PtG Article 08.05.2018

KU Leuven and Play the Game take a fresh look at international federations

In a move to assess recent developments in international sports governance, Play the Game and KU Leuven follow up on the findings produced by the 2015 Sports Governance Observer.

Serious flaws in international sports governance were revealed when in 2015, Play the Game published the Sports Governance Observer (SGO), an in-depth study of 35 international sports federations, assessing the state of good governance.

The report, authored by Dr Arnout Geeraert from KU Leuven, produced and used a benchmarking tool that was used to estimate the degree of good governance in the federations. Overall, the report indicated that two in three of the federations were in need of fundamental reform, because they could not even meet half of the very basic governance criteria

Now, nearly three years later, Play the Game, in collaboration with Dr Geeraert and KU Leuven, has decided to follow up on the results yielded by the SGO report to find out if things have changed.

 “Apart from high-profile cases like FIFA and the IAAF there is little evidence showing if the explicit demands for better governance from the outside and inside of sport have made any convincing impact. We hope that once again our research will give a very clear picture of the state of affairs” international director of Play the Game, Jens Sejer Andersen, says.  

The collaboration will also include a governance benchmarking of five selected international sports federations: FIFA, the IAAF, the International Tennis Federation (ITF), the International Handball Federation (IHF) and the International Swimming Federation (FINA).

But not only the sports organisations themselves need an overhaul, also the instruments used to measure the state of governance will be checked up on.

“Our notions of good governance are constantly evolving, and therefore our instruments for measuring good governance should also evolve,” says Dr. Geeraert about the decision to follow up on the 2015 SGO report.

“Through the experience gained from working on good governance in national federations and studying recent reforms in international federations, we have improved our understanding of what constitutes good governance and how we can measure it.  

“In addition, we have seen some positive reforms in international federations and there is a need for nuanced assessment of these reforms. Assessing these reforms requires a state-of-the-art tool that allows us to highlight positive changes and put our finger on deficits that still need to be addressed,” Geeraert says.

Only partly comparable

Play the Game recently signed an agreement with Dr Geeraert and KU Leuven to produce a report containing a revised version of the SGO benchmarking tool including a method for combining governance scores, i.e. scores on transparency, democracy, checks and balances, and solidarity, into a single index indicating the level of good governance within a federation.

While the revised version of the SGO will build on the 2015 tool, Geeraert does not expect the results of the new review to be completely comparable with the 2015 review.

“We value progress over comparability. We think it is more important to update our instrument so that it is able to assess reforms. That implies that it will be difficult to compare scores from the new assessment with those from the previous (i.e. SGO 2015) one. However, it is still possible to compare data of specific indicators," Geeraert explains.

Although the Sports Governance Observer does not measure the real behaviour of the international federations, but only the formal measures and structures in place, it should not be dismissed as a useless academic exercise, Andersen explains.

“Having the right rules and procedures in place does not safeguard international sport from corruption and mismanagement. Culture must also change. But those who wish to create lasting change from the inside, must be supported by healthy standards for how the organisations are run,” he says.

More information

Read more about the National Sports Governance Observer, looking into governance of national sports federations