Sunday, May 31, 2015

Where to Start on Sports Governance?

I was at a neighborhood picnic last night and everyone wanted to talk to me about FIFA. It is great to see such interest in the topic. There were lots of questions, like: What is FIFA anyway? Why is it so hard for anyone to influence them? Aren't they a part of the United Nations? And so on. These are the same sorts of questions that I've been asked by media on 5 continents since the DOJ indictments last week.

It turns out that there are lots of questions like these and not many places to go for ready answers. The media coverage of FIFA has been excellent and offers some great resources for people to learn more about sports governance.

In this post I am going to do the professorial thing, being a professor, and offer some readings. I'll be happy to add to the limited number of pointers presented below and take recommendations. There is a substantial, and sprawling, literature on aspects of sports governance. Much of it is technical and wonky, and it often is narrowly focused on topics like the case of Lance Armstrong, concussions in the NFL or the history of the Olympics.

So consider this post a pointer to some scene setting perspectives. It is impossible to do justice to the field in a single post. In spring of 2016, I'll again be teaching Introduction to Sports Governance here at the University of Colorado-Boulder and I will again share my syllabus (with recommendations welcomed!).

I'll start with two pieces of mine, which were written specifically to address some fundamental questions of the sort that my friends were asking me last evening. Both are peer reviewed papers, but hopefully (if I did my job) they are broadly accessible and readable.

The first paper is titled "Obstacles to accountability in international sports governance" (here in PDF) and was written earlier this year by invitation of Transparency International as part of their "Corruption in Sport Initiative." TI will ultimately have 50+ articles on various dimensions of this topic, which may serve as a definitive resource on the topic. My paper looks at issues broader than just FIFA, which are characteristics of institutions of international sport governance more generally.

Here is how my article begins:
To understand why international sport organisations are so often the subject of allegations and findings of corruption it is necessary to understand the unique standing of these bodies in their broader national and international settings. Through the contingencies of history and a desire by sports leaders to govern themselves autonomously, international sports organisations have developed in such a way that they have less well developed mechanisms of governance than many governments, businesses and civil society organisations. The rapidly increasing financial interests in sport and associated with sport create a fertile setting for corrupt practices to take hold. When they do, the often insular bodies have shown little ability to adopt or enforce the standards of good governance that are increasingly expected around the world.

This short article describes why improved governance is needed and why it is so hard to achieve. First, it recounts a number of recent and ongoing scandals among sports governance bodies. Second, it discusses the growing economic stakes associated with international sport. Third, it provides an overview of the unique history and status of international sports organisations, which helps to explain the challenge of securing accountability to norms common in other settings.
A second article of mine focuses on FIFA. I started it in 2010 after the various World Cup site selections scandals started being reported in the media. The paper was the result of my own effort to answer the question that is the paper's title: "How can FIFA be Held Accountable?" and is here in PDF.

Here is the abstract:
The Fédération Internationale de Football Association, or FIFA, is a non-governmental organization located in Switzerland that is responsible for overseeing the quadrennial World Cup football (soccer) competition in addition to its jurisdiction over other various international competitions and aspects of international football. The organization, long accused of corruption, has in recent years been increasingly criticized by observers and stakeholders for its lack of transparency and accountability. In 2011 FIFA initiated a governance reform process which will come to a close in May 2013. This paper draws on literature in the field of international relations to ask and answer the question: how can FIFA be held accountable? The paper’s review finds that the answer to this question is "not easily." The experience in reforming the International Olympic Committee (IOC) more than a decade ago provides one model for how reform might occur in FIFA. However, any effective reform will require the successful and simultaneous application of multiple mechanisms of accountability. The FIFA case study has broader implications for understanding mechanisms of accountability more generally, especially as related to international non-governmental organizations.
For those wanting to dig deeper, these papers cite excellent work by several scholars, among them Jean-Loup Chappelet, who has written extensively on the Olympic movement and international sports governance. There are also excellent books about FIFA, most recently "The Ugly Game" by Heidi Blake and Jonathan Calvert.

Perhaps the best one-stop shop for learning more about various dimensions of sports governance is the website of Play the Game, a Danish group focused on governance. The next stop probably should be the resources made available by Transparency International. One can dig much deeper by browsing the journals listed here on "sports management" broadly conceived.

Sports governance is a sprawling area of practice and inquiry. There is some excellent media reporting these days on the subject, which ideally will make more sense if placed into the context of a broader understanding of the issues and history.

Comments, pointers, suggestions encouraged!


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