News: March 2017

Plenary session on good governance in sport at the 2017 EU Sport Forum in St Julian’s, Malta

Michael PedersenOn 9 March 2017, Michael Pedersen moderated the plenary session on good governance in sport at the 2017 EU Sport Forum in St Julian’s, Malta. As one of the European Commission’s annual flagship events, the two-day Forum brought together approx. 400 sport leaders and other stakeholders in and of sport from across the European Union countries.

The plenary session was titled “Evolving Good Governance Practices in European Sport and the European Commission Pledge for Sport Organizations”. On the basis of a highly engaging and interactive design format, it was comprised of a mix of conversations with sport leaders and stakeholders of sport on the stage, voting among the audience on governance issues and solutions as well as signatories to the European Commission Pledge on good governance in sport sharing aspects of their governance leadership.

Sport leaders and stakeholders of sport on the stage were as follows:

  • Darren Bailey, Chair of the European Union Expert Group on Good Governance in Sport and former Director of Football Governance and Regulation at the English Football Association
  • Janez Kocijančič, Acting President of the European Olympic Committees (EOC)
  • Marlene Mizzi, Member of the European Parliament and Shadow Rapporteur on the European Parliament report titled “An Integrated Approach to Sport Policy: Good Governance, Accessibility and Integrity”
  • Klaus Thomsen, Vice President of the European Professional Football Leagues and CEO at the Danish Professional Football League

Darren Bailey emphasized that modernizing sport governance frameworks is more critical than ever in setting up sport organizations for effectively dealing with opportunities and risks. In fact, the survival of sport and sport organizations depends on it. According to Darren, sport organizations ought to find ways of overcoming short-termism. One way of doing that is to avoid being too heavily influenced by immediate external events. Instead, sport organizations ought to take a more strategic 5-15 year perspective on where they want their sport to be going, including how they want to engage stakeholders. Darren also emphasized the importance of cultural change as well as leading from the front in generating compelling sports competitions and being in control of constituents rather than being reactive. He stressed that sport ought to see the benefit of change in terms of minimizing risk and reaping long-term opportunity. Darren especially highlighted the importance for sport organizations of getting in tune with future generations and engaging them in decision-making processes as opposed to creating generational disconnects. He also stressed the importance of sport administrators applying the highest standards of excellence and performance, as professional athletes do.

Klaus Thomsen highlighted that good governance is essential in growing and developing sport. He emphasized that the European Professional Football Leagues (EFPL), as a signatory to the European Commission Pledge on good governance in sport, has been revising its statutes along the lines of the pledge commitment. In fact, according to Klaus, one of the most important aspects of good governance is ensuring proper stakeholder inclusion in all decision-making processes. Referring to its unified club governance model and its system for compliance, financial management and stakeholder inclusion, he particularly recognized the governance leadership of one EPFL member, La Liga, which is the professional football league in Spain. Klaus also recognized the professional football league in Denmark for its leadership in education and prevention related to match-fixing.

Marlene Mizzi pointed out that the recent European Parliament report on sport policy had a focus on sport governance, sport integrity and sport accessibility. Referring to the main conclusions in the report, she emphasized that policy makers are now more focused on sport administrators and sport stakeholders, as opposed to more of a focus on athletes and competition results in the past. Marlene also stressed that the autonomy of sport remains a sensitive issue and that policy makers need to pay attention to what sport stakeholders want. While referring to transparency and accountability in sport as critical governance solutions, she emphasized that one-size-fits-all governance solutions ought not be applied across sports and organizations. Marlene especially pointed out that opportunities and challenges are very different in amateur sport compared to professional sport. She also clarified that while sport governance and sport integrity may seem to be similar concepts, there is one big difference in the sense that it is possible to legislate on good governance whereas integrity is about individual behavior. As for the latter, Marlene made the point that a process of cultural change ought to start with teaching school children concepts of good governance, ethics and fair play.

Janez Kocijančič shared the perspective that good governance in sport is to be seen as a continued process of improvement as opposed to an end in itself. He emphasized that without ethics sport is just meaningless movement of the human body. Similarly, ethical and efficient decision-making are at the heart of any sport organization showcasing good governance. Janez also stressed that sport organizations have to deserve autonomy and that the only way to achieve that is by exemplifying good governance. He acknowledged that sport is a matter of public interest, not least because governments and public bodies give substantial subsidies and finances to sport. Accordingly, sport autonomy ought not to be regarded as an isolation of sport, but rather in a context of interaction and integration with all modern societal players. Along the same lines, sport organizations ought to operate as semi-public entities rather than private entities - and especially put great emphasis on stakeholder dialogue and cooperation. While acknowledging that there has been progress in modernizing governance standards in sport, Janez also advocated continued further development of governance solutions, including finding smart ways of addressing challenges such as gender equality in the boardroom, defining different levels of responsibilities and accountability for volunteers and professionals in sport as well as decision-making structures that adequately balance the need for short term change and long term stability.

At the first round of voting in the session, participants were asked to rank the importance of a selection of sport governance issues. 59% of participants ranked transparency and accountability around decisions taken as the most critical governance issue in the boardroom of sport organizations. Subsequently, 41% ranked doping as the most critical governance issue related to athletes. In the same vote, 33% ranked child protection and 27% match-fixing. Finally, 53% ranked selection of hosts as the most critical governance issue related to sport events.

In the context of the second round of voting in the session, participants were asked to rank a selection of solutions to address conflicts of interest in the boardroom of sport organizations. Following 49% indicating that business related conflicts of interest are the most problematic conflicts of interest in a typical boardroom, 58% ranked independent integrity checks of candidates prior to election/appointment as the most adequate solution to addressing conflicts of interest. At the same time, 41% ranked making a conflicts of interest register publicly available as the most effective solution to addressing conflicts of interest. In the same vote, 29% ranked an independent audit of such a register as the most effective solution to addressing conflicts of interest.

Throughout the plenary session, the following nine signatories to the European Commission Pledge on good governance in sport shared aspects of their governance leadership:

  • European Club Association
  • European Gymnastics Union
  • European Hockey Federation
  • European Multisport Club Association
  • European University Sports Association
  • International Sport and Culture Association
  • Norwegian Olympic and Paralympic Committee and Confederation of Sports
  • Portuguese Olympic Committee
  • Sport Malta

The plenary session was streamed live on the Internet. An additional approx. 750 persons followed the session online. A video recording of the session is available for viewing further below.

For further information, see the following links: