PtG Article 28.09.2021

First output ready from project to strengthen athlete power in sport

The project on strengthening athlete power in sport (SAPIS) has released a review of academic literature about athletes and sports governance and makes it available for free to anyone with an interest in the subject.

The first output from the project ‘Strengthening Athlete Power in Sport’ (SAPIS) is now ready. The aim of SAPIS is to strengthen the influence and representation of athletes in the way that their sports organisations are governed and managed, and as a first step the project’s academic partners have produced a review of relevant academic literature about athletes and sports governance.

The role of the literature review is to establish an overview of what is already known about athlete representation and what stills needs to be researched, as well as identifying useful concepts that can be used in developing better models for how athletes can participate in decision making in their sport.

The literature review shows that academic research on questions of athlete representation is not very deep. In fact, it has been necessary to also include documents and literature that are not scientifically based to capture what happens on the ground in terms of new political structures and groups that promote athlete’s interests.

Normally, literature reviews mainly appear in academic articles and books, but in this case it is also made available to the public and anyone who can benefit from this unique overview of key texts in the field of athlete’s rights.

The literature review is organised under these headings: 

  • Democracy and sports governance: This section explores three fundamental perspectives on democracy – representative democracy, participatory democracy, and deliberative democracy – and uses them to frame sports governance.
  • Legitimacy of sports governance: This section takes a philosophical approach and discusses democracy as a basic tenet of legitimation where sports governance can be evaluated against moral and political principles such as popular control/sovereignty, political equality, deliberative contestability, and protection of human rights.
  • Athletes and industrial relations: This section looks at theoretical models for industrial relations where athletes are seen as part of a labour force working within the sports sector.
  • The special features of the sports sector: This section looks at socio-economic and legal features of the sports sector including the special dynamics at work in the sports labour market, the sports economy and the idea of the specificity and autonomy of sport. The section also presents key factors, actors, and landmarks in the development towards the current status quo of athlete representation in sport.
  • Athlete activism: This section recounts how athletes at an individual or collective level have attempted to improve governance and management of their sports and working conditions including equal play in tennis, freedom of movement in football and the rights of intersex athletes.
  • The grey literature on athletes’ rights: This section is a review of policy level literature on athlete representation highlighting the founding of sport political structures and groups that have emerged to promote athletes’ interests in selected sports and groupings.

Next step in the SAPIS project is to get an understanding of how athletes currently experience their ability to influence their own sport. This part of the research will be undertaken through a survey aimed at different types of athlete representatives – both elected and appointed.

Further reading

Basketball players. Photo: Getty Images/Icon Sportswire
PtG Publication September 2021
Strengthening athlete power in sport - A multidisciplinary review and framework