Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Govern Yourselves Well or else We'll do it for You

Last week the Council of the European Union met in Brussels and the governance of sport was a topic on the agenda. The EU Commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, made this interesting comment:
Good governance is an essential condition for the recognition of the autonomy of sport. This involves key pillars which must be respected by sports federations, such as democracy, transparency, accountability and inclusive representation of all interested parties in the decision-making process.
Sport is allowed to largely govern itself at the discretion of governments. Autonomy is thus conditional. We are presently in the midst of a trend toward reduced autonomy for sport as the social contract between sport and governments is being strained, due to issues "such as democracy, transparency, accountability and inclusive representation."

Last year, the Council of Europe published a monograph which surveyed the notion of autonomy of sport in Europe (here in PDF) by Jean-Loup Chappelet. The growing tensions between sports governance and governments, which have occurred over the past several decades, marks a departure from historical relationships, Chappelet notes:
In Europe, as from the end of the 19th century, the bodies responsible for the codification of sports rules and the organisation of competitions generally took the form of non-profit-making associations. In this capacity, thanks to national legislation guaranteeing freedom of association, they enjoyed considerable autonomy from government in most European countries. It can even be said that, for most of the 20th century, the majority of European states allowed sports organisations to develop as bodies fully independent of the public authorities. For many years, clubs, regional and national federations and European or international federations, not to mention national Olympic committees (NOCs) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), operated in virtually complete independence of local and national government and were self-regulating, while sport itself was becoming an increasingly important sociocultural and economic sector.
Conflicts involving sports governance are certainly not unique to Europe, as recent concerns about the NCAA illustrate in the United States.

For non-governmental sports organizations, the pattern here should be now clear -- govern yourself well, or else governments will step in and do it for you.


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