PtG Article 05.04.2013

We have a common interest in restoring public trust in sport

According to Jens Sejer Andersen, the international director of Play the Game, it has become clear that international sports organisations are challenged by different kinds of corruption. He hopes that the AGGIS project will strengthen the public debate on good governance and motivate international sports organisations to improve.

Video interview with Jens Sejer Andersen (click to watch)

This interview is an edited version of the original full-length video interview with Jens Sejer Andersen.

Why is it necessary to put more focus on good governance in international sports organisations?

“I think it has become evident over the past years for the broad sports-loving public that the sports organisations have big difficulties in fighting different kinds of corruption in their sports.

In this case we have decided to focus on the problem of corruption that comes from inside sport, namely the big corruption scandals that we relate with names such as FIFA, the International Volleyball Federation, the International Handball Federation and a series of other federations where we have smaller or bigger cases of corruption.

This undermines the public confidence that must be present for sport and it will at the end of the day also undermine our trust in sports organisations’ abilities to deliver on the social values that they promise.”

What are the risks, if they do nothing in this field?

“I think there are several things that they can fear: There is one very tangible value they can lose and that is money. They can lose sponsor money because sponsors may be afraid of being connected to organisations that have a very bad reputation.

They can fear losing public subsidies almost everywhere in the world. There are huge public subsidies thrown into sport, into grassroots sport or elite sport development, mega-events or the construction of sport facilities.

And it will also at the end of the day affect sport’s ability to be seen as a cultural phenomenon that delivers something good to our society.  Many sports leaders on many levels work voluntarily, and one of their motivations is to be seen as people who have something positive to contribute to society. So sport may also lose a lot of volunteers if the leaders at the top of the international sports organisations keep producing a very bad image for sport.“

To what degree is good governance only about corruption?

“The reason why we set out with this project was because we would like to see what could be done to prevent outright corruption. But there are also a number of other issues, for instance: how do you practice democracy?

Formally speaking most federations are democracies that represent, in an ideal world, the athlete in every single country through a system of democratically functioning associations and international federations. 

But we also know that in the real world international federations very often live in a world of their own without any control from their own constituency – that is the national federations and the local associations – without any control from the media, without any control from the governments.”

What do you see as a perspective of the good governance AGGIS project? 

“This is only one element of a number of initiatives that must be taken to change the situation and to build up new trust in international sport.

What we focus on is how the federations govern their institution. How much transparency do they allow? Do they, for instance, very basically, publish their annual accounts?

To my big surprise, we can see that many organisations do not allow the public or the ordinary athlete inside into their economic structures. We hope that by presenting some standards for good governance that can be measured, evaluated and repeated we will strengthen the public debate about sport, strengthen the individual athlete and sport leader’s democratic rights and, last but not least, motivate international sports organisations to improve in these fields.”

Should the international sport organisations fear or embrace the AGGIS tool?

“Fear and happiness is in the mind of the beholder. I would say their response to this kind of challenge will tell very much about the nature of their organisation.

If sports organisations fear dialogue with the public – the public that they otherwise pretend to represent, because they claim tends to represent fans, to represent athletes and many other stakeholders – if they do not want to be in contact and open dialogue with these groups, I think they are rightly losing points. 

But I think that the most advanced sports organisations will realise that the only way to restore public credibility is to have an open dialogue with the public, and I think we see some trends now in sport that more sport organisations understand that they cannot solve all their problems behind closed doors in little closed groups and without telling anybody what is going on.”

If you look forward a bit, how optimistic do you think we should be when it comes to the development of good governance in international sports organisations? 

“I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. We present a proposal and we are, as always when we address other groups, optimistic that they will listen, that they will pick up the glove and that they will enter into a dialogue.

We do not come with this project saying that we have the final truth about sport and the way it is governed. We say: Here is an instrument that you can develop together with us, you can use it, you can give the feedback and first of all we have a common interest finding ways restore public trust in sport.” 

Jens Sejer Andersen is international director of Play the Game and the AGGIS project coordinator.

Links to other AGGIS video interviews: