Council of Europe reports call for stronger governance reforms in sport

Photo: Congress of Local and Regional Authorities/Flickr

Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly.
Photo: Congress of Local and Regional Authorities/Flickr. 


By Mads A. Wickstrøm
During its upcoming winter session in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will discuss sport’s governance challenges and the need for enhanced international co-operation and regulation.

“In recent years, an avalanche of scandals has marred values of fair-play and revealed an urgent need to reform the archaic management models of sports governance that lack democratic structures, transparency and accountability in decision-making, and continue to feed the ground for corruption and impunity.”

With these critical remarks, Council of Europe (COE) Rapporteur, Mogens Jensen, calls for more reforms in international sport in a report to the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the (COE).

At the upcoming winter session in Strasbourg, good governance in sport is among the key topics to be discussed by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). Accordingly, Jensen’s report will provide the basis for the discussion in PACE on January 24.

On the same day, the assembly will pay special attention to “Good football governance”, which is the title of a report by another rapporteur, Anne Brasseur from Luxembourg. She argues that “A radical change in the culture of football governance is needed (see more below).

Both rapporteurs recognise that progress has been made in recent years in the fight against corruption and malpractice in sport, but they also agree that the situation is far from satisfying. They both propose various ways of strengthening the independent oversight over how sport is run by bodies on the inside of the organisations as well as on the outside

Mogens Jensen’s report proposes a framework that includes common criteria of good governance, a certification standard on governance of sports organisations and an independent sports ethics rating system.

Moreover, the report recommends the drafting of a convention on good governance in sport: A legally binding agreement between countries, such as the Council of Europe already has in the fields of match-fixing, doping and spectator violence. Jensen also suggests a parliamentary alliance for good governance and integrity in sport with the aim of bringing together national parliaments and international parliamentary bodies around a meaningful discussion on sports governance and integrity issues.

The need for an independent sports governance foundation

Jensen argues that the current void of strong leadership inside sport towards achieving better governance could be filled by a new more inclusive and democratically run international multi-stakeholder platform or alliance that would dare to set the targets high and be bold enough to live up to the declared ambitions.

According to Jensen, an independent international multi-stakeholder platform could take the lead in:

  • Bringing all stakeholder groups on board in defining the common governance benchmarks in sports governance.
  • Offering monitoring, consultancy and coaching to sports organisations of various sizes in order to help them through institutional reforms.
  • Setting up an independent professional compliance assessment of the implementation of the accepted basic standards as a prerequisite for getting truthful, objective and credible results of the evaluation.

“The ideal solution would be to create a global sports governance foundation which would have its own multi-stakeholder board of advisors, a proper board of directors and independent funding. This foundation could work globally for all: on the one hand finance the creation and evolution of a rating model and then either outsource the rating to “Standard Ethics” or create a specialised rating structure of its own,” Jensen concludes.

“At the same time, the foundation could offer grants to sports organisations that are willing to voluntarily solicit their rating (which would remove the argument that smaller organisations could not afford it) and to governments or sports governing bodies who commission unsolicited rating,” he adds.

Governance in the world of football – a salient issue

Although PACE delegates are set to discuss good governance in the whole of sport, special attention will be directed at governance in the context of football.

Anne Brasseur’s report presents a number of proposals on how to improve football governance in FIFA, UEFA, the member associations and at club level.

Firstly, it says it is necessary to include in the FIFA and UEFA Statutes an explicit rule prohibiting a member of a government from involvement in their decision-making bodies in order to avoid undue political influence over decisions by sports organisations.

Secondly, to ensure the independence of supervisory boards, an independent international observatory should be established to introduce mechanisms to monitor aspects of the governance of football organisations and other sports bodies by placing the emphasis on, amongst other things, ethics and the integrity of elections.

Brasseur commends FIFA for UEFA having adopted recently a series of measures to protect human rights, protection of minors and gender equality in football. However, she insists that the new measures are in fact implemented, and to introduce effective oversight of how host countries of major football events will comply with the obligations.

She proposes, among other things, that FIFA and UEFA be asked to:

  • “Insist with the governments of the host country on the necessity of protecting fundamental civil and political rights, and in particular the freedom of expression – including the freedom of the media – and the freedom of peaceful meeting, and not only in connection beyond the international events.”
  • “Ensure that all the cases of serious breaches of human rights, including the rights of the workers, by private companies involved in the organisation of their competitions are made public and that effective penalties are applied when the follow up measures recommended by supervisory bodies are not implemented.”

The Parliamentary Assembly will debate the outcome of the reports by Mogens Jensen and Anne Brasseur on January 24, and is expected to adopt final resolutions on Sports Governance and on Governance in Football. Only time will then tell if the sports organisations and the governments of the 47 Council of Europe member states will listen and take action.

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