Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Governing Bodies and Leveraging of Power: What Is the Appropriate Governance Model?

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Governing Bodies and Leveraging of Power: What Is the Appropriate Governance Model?

Article excerpt

Introduction

The commercialisation of sport has added a new layer of complexity to the role of the sports governing body. Their traditional regulatory function has assumed added significance as their regulatory choices affect the commercial freedoms of economically active sports stakeholders such as athletes and clubs. Governing bodies also commercially exploit their respective sports through, for example, the sale of media rights or the conclusion of sponsorship agreements. This paper seeks to explore modern sports governance by investigating whether governance standards in sport have kept pace with the commercially generated changes to the functions of sports governing bodies. In particular, the paper explores whether the traditional regulatory function of sports governing bodies is capable of being employed to leverage unfair commercial advantage at the expense of stakeholders subject to their regulatory control. Initially, the paper interrogates the proposition that problems with governance standards in sport, such as leveraging and conflicts of interest, have emerged as a consequence of an assumption of immunity by the governing bodies. This assumption has three sources. First, the European model of sport has established the governing bodies as monopolies. Second, they have a duty to devise rules designed to protect the specificities of sport and third, they have been afforded a wide margin of discretion by the state in order to carry out these functions. The paper then adopts a thematic approach to explore the conflicts of interest and potential leveraging. Finally it considers how a system of supervised self governance could be workable if appropriate standards of internal transparency and external accountability are adhered to.

The European Model of Sport

Many European sports are organised on a pyramid model. At the pinnacle are the international or world governing bodies such as the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA). The international federations are the overall guardians of their respective sports and are responsible for setting rules, staging international tournaments and establishing the channels of responsibility between themselves and the other organisational units affiliated to them. Affiliated to the global federations are the continental federations, such the Union des Associations Europeennes de Football (UEFA), whose role is to take care of the sport at the regional level, ensure enforcement of global rules and to represent the interests of its members, the national associations. Whilst the formal relationship between FIFA and UEFA is regulated via statute, informally tension exists between the two organisations given the preeminent status of the European football market. Affiliated to the continental (European) federations are the national associations which organise and regulate the sport in question within their national territory and associated to the national federations are the regional federations and leagues. At the base of the pyramid lie the sports clubs, players and administrators. Channels of authority tend to be rigidly hierarchical with disputes generated at the base of the pyramid having to be considered sequentially upstream.

The pyramid structure is defended on the grounds of organisational efficiency. The structure facilitates the pursuit of policy goals designed to maintain coherence within the pyramid between the professional game and grassroots sport. This flows from the duty of the governing body to act as the guardian of the sport at all levels. Consequently, the narrow economic interests of individual stakeholders should not be allowed to detract from the discharge of this duty. Furthermore, as the pyramid also implies competitive fluidity, particularly in terms of the system of promotion and relegation which operates in many sports, the governing bodies require clubs to commit to the entire structure and impose sanctions on participants which deters the formation of, and participation in, rival structures. …

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