PtG Article 25.10.2015

New report shows need for fundamental reform across all international sports

Not only FIFA needs an overhaul. Most international sports federations fail to comply with basic standards for democracy, transparency and accountability. The new report ‘The Sports Governance Observer 2015’ identifies serious governance deficiencies in international sport.

Despite worldwide calls from the public for less corruption and better governance in sport, most international sports federations fail to comply with basic standards for democracy, transparency and accountability.

Although, in theory, sports organisations are democratic institutions extending their influence all the way from the grass-root association to the world federation, reality is different. Athletes, local club leaders and other key stakeholders are often effectively excluded from influence in a centralised system in which the international leaders can stay in power as long as they please.

The top leaders are free to manage the financial, political and cultural assets of their sport without any convincing external or internal control, regardless of the best interest of their sport and far away from the public eye. This reality severely challenges the legitimacy of international sports federations’ monopolies on the global regulation of sport.

These conclusions can be drawn from the first in-depth analysis of the governance structures of all 35 Olympic international federations published in the 'Sports Governance Observer 2015' that was launched Sunday 25 October at the opening of the 9th international Play the Game conference in Aarhus, Denmark.

The Sports Governance Observer measures governance standards in four main dimensions: transparency, democratic process, checks and balances, and solidarity. The report is authored by Dr. Arnout Geeraert, working for the University of Leuven and Play the Game, using a governance tool developed in cooperation with experts from six European Universities and the European Journalism Centre.

Sports federations in need of fundamental reform

Among the most important findings in the new report are that the great majority of the sports federations have no term limits on elected officials, no public information on accounts and activities, no integrity checks of their leaders, no insight into salaries and perks and no effective internal control mechanisms such as independent ethics and audit committees.

Although all 35 reviewed federations belong to the so-called Olympic family – sports that are represented at Olympic Winter and Summer Games – it seems that six years after the International Olympic Committeee introduced the ‘Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance of the Olympic and Sports Movement’ , these principles have left very little mark on its family.

“The report presents massive evidence that not only FIFA, but international sport in general, needs fundamental structural reform in order to deliver the credible leadership that we can all expect from these organisations, partly be-cause they are global monopolies in their area, and partly because they claim to represent essential and universal human values,” says international director of Play the Game, Jens Sejer Andersen.

Some of the key findings:

  • Only four federations (11%) have a nominations committee in place that performs integrity and professional checks. In only one federation, can-didates are obliged to provide their manifesto.
  • A minority of 12 federations (35%) publishes externally audited annual financial reports on its website. And only six federations (17%) publish annual general activity reports on their websites that include infor-mation on assets, accounts, revenue, sponsoring, and events.
  • None of the federations publish reports on remuneration, including per diem payments and bonuses, of its board members and senior officials.
  • A minority of six (17%) federations have clear conflict of interest rules. Seven (20%) federations do not have conflict of interest rules in place at all.
  • In none of the federations, the selection of host candidates for major events takes place according to a transparent and objective process, in which bidding dossiers are reviewed independently and assigned a score on the basis of pre-established criteria.
  • 12 federations (34%) do not have an ethics committee in place. In only five federations (14%) the ethics committee is independent from the governing body and has the power to initiate proceedings on its own initiative.
  • In only 23 federations (66%), elections take place according to clear and objective procedures and secret ballots are used.
  • Only 11 federations (31%) have some form of limitation of terms for elected leaders in place.

Modest scores against governance indicators

The 35 federations are different in size and function, and they cannot all be expected to meet good governance criteria perfectly or to have the same structure or level of organisation. However, the federations generally get weak or moderate scores in most areas and end up with an average score of only 45% measured against the report’s 36 governance indicators.

SGO Index and SGO scores – all 35 federations


SGO score

(on a scale from 1-5)

SGO Index




Democratic process



Checks and balances









Among the best scoring are the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) (76%) and FIFA (68%), which both have implemented a number of reforms recently. 

“The score of FEI is quite impressive and reflects recent important steps in the direction of better governance,” says the author of the report, Dr. Arnout Geeraert.

“As for FIFA, the score reflects that the organisation has made some important steps in recent years but they remain far from what could be expected. A score of 68% is nothing to boast about when you consider FIFA’s magnitude and financial strength – not to mention the long history of corruption among leading figures in the federation. Remember we are only measuring basic governance criteria,” Geeraert adds.

The Sports Governance Observer report does refer to specific cases of corruption and mismanagement linked to the governing bodies of football, volleyball, handball, weightlifting and others. But most importantly the report provides insight into the structures that allow corruption and general mismanagement to happen, says international director Jens Sejer Andersen:

“No governance measure can once and for all stop people with a firm decision to steal and manipulate. But good governance structures are necessary for honest leaders to curb corruption and deliver effectively on the objectives of their organisation.

Our aim has been to make the Sports Governance Observer report critical enough to be a wake-up-call and constructive enough to be a useful guide for better action. It is not just a question of avoiding corruption but also of getting federations that are up to their tasks in a rapidly changing sports environment.”

More information


More information on Play the Game 2015, registration, live streaming of sessions and programme at

The 2015 report and many more resources on sports governance at