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Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development


Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development

We are all blessed, fortunate and privileged to be in this historic place of learning. And it is an honour bestowed on me by the Academy to explore good governance with you. Today, I will be providing you with analytical frameworks and practical tools which will help you understand what good governance is and how you can apply it.


I will start by considering what international sport organizations (ISO) are and what they do. Then I will explore governance and sport governance, along with the latest thinking on good sport governance. Finally I will explore the link between good sport governance, sustainable development, and Aristotle’s virtue of phronesis.

International Sport Organizations

International sport organizations are found in many countries around the world, although there are higher than average concentrations in Switzerland and Western Europe. They vary in terms of legal status (they can be charities, companies or associations) and whether they represent member organizations (like FIFA) or are made up of individual physical members (like the International Olympic Committee). They are also affected by the legal framework of the country in which they are based and by any other laws that may apply, such as European Union law.

Geeraert et al (2014) offer a typology of international sport organizations which is illustrated in Fig. 1. In it we find the governing bodies of team versus solo sports, sport event governing bodies like the International Paralympic Committee, and specialist bodies such as the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Fig 1. Typology of international non-governmental sports organizations.

Source: Geeraert et al, 2014

Key: *= Hybrid Organization; IHF = Int. Handball Federation; EAA = European Athletics Association; UEG = European Union of Gymnastics; IWGA = Int. World Games Association; FISU = Int. University Sports Federation; OCA = Olympic Council of Asia; ANOCA = Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa; CGF = Commonwealth Games Federation; ICAS = International Council of Arbitration for Sport; FIMS = Int. Federation of Sports Medicine; ICSSPE = Int. Council of Sports Science and Physical Education; EUPEA = European Physical Education Association; ASOIF = Association of Summer Olympic Associations; S 20 = Sponsors Voice Germany.

I am sure you recognize at least some of these organizations and may already have an opinion on whether they are governed well by their leaders and senior managers. International sport organizations generally conduct themselves in accordance with the legal requirements applicable to them and the statutes that declare their remit and purpose.

It has been said that social criticism stems from social idealism, and it is from this standpoint of the social idealist that I list some of the governance-related challenges facing international sport organizations below:

• Conflicts of interest among the power holders and decision makers.

• Clientelistic relations in which compliant behaviour is rewarded with a favour returned.

• Favouring relatives or friends, especially in the filling of posts.

• Political interference in which party politics affects decisions and allegiances.

• Turning a blind eye to or tolerating substance abuse, such as doping.

• Allowing other abuse, such as bullying, sexual harassment and racism.

• Wasting resources (physical, human, financial, intangible).

• Obstructing diversity, marginalizing minorities.

• Resisting transparency and accountability, even when using public resources.

The above challenges to governance can cause real harm to people, the economy and the environment. They are also illegal in most contexts. Because of these challenges and others that you may know of, I invite you to be a social idealist like me and try to demand improvements in the governance of international sport organizations.

Good sport governance

It is important to define “governance” before we talk about “good governance”.

Governance, according to Chappelet (2015), involves the direction and control of an organization. In the context of sport it also includes:

The development and maintenance of practical and ethical self-regulation to achieve diverse objectives such as enforcing the rules of the game, implementing anti-doping policies and disciplining athletes.

According to Stoker (1998, p. 18):

1. Governance refers to a set of institutions and actors that are drawn from but also beyond government.

2. Governance identifies the blurring of boundaries and responsibilities for tackling social and economic issues.

3. Governance identifies the power dependence involved in the relationships between institutions involved in collective action.

4. Governance is about autonomous self-governing networks of actors.

5. Governance recognizes the capacity to get things done which does not rest on the power of government to command or use its authority. It sees government as able to use new tools and techniques to steer and guide.

In the context of international sport organizations, this analysis of governance allows us to understand the processes and dynamics of governing within a network of stakeholders (Chappelet, 2015 p. 17).

