Sport needs a new set of rules

As Transparency International (TI) states in its latest global report, corruption in sport is not new. Football, thanks to the conduct of Fifa, may top the corruption league table, but athletics, cycling, cricket, horse racing, motor racing and now tennis would almost certainly find themselves in the top ten.

With sport engaging billions of people and generating annual revenues in excess of US$145bn, Transparency International is right to say that the current pervasiveness of poor governance and corruption scandals threatens to “undermine all the joy that sport brings and the good it can do”.

TI is also right to say that the root cause of the problem lies in the very organisations set up to promote and develop sport. The organisational models that may have worked in the past are no longer fit for purpose, having failed to evolve at the same pace as the sport itself.

This was highlighted at GoodCorporation’s Business Ethics Debate two weeks ago that asked; “Is Sports Governance Doomed to Failure?”. Here too it was argued that the lack of transparency and accountability, conflicts of interest, involvement of sports professionals with little prior management experience, as well as opaque but favourable tax and legal treatment by host nations, are at the heart of the problem.

Sports governing bodies can no longer operate behind closed doors, free from external oversight, transparency or accountability.

With the Forza Football/Transparency International Fifa poll stating that 69 per cent of respondents have no faith in Fifa and 60 per cent would not vote for any of the candidates standing on the Fifa presidential election this week, the World Cup is in danger of being seen but not believed.

Transparency International rightly prescribes a major overhaul of the structural issues that are creating the problems beginning with governance.

New governance models should be implemented, drawing from the best practice principles that have guided other sectors. The starting point is to establish a governance structure that is properly constituted, supported by a code of ethics and with a compliance team to ensure enforcement. There should be clear reporting lines and clear accountability for board members as well as officials. These core governance structures should be regularly reviewed.

Sports organisations should act transparently, aiming to report and publish information about their activities openly and widely.

Integrity in sport is also vital and should be at the heart of the mission of sports bodies, ensuring fair play we well as the avoidance of cheating and taking performance enhancing drugs. Sports should be using participation as a way to promote non-discrimination, the protection of children and vulnerable adults as well as creating community cohesion and a positive legacy.

Finally, the management of media and events marketing rights is also crucial if sport is to be made more transparent. Procedures are needed to ensure that rights are awarded fairly and monies distributed correctly and transparently.

These commitments must be translated in turn to all member organisations and affiliated bodies worldwide and supported by strong finance, procurement and HR controls. Finally all of these issues require active monitoring and review to ensure that sporting bodies achieve and maintain the highest levels of integrity.

Public trust in sport has been seriously eroded and will only be restored if the public see that wholesale reforms implemented transparently. TI believes that this is possible; our debate concluded the same. Sports governance isn’t doomed but it must reform.


To help governing bodies maintain the integrity of their organisations on and off the field, GoodCorporation has launched its Sports Governance Framework. The framework covers the broad spectrum of governance and management structures needed to ensure that good practice is applied throughout an organisation, instilling fairness and transparency in all its dealings to prevent misconduct.

Based on the business ethics frameworks developed to assist corporations in the management of their regulatory and compliance obligations, the Sports Governance Framework will enable governing bodies to monitor how effectively their principles are being implemented and benchmark their success against other organisations.

Published 23 February 2016