch the full AGGIS report and reveal the measuring tool developed to analyse the governance of international sports organisations. 

Also, four other EU projects on good governance in sport will present their findings at this arrangement. More information will follow on www.playthegame.org

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