It would be wrong of us to think that all international sport organizations are governed in the same way, or that they should be governed in the same way. Sport cultures differ, which is one of the things that makes sport so attractive. Why should international sport organizations be homogeneous? The sporting landscape is also complex because of its historical development, the legal status organizations chose at the time of their creation and the regulatory framework in force in their home country. Governance processes and dynamics have evolved over time to reflect the economic importance of sport and the professionalization of sport management that was previously run by volunteers. The Board, its executives and stakeholders are increasingly handing power to chief executives officers who claim to run the organization with greater efficiency than their volunteer predecessors. International sport organizations often face conflicting objectives: should they develop elite or mass sport, for men or for women. The hierarchy of sport that connects international federations (IFs) and their national counterparts is another particularity: the fact that IFs are rule makers for how sport is played is unique to sport, if we consider how companies usually operate. The autonomy ISOs demand from the governments in which members operate brings its own challenges. The fact that international sport event organizations like FIFA and the IOC allow the creation of temporary franchises via local games/world cup organizing committees means that ISO operations are international, national and local in various lifecycles (pre-during-post event periods). Healey (2012) also speaks of the complexity of the sporting landscape in terms of the economic chasm between top and lower-level performers and professionals and non-professionals:

Sporting organizations are very diverse. While no two organizations are ever exactly the same, the issue of governance is complicated by this diversity and because a number of “standard” corporate assumptions do not generally apply to sporting organizations. Governance paradigms for sport should take account of its unique features to ensure that governance models are applied in a realistic fashion which improves outcomes rather than merely compelling sports to be- have in a uniform manner.

Chappelet and Mrkonjic (undated) present an overview of published governance principles in sport and give highlights of what each source presents as good sport governance. Henry and Lee (2004) list transparency, accountability, democracy, responsibility, equity, effectiveness and efficiency as examples of good governance. Geeraert (2016) offers us the Sports Governance Observer, a tool that focuses on four key areas of governance: Transparency & public communication, Democratic Processes, Checks and Balances, and Solidarity. Through a scoring system, the Sports Governance Observer provides a tool for self-assessment and external benchmarking using 36 individual indicators. Some examples are listed below:

Transparency: e.g. The organization publishes its statutes/constitution, byelaws, sport rules, organizational chart and strategic objectives on its website. The organization publishes the agenda and minutes of its General Assembly on its website.

Democracy: e.g. There are elections of the president and the governing bodies and, where appropriate, the standing committees. Elections are on the basis of secret ballots and clear procedures detailed in the organization’s governing document/s.

Checks and balances: e.g. The organization has an internal audit committee. The organization is externally audited according to internationally recognized standards.

Solidarity: e.g. The organization allocates specific resources for the global development of grass-roots activities. The organization has a well-defined Social Responsibility (SR) strategy and/or programme.

Given the warning over heterogeneity in ISOs and the risk of following recipes that are ill-suited to the ISOs’ purposes, it is useful to consider the utility of the concept of governance configurations (Ahonen et al, 2006). These are the coming-together of elements using classification constructs and they can help us think of ideal types in the same way that Weber spoke of bureaucracy as an ideal type of organizational structure. The question then arises: should we think about a range of ideal types of governance and not just one. Configuration theory’s arguments for doing so are compelling and allow us to move away from prescriptions and recipes for doing things in just one way.

Sustainable development, effectiveness and phronesis

Sustainability is a key concept in the discussion of governance. Sustainable development is defined as:

[...] development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It contains within it two key concepts: the concept of “needs”, in particular the essential needs of the world’s poor, to which overriding priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and social organization on the environment’s ability to meet present and future needs. (UN, 1987).

On 25 September 2015, countries adopted a set of goals (see Diagram 2 below) to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years.

Fig. 2. United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Source: (UN, 2016).

I argue that good governance in ISOs, and any other organization really, has to serve mankind in line with the fifteen sustainable development goals; otherwise, it cannot be called good governance.

