PtG Article 14.10.2019

Will the Sports Governance Observer bring changes to world sport?

The latest edition of Play the Game’s Sports Governance Observer could lead to some changes at the International Ski Federation. The benchmarking tool was up for debate at Play the Game 2019.

The International Ski Federation (FIS) came second out of six federations reviewed in the latest edition of Play the Game’s Sports Governance Observer with a score of 74% and scored high on transparency but fared less well in how officials are elected.

Speaking at Play the Game, FIS Secretary General, Sarah Lewis, praised the SGO as ‘extremely professional’ and added: "If we haven’t done well in certain areas, we need to take some decisions.”

A total of six federations were reviewed in the latest edition of the SGO and the results show improvements are being made.

Christina Friis Johansen, International policy advisor at Play the Game and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies, said: “There has definitely been an improvement in governance in recent years. There is more separation of powers. Some federations have improved in monitoring.”

“Most importantly, publication of documents has improved since we started. Transparency has improved, but almost none of the federations do risk assessments on corruption risks. That’s an area we identified for improvement,” she said.

Questions and clarifications sent to the governing bodies and the FIS went through two rounds of answers before coming out second behind the international equestrian body, the FEI.

Still improvements to be made

The International Biathlon Union (IBU) fared the worst with an overall index rating of just 39% but did respond to questions. “The IBU have engaged seriously in the reform process.,” noted Johansen. “That should be noted and they were helpful in the process.”

In contrast, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) declined to take part and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), and the European Volleyball Confederation (CEV), did not even respond. The conference heard contrasting examples of governance from both volleyball and ice hockey.

“[Volleyball] does not need to respond, because in that way we are always the best,” Ivan Miljkovic, general manager at the Association de Clubs Professionals de Volleyball (ACPV), joked bitterly.

In a presentation on the position of stakeholders in European volleyball, Ivan Miljkovic described the position of the clubs as absurd. He said: “The clubs are the entrepreneurs of our sport, but they almost do not exist.”

“There are the people who are crazy enough to put money into a club knowing they will not see the money back. The situation is that the clubs, leagues and players are not recognised anywhere [...]There is a big competition between the clubs and national teams fighting for the calendar. People go to meetings representing both the clubs and the national teams and of course they give more time to the national team.”

Miljkovic claimed that the CEV will not even speak to the clubs. The ACPV have submitted a statement of objection to the European Court to try and bring all parties together for discussions. Instead, the CEV has decided to create its own club’s organisation.

“At this moment, we don’t even know how this new association will be included in the European Volleyball Confederation or how appointments will be made,” Miljkovic added.

Despite ignoring the SGO, the IIHF is trying to reform said Professor Mike McNamee from Swansea University, who detailed his work with colleague Gareth Parry to bring about reforms in ice hockey governance.

“We did this research in the context of organisational change from within,” said McNamee, whose work included tackling the introduction of a code of ethics.

“The code of ethics was a safety net in case something went wrong. They had a simple view of ethics: it only mattered when you go onto the ice. After that, it didn’t matter. It was quite bizarre.”

Even more bizarre was the dirty tricks detailed by Jakob Færch, a board director at the Danish Surfing & Rafting Federation, in a presentation on how some sports federations vie for control in inclusion in the Olympics.

Wave surfing makes its Olympics debut next year in Tokyo, but the discipline of standup paddleboard racing is being held up due to a bitter wrangle between the International Canoe Federation and the International Surfing Association over control of the sport.

The case has gone to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but standup paddleboard cannot appear until at least the Los Angeles Olympics of 2028 in another illustration of how governance holds back sport rather than helping it develop.

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