PtG Article 04.10.2009

IOC Vice-President sets out to curb governments and corrupt sports leaders

Thomas Bach calls for mutual respect, responsibility and reliability between sport and politics

Thomas Bach calls for mutual respect, responsibility and reliability between sport and politics

The participants at the Olympic Congress today got a glimmer of hope that the IOC is ready to strengthen its control over the Olympic Movement and apply strict principles of good governance not only within its own ranks of individual IOC members, but also among the National Olympic Committees (NOC) and international sports federations (IF).

At the same time, governments were warned that the IOC might set up a task force to help those sports organisations whose right to self-determination were attacked.

In an extensive keynote speech, the IOC Vice-President Thomas Bach analyzed sports need for autonomy on one hand, and society’s need to have its laws and norms respected by sport on the other hand.

“Sport must not confuse autonomy with self-isolation,” he warned, dropping the old saying that sport and politics have nothing to do with each other:

“It was a popular phrase which made it even easier for people to abuse sport in political power games”, he said, noting that sports organisations always have to consider the political implications of their work. For him, the partnership between politics and sport should be characterised “by mutual respect, responsibility and reliability”.

In the first half of his speech, Thomas Bach emphasised that sport must be autonomous, but also respect the autonomy of its partners, including public authorities.  He recognised that the autonomy of sport must have limits:

“Nobody is completely independent in our globalised world which is closely networked through communication and division of labour. We need a clear vision of our non-negotiable principles, responsibilities and freedom which our partners must respect,” he said, defining three key issues for sport.

Everybody must have the right to freely establish associations and clubs, they must be able to define their own rules and structures in accordance with the law, and they must be allowed to define the rules of sport.

If sport could agree on these key issues, it would be easier to prevent “brutal attacks” from governments, the IOC Vice-President stated.

One way could be to restrict sport development grants in countries where autonomy is not respected, another to coordinate efforts more between sport’s own organisations. An attack on the autonomy of one the members of the Olympic Movement always represents an attack on the whole movement, Thomas Bach said.

Task force against governments

He also found that sport should build on positive experiences from federations that have employed specialists in autonomy.

Though not mentioning FIFA, it is well-known that world football has sent high-ranking employees out to put pressure on many governments that have wanted to put tighter control on football, also in cases were tighter control seemed justified. The strategy is usually successful: Threats of excluding a country’s national and club teams from international football competition can soften most politicians.

Perhaps also threats of exclusion from the Olympics can be effective. Bach did not go into such specifics, but suggested a task force of specialists that could deal with individual cases when they arise: “This would offer better information, greater expertise, earlier problem recognition and more effective problem-solving. In each case, it could act swiftly and effectively with a high level of expertise.”

More transparent decisions and finances in sport

After reassuring sports leaders that the IOC wanted to protect them, the IOC Vice-President turned the spotlight on the sports leaders’ own behaviour. He stressed that if sport wants society’s respect, sport must have transparent decision-making.

“Sport is completely dependent on its credibility; the credibility of competitions and the reputation of its organisations,” Thomas Bach insisted, warning that the credibility in both fields was threatened by doping, corruption and manipulation.

Therefore he suggested that the principles of ethics in the Olympic Charter should be respected by all sports organisations, and that they should all commit to good governance.

Among the elements of good governance, Bach mentioned.

  • Clear, democratic and efficient structures as well as clear and transparent rules for decision-making
  • Clear definition of internal competences, a system of checks and balances, and democratic decision-making through good internal communication
  • Accounting and auditing processes that comply with general standards
  • Financial processes should be transparent, and so should rules for financial redistribution
  • Involvement of active athletes and promotion of their rights
  • Partnerships with governments

In an evidently more cautious language, he suggested the Congress could ask the IOC to publish relevant guidelines for good governance in all kinds of sports organisations. That could be followed by regular evaluation reports from the NOC’s and IF’s, the IOC Vice suggested:

“Such rules will make sports organisations more transparent, more credible and more reputable. This will surely have a positive impact on the stakeholders of sport in spheres such as politics, business, society and the media.”