In the case of the IOC as an ISO, Chappelet (2015) makes an eloquent call for sustainability. He suggests that

[...] on the network governance of a complex system [...] the main objective must be to incarnate a movement based on a strong ideology of respecting human rights and, since the end of the twentieth century, the environment. This can only be achieved by implementing a sustainable system of management. (p. 750).

Traditionally, authors have introduced sustainability as involving three pillars: the environment, the economy and society. The IOC has launched an elaborate sustainability strategy (see Diagram 3 below) that takes into account the network’s levels of influence and five focus areas: infrastructure and resource management, mobility, workforce and climate. Note how the impact on the vertical axis increases in the extremities of the movement’s reach. The real challenge lies in convincing all the members of the Olympic Movement system to respect sustainable development. Of course, the IOC’s level of influence diminishes as the range widens, and it is up to you and me and other social idealists to try to monitor and influence governance practices.

Fig. 3. IOC Sustainability Strategy

Source: (IOC, 2016).

Linked to sustainability is the priority of effectiveness (achievement of goals, processing of resources, serving multiple constituents); efficiency (achievement of goals in the most economical way); and equifinality (achieving the same goals/ends via different means). All these are linked to good governance.

The priority of sustainability links to that of effectiveness and the idea that multiple stakeholders’ viewpoints need to be considered when the company is not strictly for profit only, and when effects on the physical environment and social fibre are also at stake. In this way, sustainability presents a conceptual lens that is systems-based in regard to effectiveness.

The final concept I want to introduce is phronesis. In Aristotelian thought, wisdom can take three forms: theoretical, technical, and practical.

Theoretical wisdom, also known as episteme, is wisdom about the eternal laws of the universe and is concerned with the search for necessary and universal knowledge. Technical wisdom, or techne, is wisdom about how best to produce things. It is the knowledge that a craftsperson utilizes. [...] Phronesis combines knowledge, judgement, understanding, and intuition in appropriate ways in order to act “aptly” in a particular circumstance. In addition, phronesis does not involve pure technique or pure intellect, but a capacity to sense or to intuit and an ability to draw on emotions (Kinsella, 2012 p. 92).

At the limits of knowledge and action, leaders will always have a need to make value judgements requiring some take on practical wisdom. (op. cit. p. 121).

Roos (2017) argues that:

If we accept the governance case and the need for practical wisdom, it is clear the key to a new model of business education must start from a holistic perspective to teach the next generation of leaders about the creation of value, redefining it as shared societal value, i.e., the common good (p. 121).

He calls for:

[...] a new framework for cultivating more responsible ways of thinking and acting in our current and future business students. The foundation of this framework seeks not just to complement, but to strengthen the two most common arguments for sustainability—the moral case and the economic case—with a third argument, the governance case based on Aristotle’s concept of practical wisdom (phronesis) as the “middle ground” of thoughtful action. Practical wisdom stands between science (episteme) and cunning (metis) and is the habit of acting in ways that are both ethically and economically effective, but above all that support the common good. Practical wisdom strikes balances between individual and common interests, short-term and long-term perspectives as well as between adapting to and shaping the environment. (p. 117)

I believe that good governance in ISOs needs to take account of all three levels of operations. The governance of the organization needs to be effective in achieving goals and serving its stakeholders’ range of interests. It also needs to be sustainable and not waste or destroy resources to the detriment of future generations. Finally, good governance needs to have practical wisdom, or phronesis as Aristotle’s termed it, as well as being intellectually and technically superior.

These three circles (see Fig. 4) capture the breadth of governance processes and I suggest that various configurations of good governance in ISOs can be positioned within this framework.

Fig. 4. Levels of performing good governance and concepts to link good governance to.

Source: Theodoraki, 2015

Accountability mechanisms and monitoring scenarios

Writing about the monitoring of good sport governance, Chappelet (2016) critiques existing practices. He believes that:

[It] is not enough to merely assess governance within a sport (or any other) organization; governance has to be monitored over time to determine whether it is improving.

