PtG Article 05.04.2013

Good governance: Sports organisations must operate in a decent way

The public is increasingly demanding that sports organisations operate in a more decent way. In this video and text interview, which is a part of the AGGIS project on good governance led by Play the Game, Professor Hans Bruyninckx from the University of Leuven discusses the concept of good governance and some of the challenges many international sports organisations are facing.

Video interview with Hans Bruyninckx (click to watch)

This interview is an edited version of an original full length video interview with Hans Bruyninckx

What is good governance and how well is it performed in international sports organisations?

“In general terms, you could say that good governance refers to the question: “Is the organisation run in a decent way?”

That question refers to many aspects: Is the leadership elected or appointed in a decent way, and do we know how they are elected? Are decisions made in an open and transparent way? Do we know what’s happening within the organisation? Do they report on that? And what if mistakes are made? Can they be held accountable in a more public way?

I think there are quite a few problems with governance in international sports organisations. Many times we don’t really know how the leadership is appointed or elected. Many of the important decisions like who gets the World Championship or European Championship are decided in ways that aren’t very transparent and open.

Often the organisations don’t report on their finances, their sponsors, on whether they pay taxes or not. So the most evident things are often lacking from the public information and that’s problematic because sports organisations rely on the public, not only fans but also taxpayers and investors in stadiums and infrastructure.” 

What are the risks more concretely if you don’t have good governance in your organisation? 

“I see several risks. One risk is very close to the sport itself. You may lose credibility. If you for example look at some of the scandals in cycling in the last decade, there are serious questions about the credibility of the sport. Do the fans still believe in the sport, do sponsors?  So, that’s an internal reason.

A more external reason is the public and policy makers’ willingness to invest in the sport and to host major events. Are taxpayers willing to pour money into this?

A third threat, in the long run, is the competition between sports. People can do one, maybe two sports and those sports losing that sort of credibility might also be cutting off the branch on which they are sitting.”

Are there sectors in the surrounding society which can be inspirational for developing good governance in sports organisations? 

“Absolutely. A number of multinational corporations, which were also under a lot of public scrutiny a couple of years ago, have really made the change towards more corporate social responsibility, good governance within the organisation, and a lot more openness about results including their social impact or the impact on the environment, and how they cooperate with NGOs.

Multinational corporations are now publishing a lot more about their governance and they are reaping the benefits of that. They call it ‘the license to operate’.

Other examples would include the number of NGOs that fall under legislation that forces them to be much more open about their statutes, about their financial accounts and such matters.

So, yes, there are many examples that the sports world could look at to find inspiration on how you practise good governance, how you report on it, and what sort of external benefits you will get from it.

How can you persuade international sports organisations to put more focus on good governance? 

“I think there are usually two ways: One is the harder way that is about putting stricter rules and regulations on them, which is partially happening in for example the EU, which is slowly developing a set of rules that apply to the sports world and sports governance by public entities.

The other is the more public, softer way where the public is demanding that sports organisations are operated in a more decent way. Here, the press plays a role because it can report on scandals, but I don’t want to narrow this to the fear of scandals.

How can the AGGIS project promote good governance?

“This project is, to a certain extent, groundbreaking because it is trying on a more fundamental level to think about what good governance for sports organisations could mean, and the project has looked at different sectors in the society – at multinational corporations, at the environment as a sector, at human rights etc. – and applying this to the world of sport.

This is pretty innovative. There is not that much written on good governance in sport from that perspective.

The other thing the project is doing is trying to come up with an instrument to measure and compare good governance in sports organisations, and this could be used to communicate with the public and policymakers about governance in sport and, first of all, with the sports organisations themselves.

The tool could open a debate in these organisations and hopefully stimulate them to work faster and better on improving their performance on good governance.

Hans Bruyninckx is a professor at HIVA, Research Institute for Work and Society, KU Leuven

Links to other AGGIS video interviews: