PtG Comment 14.10.2019

New standards of sports governance: When will sport join the modern world in embracing democracy?

"Implementing and practice good governance in your organization means that people got to change. And I don't believe everyone understand the need for change. Or simply want a change," WADA Vice President Linda Helleland said at Play the Game 2019

Presentation by Linda Helleland, WADA Vice President, at Play the Game 2019, Monday 14 October 2019.

There has been no issue that has dominated global sport more the past few years than doping, and there has been no organisation at the forefront more than WADA. It has been an honour and a privilege to play such a key role at the top of WADA during the most challenging period in the organisation’s 20-year history.

I came into my role at WADA with great ambitions. Ambitions to help reform and modernise WADA and the anti-doping system. To make it more athlete-centred.  To bring principles of good governance in to everyday use.

This is something I have tried to progress through strengthening the legal framework for anti-doping in Norway, and at WADA and the UN. And despite what seems like the slow pace of progress, I still hold hopes that WADA will embrace change more rapidly in the near future. It needs to. However, I have learnt over the past three years that if it is to embrace change, there needs to be some serious reform to how the sports movement is governed. For it is the poor, antiquated state of sports governance that has in many ways held WADA and anti-doping back from embracing the right decisions in recent years. I can see this not only with my WADA hat on, but I have been able to see it in my position as Minister for Culture and Sports in the Norwegian Government.

Democracy. It’s a word in the western world that we are often in danger of becoming complacent of. That we take for granted. Yet, it was strange for me to make the switch from the parliamentary system in Norway, with all its democratic processes and norms, to then witness in full the lack of democracy in sports governance. In my view (and I know I’m not alone) sport is so averse to the norms of 21st century democracy. Too many of the decision-makers within the sports movement bubble – and it is a bubble – have, at best become blinkered, or at worst don’t care, about the democratic norms of wider society.

Implementing and practice good governance in your organization means that people got to change. And I don`t believe everyone understand the need for change. Or simpley want a change.

The decisions across wider society that, as a result of robust democratic decision-making, impact the many, rather than the powerful few. And in recent years, my friends, above all in anti-doping, we have seen controversial – sometimes confusing – decision taken that benefit the powerful few at the top of the sports governance tree. Not, as should be the case, the many athletes and fans, who expect to see firm and fair action taken against doping. From this we must learn lessons to take forward, because if not we are in danger of the words ‘sports governance’ becoming bigger headlines than ‘sport’ itself. And as we learned from the FIFA scandal, when the governing body becomes bigger news than the sport it is mandated to govern, that’s never good news. Whether it be the corruption issues at FIFA or the controversial decisions taken by the IOC and the majority of the WADA executive committee throughout the Russian doping scandal, we have unfortunately heard far too much about poor, out-of-touch sports governance.

I came into my role at WADA with the sole, honest intention to fight for clean sport and to strengthen WADA as an institution. I strongly believed that a strong and independentWADA – and WADA’s aim is to secure clean sport – then that must be the right thing to do.

But I keep asking myself. Wouldn`t it be better if we all followed our personal convictions of what would be best for the future of anti-doping and athletes, not out of fear of upsetting the powerful few? Why can a powerful few pull the strings with the decision-making, even if it is not aligned with the views and rights of athletes?

Because politics takes place, involving enormous sums of money; something evidenced from the Russian doping scandal.

TV rights holders, sponsors and event organisers all expect to receive and be able to deliver a product and that the sports organisations must fulfil their obligations, no matter the cost and preferably without scandal, doping or otherwise. 

Do you see the conflict of interest here when those same sports organisations must also play their part in tackling doping?

Having experienced the sports system now for five years, the question I ask is: what can be done about it? New Standards of Sports Governance is something I truely believe is necessary, and as I stand here today, as someone that still cares as deeply for reform of the anti-doping system, I can tell you that we need new standards of sports governance. We need more transparency, more idenpenence, more diversity and more accountibility. An organization like wada without practising these principles in 2019 - is not a sustainable organization for the future. It`s not a WADA fit for the future!

Perhaps we are starting to see the start, just the start, of progress? Take the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) for example. ASOIF is now in the process of implementing reforms amongst its member federations. That is a positive step and of course was initiated due to what they believe to be a need. But is this governance reform process being carried out because it is warranted by its members or because someone has figured out that the public, sponsors, public authorities and increasingly athletes demand it?

