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What governance for sport in the 21st century?

By Jean-Loup Chappelet, professor at the University of Lausanne and expert in sports management and governance.

World sport is governed by International Federations (IFs). More than 60 of them are run from Switzerland, from the mighty Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), based in Zurich since 1937, to the International Wushu Federation (IWUF), recently installed in Lausanne to govern the Chinese martial art, which is also known as kung-fu. They decide and regulate global rules for the sport in question, award their championships to host cities and countries, comprise national federations and their clubs, and fight against abuses in sport, such as doping and corruption.

Though many of these federations have been operating for more than 100 years, many new stakeholders with an interest in the governance of sport have emerged and are seeking to benefit from its impact. As well as obvious commercial stakeholders such as sponsors and professional leagues, they also include public players such as local and national governments, who are becoming increasingly involved in the organisation of sporting events and the fight against the problems facing sport, and who are also keen to get people active and to reap the benefits of physical activity. This system of public bodies, companies and non-governmental organisations such as IFs requires a form of sports governance that renews and improves upon the current model, which has largely been in place since the late 19th century, a model that has been undermined by scandals involving more and more athletes and public authorities, most notably European ones.

But what is a sport? All manner of sports and disciplines are created on a daily basis, such as swimrun and footgolf. Others are being fought over by existing IFs, among them stand up paddleboarding (which both the canoe and surfing IFs wish to govern, leading them to seek mediation from the Court of Arbitration for Sport) and parkour (which the Fédération Internationale Gymnastique (FIG) and its own independent IF are battling to control). Meanwhile, companies are challenging the monopoly of some IFs, among them Ice Derby, which is looking to organise speed skating competitions where people can bet on the outcome, all without interference from skating’s international federation, a stance the European Commission is supporting.

And then there is eSports, a form of team and individual video gaming that is demanding recognition in the shape of major international competitions and attention from international federations. Some eSports titles have already been included on the programme for the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, while others were the focus of a tournament organised by an Olympic sponsor in the lead-up to the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.

The emergence of big data, meanwhile, has enabled improved targeting of supporters and players, who can get in touch via smartphone apps, without needing to go through a club. Such developments could disrupt the traditional pyramid structure of organised sport, at the top of which stand the national and international federations, especially as longstanding revenue sources in the form of TV rights are being undermined by the broadcasting of video clips online.

To help us understand and discuss these challenges, the University of Lausanne will welcome Patrick Baumann, the president of the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), on 7 June. Also a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), a council member of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF), an IOC Representative on the Foundation Board of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and the president of the Organising Committee for the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020, among other positions, Mr Baumann is an authority among global sports leaders on all issues relating to the future of sport and its governance. To register go to www.unil.ch/idheap/rendez-vous.

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