Last week, we asked some of our writers for their opinions on the world’s worst governed sport. For this week, we ask them the harder question – name the best governed. Any suggestions?
On 14 December 2014 at the General Assembly of FEI (the international governing body of equestrian sport), the federation’s president, HRH Princess Haya bint Al Hussein of Jordan, will stand down after serving two terms since 2006. A sporting pioneer, Princess Haya was just thirteen when she first represented Jordan, competing in the Pan Arab Equestrian Games in 1992 (and earning a bronze medal) and at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She became the first Arab woman to qualify for and compete in equestrian sport at Olympic, world and continental championship level. Her decision to stand down appears to mark a progressive development in sport, in that a woman, aged 40, is inaugurating the standard of limited presidency in a prestigious world organisation, opening the way for new leadership. In comparison, Sepp Blatter, currently 78 years old, has opted to stand for a controversial fourth term as FIFA president, having been in post since 1998.
However, the extent to which she can be considered a role model in such an elitist sport should be treated with caution. Both her husband and step-son were convicted of doping violations in 2009, during the FEI’s campaign to end doping and animal abuse, which had been initiated by Princess Haya herself. In addition to concerns about the treatment of her animals, there have also been questions about her regal behaviour and demands for obedience clashing with the expectations of an elected president of a democratic institution. Even so, were all presidencies of world sport limited to a maximum of two terms, this might open up opportunities for more democratic governance. Or is that too naïve?
–Jean Williams is senior research fellow at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University.
It’s possible that this is a case of the grass being greener on the other side, but as an American I’ve always admired the ingenuity and structure of the UEFA Champions League. It’s just a brilliant idea from every angle – actually, I’m not sure the design of the tournament could be improved. There is the constant drama of qualification: the same team may be excelling in one year’s Champions League while at the same time fighting frantically (and maybe futilely) in their domestic league for a berth in the next year’s tournament. There are constant dream match-ups: the world’s best clubs and players constantly facing one another, not in exhibition matches but in the crucible of real competition. It’s become practically a trope for American columnists to propose alternate structures to playoffs and seasons in stateside sports – and those columns are written for good reason, as it does feel like there’s room for improvement over here. I don’t know if those same columns could be written about the Champions League.
–Miles Wray is a sportswriter and assistant editor of the online literary journal Spartan.
The international rowing federation, otherwise known as FISA, is my pick. Formed in 1892, it is the world’s oldest international federation, with 142 member federations in five continents. Responsible for the governance of elite rowing, para-rowing, coastal rowing, masters rowing, certain aspects of indoor rowing, and all sanctioned World Rowing events, FISA has seen very few (if any) scandals in recent history. Instead, it has devoted its time to protecting its place in the Olympic programme. It was the first international federation to conduct out-of-competition drug testing of its athletes. While FIFA was constructing a white elephant in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, FISA formed a strategic alliance with WWF International to protect freshwater ecosystems and improve clean water access. As other sports governing bodies continue to turn a blind eye to increased rates of brain trauma among their athletes, FISA recently announced it would be introducing mandatory pre-competition health screening to help identify athletes that may be at risk of heart problems. Like many other international federations, FISA was headed by the same man for a quarter century, former Swiss Olympian Denis Oswald. Its newly elected president, Jean-Christophe Rolland, is a young French engineer, and all of its meeting minutes are easily accessible online.
–Amanda Coletta is a graduate student in the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
In terms of ethos and ethics, I’d choose the England Touch Association (ETA), the governing body for touch rugby. They’re quite a young (and poor) governing body, but there’s a real attempt to ensure equality, equity, democracy and transparency between all its members.
–Emily Ryall is senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Gloucestershire.
I will say ultimate frisbee, which was, until recently, an entirely amateur enterprise. Although two semi-pro men’s leagues have recently begun play in North America, the American Ultimate Disc League and Major League Ultimate, the vast majority of the world’s players are amateurs who play in self-governed leagues that emphasize the values of gender equality, fair play, and friendly competition – while still enabling elite athletic performances at the highest levels. The fact that most games are self-refereed, and that even players at the semi-pro and elite club levels have a great deal of latitude to make or overturn referees’ calls, says a lot about the democratic structure of the sport.
–Mark Norman is PhD candidate at the University of Toronto.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) presides over a growing global game. Using the same yardstick of fans’ joy and global governance that I used to condemn world football as the worst governed, basketball fares well. Fans love the game and the authorities manage to keep things relatively clean and organized. The NBA, USA Basketball, and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) all work well together. The NBA managed a smooth leadership transition from David Stern to new commissioner Adam Silver. It dealt swiftly with a potential scandal when Donald Sterling’s racist remarks were reported. It promotes relative parity among teams and encourages the success of quality franchises like the San Antonio Spurs. It keeps global stars like Michael Jordan or LeBron James in the spotlight for their on-court successes rather than off-court problems. The National Football League (NFL), by contrast, continues to mishandle the off-field misbehavior of athletes. Like FIFA, it lacks transparency or accountability to authorities outside the game. Its tardy recognition of the problem of brain injury has cost it many supporters. The NFL is hugely profitable but has never gained a global appeal, whereas NBA basketball and world professional basketball continue to expand. And rightly so. The NBA is a case where a great game and good governance go together.
–Scott Waalkes teaches political science at Malone University
This is a difficult question to answer, as it is hard to find a sport or league that has not been embroiled in scandal or controversy recently. In Australia, both the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League have witnessed potentially endemic doping problems. Cricket has seen players jailed for match-fixing, while cycling and athletics have long-standing doping issues. These issues all point towards poor governance within the sporting organization. Yet all of these governing bodies would highlight the profitability of their sport or competitions, vast television revenues, and public popularity as evidence of their good governance. Those involved at the highest level of the sports (and the ones making the most money) would certainly suggest that they are well governed. However, the lack of both ethical practice and morals displayed cannot result from good governance. With this in mind, perhaps a sport such as netball, which has seen very few scandals and achieves high participation rates despite constantly battling for financial security, could be an example of best governance.
–Keith Parry is lecturer in management at the University of Western Sydney.
Well, others may not agree, but the management of international soccer strikes me as a model for many other sports. The World Cup has been held every four years since 1930, apart from World War II, and has enjoyed essentially the same format for the last ten tournaments. The European Championship has taken place regularly between World Cups for over half a century. The Africa Cup of Nations and the Copa America are arranged sensibly to avoid World Cup years. Club leagues throughout the world regularly suspend their schedules in the windows designated for international qualifying and friendly matches. FIFA may be corrupt, and it wasn’t the smartest idea to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. But unlike most other sports, they at least have the sense not to fix things that ain’t broke in pursuit of quick television revenue.
–David Papineau is professor of philosophy at King’s College London.