On the topic of sponsors and TV broadcasters, do they not have an inherent interest in clean sport? And clean sport means exposing doping, it means uncovering doping if we are ever to get on top of the issue. Don’t sponsors and broadcasters have a responsibility to invest in clean sport and invest in the right side of sport.

Take Nike, for example, and the troubles it finds itself in as the sponsor of the world’s biggest elite performance athletics academy and the recent decision to sanction its head coach Alberto Salazar: is Nike’s reputation now tainted because of this? And what will the consumers do? Will they still buy Nike clothing and trainers? I predict a future where the biggest sponsors and the biggest TV right holders  will demand action from the different sport organizations. And if their boards don’t want to do it, their customers will demand it.

As someone from a government background, to finish I’d like to come back to the role of governments in tackling doping. Given the clear problems sports organisations have in adopting best practice in making decisions – decisions that affect athletes – then hasn’t the time come for governments and government institutions to hold sports organisations more accountable to their stakeholders, the athletes, the fans and others?

And that is why I have proposed that nathional governments introduce legislation that would punish those that seek to profit from doping. The need for strenghtening nathional legislation to combat doping as organized crime, corruption and fraud is no getting a mayority support in the Norwegian Parliament.

Government intervention well be the next frontier; we are, I expect, soon to see it here in the United States through the introduction into law of the Rodchenkov Anti-Doping Act. I hope to se other countries strenghten their nathional legislation.

Drastic times for clean sport call for drastic measures.

Thank you.

Other news from Play the Game 2019

PtG Article 20.02.2020
Massive backing from participants to the first Play the Game conference outside Europe
Erin Willson
PtG Article 25.10.2019
The struggle for safe sport in Canada: one step forward, two steps back
Anas Anas presenting at conference
PtG Article 24.10.2019
Sports betting: What are the odds on a fix?
Nikki Dryden
PtG Article 16.10.2019
Athlete activism: defending the right to protest
Conference speakers
PtG Article 16.10.2019
The great doping battle
Nancy Hogshead-Makar
PtG Article 16.10.2019
Nancy Hogshead-Makar receives the Play the Game Award 2019
PtG Article 16.10.2019
Play the Game 2019 on tour to USOPC training hub
PtG Article 16.10.2019
NCAA must strive to benefit student athletes
PtG Comment 16.10.2019
IAAF shares viewpoints on Semenya after Play the Game 2019 debate
PtG Comment 16.10.2019
Open letter to IOC President Thomas Bach from athlete organisations
PtG Article 15.10.2019
What it means to blow the whistle
PtG Article 15.10.2019
The role of team doctors in professional sport
PtG Article 15.10.2019
Tackling threats to grassroots sport
PtG Article 15.10.2019
Broken Trust premieres at Play the Game 2019
PtG Article 15.10.2019
The U.S. questions how to measure good governance in sport
PtG Article 15.10.2019
Whistleblowing: Minimising the risks
PtG Article 15.10.2019
Doping decisions: In pursuit of uniform sentencing
PtG Article 14.10.2019
Interview with David Howman
PtG Article 14.10.2019
Interview with Linda Helleland
PtG Article 14.10.2019
Athletes must be heard
PtG Article 14.10.2019
Good Governance: Just another buzz phrase?
PtG Article 14.10.2019
Will the Sports Governance Observer bring changes to world sport?
PtG Comment 14.10.2019
Good governance – the new sport mantra
PtG Article 13.10.2019
Sport: A safe haven for athletes?
PtG Article 13.10.2019
Interview with Yuliya and Vitaly Stepanov
PtG Article 13.10.2019
Russian whistleblower: “The fight is not over yet”
PtG Article 13.10.2019
Athletes' voices: breakthrough or breakdown?
PtG Article 13.10.2019
Time’s up: Athlete power on the rise!
PtG Comment 13.10.2019
Athlete activism: An omen for sport in the 2020's?
Børn spiller fodbold
PtG Article 08.10.2019
The global challenge of growing sports

Related articles

Football player and data scout
PtG Article 29.02.2024
Welcome to Curaçao: How a Caribbean island facilitates the illegal betting boom
Travis Tygart
PtG Article 07.02.2024
US anti-doping director: There is an incredible need for an anti-crime agency in sport
Brian Wesaala
PtG Article 06.02.2024
The Global South could be the key to changing poor sports governance nationally and internationally
Jens Sejer Andersen and Lars Jørgensen
PtG Article 05.02.2024
Doping, corruption and athletes' rights: Play the Game anniversary book revisits key sports political debates
Claudia Villa
PtG Article 31.01.2024
Meet the speakers: "Ideally, safeguarding should be integrated into all phases of mega sporting events"
Football player and data scout
PtG Article 30.01.2024
Meet the hydras: tracing the illegal gambling operators that sponsor football
Fan protesting corruption
PtG Article 26.01.2024
Divided views on whether sports organisations should be part of an agency to combat crime in sport
PtG Article 17.01.2024
A match made in heaven: The explosion of betting ads in European football
Data scout and football player
PtG Article 18.12.2023
Introducing the sports betting data supply chain and the predatory integrity industry
Saudi Arabia
PtG Article 01.11.2023
The power players behind Saudi Arabia's sports strategy
Runners hugging
PtG Article 20.09.2023
New SAPIS report highlights that many athletes still lack influence and points to ways forward for better athlete representation
Spanish women futsal players
PtG Article 28.08.2023
Pioneers share success stories about athlete influence at SAPIS conference
PtG Article 19.06.2023
SAPIS project launches good practice guide to strengthen athletes’ power in sport
PtG Article 08.06.2023
ClearingSport: Almost 200 experts call for an agency against corruption and crime in world sport
PtG Article 10.03.2023
Spree of buying clubs threatens football integrity
PtG Comment 23.01.2023
Match-fixing in handball: A reminder of the need for a World Anti-Corruption Agency
Ivo Ferriani and Thomas Bach
PtG Article 18.11.2022
World sports federations may give up their own independent platform
Viola von Cramon
PtG Article 28.09.2022
Member of European Parliament launches call for a world anti-corruption agency for sport
Drago Kos at Play the Game 2022
PtG Article 04.07.2022
Play the Game may be the correct forum to develop a sports anti-corruption agency
PtG Article 04.07.2022
Many nations lack the will and resources to implement governance reforms
minister for culture
PtG Comment 30.06.2022
Sportswashing is a deep contradiction of the core values of sport
PtG Article 29.06.2022
External oversight key to athlete trust in abuse and violence investigations
Panel at conference
PtG Article 29.06.2022
Reports of abuse of athletes continue to emerge across the globe
Panel at Play the Game 2022.
PtG Article 27.06.2022
Russian sanctions unlikely to herald a new era of accountability
Man presenting at conference
PtG Article 27.06.2022
Saudi Arabia is filling the vacuum after Russia in a year of sportswashing
PtG Article 27.06.2022
Play the Game 2022 opens with a call to remove Belarussian sports officials
Photo: GettyImages/Matt Roberts.
PtG Article 10.06.2022
New book presents urgent call to listen to athletes in modern pentathlon
Andrew Jennings
PtG Article 24.03.2022
'Sport & Politics’ publishes a special magazine about Andrew Jennings
Thomas Bach and Vladimir Putin
PtG Comment 02.03.2022
The coalition of Olympic perpetrators
Fans criticising owners of football club
PtG Article 01.02.2022
Few European countries have plans for regulating football club ownership
Hassan Moustafa
PtG Article 24.01.2022
New research: Alternative voting systems may lead to better governance in sport
Andrew Jennings on podium
PtG Article 10.01.2022
Andrew Jennings (1943-2022), the incomparable
PtG Article 17.12.2021
With the old guard down the rabbit hole
PtG Article 09.12.2021
Playing with dictators behind closed doors: Athletes pay the price
Krystsina Tsimanouskaya
PtG Article 30.11.2021
A vote of no confidence in the Court of Arbitration for Sport
PtG Article 26.11.2021
Utrecht University publishes free book on sports governance
Putin and Infantino at a football stadium
PtG Comment 26.11.2021
The work of improving sports governance has just begun
PtG Article 25.11.2021
Head of NOC: Sports federations need more demands from society
Hand over computer keyboard
PtG Article 23.11.2021
Play the Game launches online versions of governance benchmarking tools
Tennis court with balls
PtG Article 23.11.2021
New research: National sports federations still need better governance