Sport originally was a self-regulating activity. The highest governing bodies of sport, global sport organisations (GSOs) like FIFA and the IOC, regulated their sports or events autonomously through self-governing networks with their own rules and regulations. This meant that sport generally fell outside the law, thereby escaping to a large extent the normal application of e.g. labour or fiscal law. At the same time, sport is increasingly relying on public services. A pertinent example of this are the police forces, which have to be deployed by governments in order to ensure a safe environment for sporting events. In recent years, we have also witnessed the growing commercial nature of sport organisations. Sport has largely become an economic activity, influenced by powerful commercial actors. This evolution has urged central and local governments to question the autonomous status of sports. Political entities now try to get a grip on sport bodies from a rule perspective, but encounter great difficulties in doing so. Sport organisations are very reluctant to give up their cherished autonomous status and point to the 'specificity' of their sector to justify this.
In addition, due to its growing economic nature, sport in general has been subject to a series of high profile difficulties in recent years. Henry and Lee (2004) mention different types of failure in governance in many GSOs. In football for example, we have witnessed cases of corruption, bribery, gambling scandals, money laundering, malicious players' agents, etc. Most recently, FIFA came under fire after some senior officials had been accused of taking bribes (BBC News 2010, Gibson 2010). These abuses clearly indicate a failure of governance in the football sector. At the same time, however, governments seem to grant sports a special status. Football in particular is often treated with economic and legal exceptionalism by governments. At the European level, ever since the Bosman1 case, FIFA and UEFA adhere to a strong protectionist vision of sport governance, even arguing that they should be afforded complete decision-making autonomy by the EU institutions (Parrish 2011). In the light of the many governance failures in the football sector, this claim does not seem legitimate. On the other hand, because of its limited legal competences regarding sports and because of the recognised autonomous status of sports governing bodies at the European level, the EU does not have the power to intervene too strongly in the sector. This means that at the EU-level, a difficult balance has to be found between allowing total autonomy and establishing an extensive government intervention. In this article, the authors make an attempt at identifying the structures of the governance network of European football in order to assess if the current balance can be considered democratically legitimate.
Whilst a lot has already been written on the emergence and empowerment of new stakeholders in professional football, the authors of this article feel it is now time to assess the governance structures of professional football; in particular how they function, and more specifically to what extent they can be considered democratically legitimate and what can be done to improve the latter. Our work builds up on the excellent work of Garcia (2007a, 2007b, 2008, 2009) and Holt (2007, 2009). This article aims at introducing a new approach in the academic debate on governance failures in professional football, but does not claim that our research is definitive. Rather, our goal is to present a broad, theoretically informed analysis on the governance structures in professional football, suggesting possible avenues for analysis. To this end, we use the Democratic Anchorage Model developed by Sorensen and Torfing (2005). It is our sincere hope that this article will open a new agenda for further research on this topic, based on modern governance approaches.
The evolution from a traditionally autonomous sector to a sector with government interference seems somewhat atypical from the perspective of modern governance theories. …