The focus should be on helping sport organizations improve, not on producing meaningless rankings based on comparisons between very different, and therefore fundamentally incomparable, sport organizations.

He also identifies four possible scenarios for the future monitoring of governance. In the first scenario, each sport organization sets up an internal entity to monitor the entire range of its activities. In the second, the organizations entrust oversight to outside specialists—for example, one of the “big four” accounting firms. In the third scenario, a specialist body is created to monitor and help improve the governance of all international sport organizations, as in the case of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Finally, the fourth scenario is a compromise between the second and third scenarios. It is inspired by the audits of intergovernmental organizations within the UN, which involve appointing auditors on the basis of regular calls for tenders from specialist national auditing bodies known for their impartiality.

I believe that adding the reporting task on good governance will, in reality, create another level of bureaucracy that could divert valuable resources away from ISOs. I also believe that reporting on the sustainability of governance operations and the certainty with which such reporting is made, are relatively underdeveloped, though gaining ground (Theodoraki, 2017). The dilemma in my view is this: If we continue to allow business as usual in governance, the scandals and the challenges I mentioned earlier (corruption, abuse etc.) will continue. Add governance monitoring will be like introducing a form of policing—someone will always try to find a way of getting round an inspection. Sport is not like any other business; instead of external monitoring, we can try to find a solution to the problem of monitoring good governance though education. We, the supporters of the sports movement and our allies in business and politics must insist on the better education of senior ISO managers in: 1) effectiveness in the eyes of multiple constituents, 2) sustainable development and the related UN goals, and 3) using phronesis to reach decisions for the common good to the long-term benefit of mankind.

To quote the advice of the Hellenic Centre for Productivity: “Investment in education is the most productive form of investment”!


We have considered the variety of ISOs, some of the challenges found there, what some say good governance looks like, and the wider context of sustainable development. I now invite you to start envisioning for yourself what good sport governance might look like in ISOs. Consider it in the light of what we learned today. Then develop that vision: think how you can help improve the governance of ISOs for the sustainable development of those organization and sport at large. Use social media, or write a letter, or go in person to any ISO you care about and start a conversation about better governance. Share with them, and with others who are interested, what we learned today and some of the resources for applying good governance listed in the references at the end.

Remember the concepts of effectiveness, efficiency, sustainable development, configurations and phronesis as practical wisdom.

Do not think you are too young, too unimportant, too weak! The baton has been passed on to you by the people who built Olympia thousands of years ago, the people who created the Olympic Movement, and the people who are hosting you in this Academy. Do not shy away from continuing the race they started. You are the future senior managers of the world’s ISOs.

Be the ambassadors for the change you want to see happening in the governance of sport.

We will all be proud of you. Good luck with it!


Ahonen, P. Hyyryläinen, E. and Salminen, A. (2006). Looking for governance configurations of European welfare states. Journal of European Social Policy 0958–9287; Vol 16(2): 173–184

Chappelet, J-L. (2015). Which governance for which organization? A postface. Sport in Society, 1–3.

Chappelet, J-L. (2016). From Olympic administration to Olympic governance. Sport in Society, 19:6, 739–751

Chappelet, J-L. and Mrkonjic, M. (undated). Existing Governance Principles in Sport: a Review of Published Literature. Swiss Graduate School of Public Administration. University of Lausanne. Available at:

Geeraert, A. (2016.) Sports governance observer 2015. The legitimacy crisis in international sports governance. Play the Game. Danish Institute for Sports Studies. Available at:

Geeraert, A. Alm, J. and Groll, M. (2014). Good governance in international sport organizations: an analysis of the 35 Olympic sport governing bodies, International Journal of Sport Policy and Politics, 6:3, 281–306, DOI10.1080/19406940.2013.825874

Healey, D. (2012). Governance in Sport: Outside the Box? The Economic and Labour Relations Review, 23(3), 39–60.

Henry, I. & