PtG Article 05.04.2013

Sport and the one-nation-one-vote system

The one-vote-one-nation system is the preferred system of democracy in the international sports organisations. In this interview made as a part of the AGGIS project on good governance led by Play the Game, dr. Jürgen Mittag from German Sport University Cologne explains what the advantages and disadvantages of this system are.

Why is the one-nation-one-vote system the preferred system of democracy in sport?

"Democracy is considered as one of the Western world’s most salient success stories. Democracy constitutes a type of political system in which the sovereign powers reside in the people (as a whole) while political decisions are exercised either directly by them or by representatives elected by them.

Different from the intra-state perspective, the international system is considered as anarchic due to the character of sovereign nation states.

However, international organisations play a crucial role in the international system by reducing its anarchy to some extent – also in the field of sport.

Following political ideas of the “Law of Nations”, countries are considered to be composed of people who are naturally equal, and inherited from nature the same obligations and rights.

Based on this approach, the general principle that is applied to international organisations allocates each country or federation one vote to exercise in democratic decisions – disregarding its size, financial contributions or influence in the world. As such, equality of voting is broadly accepted as a general rule in international (sports) organisations."

What are the advantages and disadvantages of this system?

"The key advantage of this mode of decision-making is that sport federations are all deemed equal and that a vote offers every federation the chance to declare and register “one’s opinion”. Hence, the one-federation-one-vote system ensures duly representation and reveals the sovereignty of the single federations.

Egalitarianism and power come into conflict in all types of political interactions but international bodies face it most severely.

Considering sport, differences become apparent when comparing the number of registered players in football. While there are 6.3 million registered players in the German DFB and 4.18 million in the U.S. Soccer Federation, the British Virgin Islands counts just 435 registered players and Montserrat no more than 200 players.

However, each association has just one vote in voting procedures of the bodies of international sport organisations, for example in the FIFA Congress. This constellation fosters the dark sides of sport such as corruption or vote-buying.

What could sports organisations do to improve the system?

"In view of the tremendous differences in size (and financial support) of international sports organisations it has been demanded that a system is established, which recognises the greater power and contribution of larger members while preserving some influence for smaller ones by a weighting of votes.

Transferring the approach of weighting of votes to international sport organisations may improve the democratic quality of international sports organisations as well as reduce such dark sides as corruption and vote buying. While the representation of smaller member associations is still guaranteed their voting power will be (slightly) reduced.

Other elements under discussion are mirrored in the incorporation of the logics of a two chamber-system with different modes of representations or by establishing a double majority voting system."

Jürgen Mittag is a professor at German Sport University Cologne.

Links to AGGIS video interviews: