Derived from Dictatorship, Different in Democracy - Sport Organizations in Italy, Germany and Spain


By Nuria Puig
In this article Nuria Puig compares the development of sport organisations in Germany, Italy and Spain and shows how the relationship between the state, national sport organisations and local clubs is different from country to country depending on social, economic and political factors.

In this article Nuria Puig compares the development of sport organisations in Germany, Italy and Spain and shows how the relationship between the state, national sport organisations and local clubs is different from country to country depending on social, economic and political factors.

Rather than describing sport organisation models in Europe, my prime objective is to show why such models are as they are, and in what way, by virtue of their characteristics, sport organisations have a greater or lesser degree of political influence in a given country. 

Sport organisation models, both in Europe and the rest of the world, are characterised by their diversity (Chalip, Johnson & Stachura, 1996; Lüschen & Rütten, 1996). This reveals that such models, and implemented policies based on them, are not the exclusive product of rational decisions but rather of a specific social-historical context in the framework of which these decisions are taken (Burriel, 1990). Hence what is most expedient here is not so much to describe these models but rather to understand the circumstances that have generated them - their "invisible" side (Chalip, 1996: vii) - in order to learn valuable lessons applicable to the reality of each one.

My second objective is to analyze sport organisation models from a comparative angle, which more than any other viewpoint helps towards an understanding of their reality. According to Chalip, cross-national studies provide the kinds of contrasts and comparisons that help to illuminate assumptions, values, attributions, and expectations. Another nation's differing premises and perceptions can become the ground on which one's own national presuppositions stand out in juxtaposition (1996: vii-viii). 

Although in some cases I might refer to other countries, I shall focus my analysis on Germany, Italy and Spain. Besides being the three countries I know best, they also strike me as interesting objects of study in that all three have been governed by dictatorial regimes that had a decisive influence on their sport organisation models. And yet the response given to this situation was radically different in each case. 

In Germany, for instance, it was reckoned that the best way to safeguard sport from political manipulation was to completely sever its links with the State. For this reason, since 1950 sport activity has been coordinated by the Deutsche Sport Bund (DSB), a voluntary organisation that encompasses all organised sport in Germany, which represents around 24 million affiliated members (Heinemann & Schubert, in print). 

Sport depends in Italy on the Comitato Nazionale Olimpico Italiano (CONI) which, according to the law, is a non-governmental public organism set up in 1933 during the fascist period. With the reinstatement of democracy, it was one of the institutions from the former regime that not only was not abolished but restructured and even reinforced (Porro, 1996a: 257-258). 

Finally, in Spain the situation is practically the opposite to that of Germany. Greatest discontent with the Franco regime lay not in its manipulation of sport but rather its ineffective development of the activity. Hence at the end of the period social consensus had it that sport should be considered a public service guaranteed by the State effectively enough to provide access to the activity to everyone who so wished (Colectivo Socialista, 1979; Mige, 1997: 81). This state of opinion is reflected in Article 43.3 of the present Constitution, which specifies that public administration will promote physical education and sport.

When I talk about sport organisation models I refer to the kinds of relationships ("institutional arrangements") established between those organisations involved in sport with a view to solving problems related to sport policy.

In each of the cases analyzed I shall give examples that illustrate how the same problem may be solved in a variety of ways depending on the social-historical and political framework in which it arises. In my analysis of each country I shall describe:

1) the organisational model;

2) the greater or lesser degree of influence on society exercised by sport organisations; and

3) the social-historical circumstances that have given rise to the model in question. 

Sports organisation in Germany
Figure 1 shows sport organisation in Germany.

As I mentioned earlier, the DSB is an absolutely centralised body, an umbrella organisation embracing all aspects of German sport. Voluntary in nature, it is unburdened by excessive bureaucracy and one of its main guiding principles is the non-interference of politics in sport. Any stance related to politics, however justified it may seem, is firmly rejected (Heinemann & Schubert, in print).

Nonetheless, and this is an aspect to be stressed, its high degree of representativeness (remember that it groups together 24 million organised sportspersons) means that objectively speaking its political power is enormous. Indeed, a closer examination of figure 1 reveals that all forms of German organised sport has its place in this organisation, both in the framework of each discipline and of each region. Similarly, there are specific departments that coordinate questions related to top-level sport, sport for all, youth sport, sport for women, etc.

Also affiliated to the DSB are the six federations of science and sport education, the twelve federations with special responsibilities (Association of Sports Clubs of the Federal Post, German Youth Power, the General Students Sports Association, etc.) and two support federations:

1) the German Olympic Society, whose mission is to promote Olympic ideals, and

2) and the German Sports Association, set up to foster the development of sport in its different dimensions (youth sport, sport science, women and sport, etc.) (Heinemann, 1996: 165-167). 

The role of the State is based on the principle of subsidiarity. That is, its task is to support those initiatives on the part of society considered to be a motor of the development and guarantee of democratic principles. This principle is not restricted to sport only but extends to all areas of social life (Sarassa, 1996).

The German State is weak, decentralised and subsidiary to civil society. In the field of sport, its function consists of backing the initiatives of voluntary organisations either through the construction of facilities or aid to specific programmes (for youth, for marginalised groups, for the disabled, etc.). Colin Mige (1997: 81) defines this kind of relationship between the State and voluntary sport organisations as a liberal model and he considers it characteristic not only of Germany but also - although with variations - of Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Sweden. 

In any case, the way German sport works, based on initiatives on the part of society, cannot be explained only in terms of the rejection of political manipulation of sport that characterised the fascist era. The fact is that German society really does have initiatives. In my analysis of the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, Italian cases, the reader will see that one of the main problems is precisely the lack of initiatives on the part of society in these countries.

Thus in order to understand the dynamism of German organised sport, we must go back to its origins and particularly to the social functions they have exercised for many years.

The origíns of German clubs
The origins of German clubs are as old as sport which, in this country, is linked more to the Turnen movement than to English sport.

The Turnvereine played a crucial role as a place of integration between the working and middle classes during the XIX-century industrialisation period. Great migratory movements took place and traditional social and family roots were largely torn up. Clubs provided the opportunity to establish new roots and were - and continue to be - places of solidarity. Many of them adopted names reflecting this ideal: Concordia, Bruderschaft (Brotherhood), Eintracht (Harmony)...

In these clubs not only Turnen was cultivated but also civic and patriotic attitudes, the sense of a collective mission, and social commitment (Heinemann & Schubert, in print). Today, the culture of German sports clubs is based on this tradition and the reasons for belonging to a sports club go beyond those of merely engaging in physical activity; they continue to be a meeting place, of production and reproduction of social links in which a wide variety of initiatives are taken. 

As I see it, this aspect is crucial to an understanding of the subsidiary role of the public sector in Germany. If society had been incapable of generating initiatives, however great their rejection of totalitarianism, another organisation model would most likely have been produced with greater interference on the part of the State. This argument is largely corroborated by an analysis of the Italian and Spanish models.

Sports organisation in Italy 
Figure 2 shows the sport organisation model in Italy.

The CONI also occupies a position of hegemony in the Italian sports system. It is a public, nongovernmental organism which, as I mentioned earlier, was founded during the fascist era (in 1933).

With the reinstatement of democracy it was not abolished since, being a non-governmental organisation of public interest, it had enjoyed a certain degree of autonomy. Furthermore, as in Germany, it was reckoned that an organisation independent from the State was the best vehicle by which to protect sport from any kind of political manipulation. It was thus required to be an organisation with tasks of guidance and control over all sports activities by whomever and wherever exerted (Porro, 1996a: 257). 

The presence of a corps of voluntary leaders is combined in the case of the CONI with 3000 civil servants, which gives us a good idea of the high level of professionalism and bureaucratization of this organisation. It encompasses 39 sport federations, 18 aggregate disciplines and 13 enti di promozione sportiva - multisport voluntary organisations - oriented more towards the promotion of sport for all. The general secretaries and other executives in the federations are CONI functionaries. (By contrast to other countries, the professionalisation of Italian sport federations goes back a long time. This is considered to be due to the setting in motion on the part of the CONI of an extremely effective organizational model aimed towards attaining succes in top level sport (Madela, 1996; Porro, 1996b: 6). 

Internally, this institution is organised in 5 general directions, 15 services and 21 divisions, is responsible for the conservation and development of the national sport heritage , coordinates and watches over sport activities and organisations and strives to create optimum conditions for participation in the Olympic Games. Its main source of funding is the lottery (Totocalcio and Totogol) and it administrates a third of the income deriving from this (Madela, 1996: 8). Such is the size of its budget that it has even been said that "sport finances government" rather than vice-versa (Porro, 1996a: 268). 

Many analysts consider the CONI as a pressure group with high political influence and its own dynamics with the power to halt government decisions. Indeed, one of the arguments used to justify its survival after the fascist era is precisely its highly bureaucratized and institutionalised functionary structure which allowed it to act with a certain degree of independence from the state apparatus (Porro, 1996a).

Nevertheless, due precisely to the very characteristics of its structure and despite its jurisdiction in all areas of sport activity, the CONI concentrates its efforts on toplevel organised sport; that is, the world of performance in sport channelled through the federations. This dynamic has been developing over the years and in the core of the organisation circuits of interests have been created around this aspect, so that it is now very difficult to set in motion other initiatives of sport practice (Porro, 1996a).

The Italian club system 
A clear example of this is that of the aforementioned enti di promozione sportiva constituted in Italy after World War II, linked to an extent to the political parties of recently restored democracy and whose main aim was - and still is - to foster access to sport for the whole population, adapting it to the motivations and possibilities of each individual. 

These entities are veritable social movements which have gradually generated a web of clubs all over Italy, accommodating the different and changing sporting aspirations of the Italian people, aspirations which have found no response in the framework of the organisational structure of the CONI.

The entities' relationship with the CONI is somewhat paradoxical. On the one hand, they form part of its organisational chart; on the other, however, their existence within the organisation has always been difficult, and their greatest complaint is the unequal treatment they receive in comparison to the sport federations (Porro & Missaglia, 1996:7).

Indeed, despite the fact that they have existed since the fifties, it was not until 1976 that they were given official recognition. Their links with the CONI have never been satisfactory, which explains the fact that after the recent victory of the left-wing alliance ("L'Oli-vo") the Comitato Nazionale Sport per Tutti was set up, linked to the CONI but assuming with full autonomy the promotion of sport for all while the CONI now unambiguously concentrates its efforts on top-level sport.

The creation of this committee was stimulated from two fronts. On the one hand, from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - with which the CONI has had close links since its very inception (Porro, 1996a) - which has set up a commission to work specifically in this area and which, moreover, has actively encouraged all national Olympic committees to become involved. On the other, from the Italian public authorities who have attempted to introduce legal directives to foster the promotion of sport for all, despite resistance on the part of the CONI. 

Although the original idea was that of a state that would play a subsidiary role in sport, there have been moments of greater intervention to guarantee the field of action of the enti. The State has acted as regulator of conflicts in the heart of the Italian sport system in an attempt to set up channels of dialogue and create spaces of action, although in all cases leaving initiatives up to the system.

Actually the Italian sport movement is a very active one, although its historical foundations are different from those of its German counterpart. The structure of the world of federations and affiliated clubs became consolidated some time ago, while that of sport for all is based on enti that also enjoy a long tradition.

Although not all the backup they require has been forthcoming, their clubs are scattered all over Italy and they have become - together with the commercial sector - nuclei around which new trends in the demand for sport have gathered. They are true social movements with ever increasing influence on the decisions affecting Italian sport. 

The strength of the sport system, deeply rooted in a society very active in this field, explains in my view the prudence - conscious or not - on the part of the State when it comes to intervening in the field of sport. As in Germany, the experience of a dictatorial regime is not enough to understand such a position; there are social-historical factors that also help to explain it. 

Sports organisation in Spain
Spain is one of the countries in Western Europe where state intervention is greater. Referring to this country, Colin Mige (1997: 81) speaks of an interventionist model. He also includes France, Greece and Portugal in this group.

In the latter years of Franquismo and after, the idea began to gather momentum of sport which, more than a leisure activity, should be considered a public service since it fulfils objectives of interest to society. Only through public intervention was it possible to guarantee access to sport for all those interested in the activity. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this state of opinion is reflected in the 1978 Constitution. This is rather unusual, since besides Spain's only the constitution texts of Greece and Portugal make specific reference to sport.

Furthermore, the public sector's involvement in sport is reinforced by the Statutes of Autonomy, which regulate the jurisdictions of the autonomous governments (Comunidades Autonomas, Autonomous Communities: ACs) - including that of sport - and the sport laws of both the central government (Law of 1990) and of the different ACs.

Figure 3 clearly shows the hegemony of the public sector in the field of sport. The backbone of its organisational chart consists of those public entities with jurisdiction in the field. The "Consejo Superior de Deportes" is a state secretariat that depends on the Ministerio de Educacin y Cultura. It has jurisdiction in matters of national interest (professional sport, soccer in particular, occupies much of its attention), in the training of Olympic teams, the spread of sport sciences, the construction of sports facilities and, in some cases, the promotion of sport in schools. 

The AC's are concerned with carrying out or fostering the construction of sports facilities, encouraging sport for all, supporting top-level sport, sport in schools, the training of coaches and fomenting research. The county councils (Diputaciones) have a similar function, although they are concerned exclusively with municipal issues.

Last but not least, the town and city councils (ayuntamientos) have played and continue to play a crucial role in the sport sector, not a subsidiary one but, as in the case of the higher-level entities mentioned above, one directly involved with sport matters. They organise activities, build facilities, foster training courses, publish books and bulletins and so on. Occasionally in collaboration with but mostly on their own account in competition with clubs.

Both when acting on its own account and in collaboration with other agents, the volontary movement in particular, what distinguishes the Spanish public sector from its German and Italian counterparts is its hegemonic role. It dictates procedures, ways of acting, terms of collaboration, etc., and its strength contrasts with the weakness of the volontary movement, especially that of sport for all (Puig & Garcia, in print). 

The federations are represented on the national assembly of the Consejo Superior de Deportes and the Olympic ones also on the Comite Olmpico Espanol (COE). On these depend the regional federations and affiliated clubs, constituting a strong institutional web so much under the control of the public sector that some analysts have even expressed doubts as to their democratic nature (Camps, 1996).

Nevertheless, the weakness of the voluntary movement is most patent in the field of sport for all. Spanish sport clubs find it difficult to embrace new dimensions in sport practice (Heinemann et al., in print). And where they manage to do so, federations consider that these very dimensions fall outside the scope of their jurisdiction. Hence from the early eighties the creation has been encouraged of sport-for-all associations that, on a national level, are grouped together in entes de promocin deportiva conceived in the likeness of Italian ones and recognised by the 1990 Sport Law.

The missing umbrella for the voluntary movement
In the case of both those clubs most closely linked to federated sport and those related to sport for all, what is missing is an umbrella organisation of the voluntary movement that would gather demands together and act as a front to negotiate with the public sector. The communication routes between agents operating in the sport system are confused and ill defined, and what prevails above all is the hegemony of the public sector.

This diagnosis of institutional arrangements in the Spanish sport organisation model characterises not only sport but all relations existing between the voluntary movement and the State (Sarassa, 1996). Let us therefore look at possible explanations for the phenomenon. 

The Franco regime established a sport legislation system very similar to those of Germany and Italy during their respective fascist periods. To be honest, as a system it was far from effective, though the underlying intentions and legal framework denoted clear political manipulation of sport destined to reinforce the principles of the regime (Pujadas & Santacana, 1995).

Nevertheless, by the fall of the Franco dictatorship the main criticism of the former regime was levelled not so much at its interventionism but at its inefficiency. Hence the vindication of an effective public sector that would assume responsibility for facilitating access to sport for the whole population. 

This "trust" in the State must be interpreted in the light of Spanish history during the XIX and XX centuries. As from the imperial era (mainly the XVI and XVII centuries), the country was dominated by an overprivileged nobility and a Church that wielded enormous economic and political power. Resistance to modernisation on the part of these sectors, coupled with a practically non-existent incipient industrialisation and, by extension, an extremely weak bourgeoisie, plunged Spain into a state of alarming poverty and misery. 

Certain intellectual sectors and the few redoubts of the liberal bourgeoisie sounded the alert about the situation in which the country found itself and echoed the predominant feeling of discontent. All attempts at change were the result of interventions on the part of governments that had become constituted within the framework of random struggles for power.

The Cortes of Cadiz of 1912, who promulgated one of the most progressive constitutions in the whole of Europe of the time; Mendizbal's Mort-main law which in the mid XIX century cut back the enormous power of the Church; and the II Republic (1931), which passed laws on issues such as abortion, divorce, education and so on, are all emblematic points of reference in the history of Spain.

In all cases they were initiatives on the part of the public sector against a reactionary society which acted only to the benefit of a privileged few and, in consequence, did little to favour the emergence of people's initiatives such as sport clubs. It is only - as in the previous cases - by taking into account this background that we can understand the organisational model of sport in Spain.

Sport organisation in the future
So far we have seen an analysis of a number of sport organisation models in the light of the social-historical contexts in which they have developed. On the basis of the initial premise, it is clear that, far from being static, these models evolve and their stability depends precisely on their ability to adapt to the challenges of modernity (Sarassa, 1996: 276).

I shall therefore now put forward a few ideas that might help to predict future developments.

According to Mige (1997), the State's involvement in sport increases as greater recognition is given to its social, educational and economic roles. This analysis is confirmed not only in detailed examinations of the Italian and Spanish cases, but also in those of France (Michel, 1996) and Denmark (Ibsen, in print).

Ibsen's example of Danish night schools corroborates this opinion: Formally an evening school is a volontary organisation but in practice it is really a semi-public organisation form, which is highly regulated by state and municipality as regards activities and finances (Ibsen, in print). Thus it seems feasible to say that given the importance attributed to sport within the framework of welfare state policies, State will intervene in given fields when it is reckoned that civil society does not generate enough initiatives in these fields to foster their corresponding social role. 

The opposite trend may occur, however; that is, the State might limit its hegemony in sport and tend more towards a model of subsidiary or at least cooperative involvement (Heinemann, 1995).

Matters are clear in Spain: since 1992 much deep thought has been given to possible alternative ways of interpreting the 1978 constitutional mandate (Paris, 1996; Puig, 1996: 364-366). Excessive intervention has proven not only to be costly in economic terms but also counter-productive to initiatives on the part of the voluntary sector, either because it has competed with them or else because it has not assisted their generation. There has been a tendency to lean on or to claim everything from the state benefactor. These attitudes are now being re-examined in order to foster rather than hinder the emergence of initiatives. And it may be that Greece and Portugal are following similar paths. 

Finally, another aspect which no analyst can possibly overlook is the growing importance of the commercial sector, which has burst energetically onto the scene in all European countries, responding to emerging demand trends which had been ignored by both the public and voluntary sectors. Voices from the commercial sector are beginning to be heard claiming equality of treatment with voluntary, the argument being that this sector also carries out a social function though it is denied the same degree of aid. The argument is debatable, since the aim here is to make profits. 

Even so, it is also true that within the commercial sector a wide variety of situations exists (ranging from large fitness centres to small gymnasiums that cover needs that the volontary movement or the public sector have not met or possibly cannot meet) which deserves close analysis. There can be no doubt, therefore, that European sport organisation models continue to face new challenges that will force them to adapt to changing circumstances. Nonetheless, and in keeping with the main idea running through this article, all modifications to these models will be carried out not in abstract but in terms of the traditions and the economic, political and social situation of each country. 

Translated from Spanish by Richard Rees. 

From the book "Society's Watchdog - or Showbiz' Pet?" Inspiration to Better Sports Journalism, Danish Gymnastics and Sports Associations 1998.

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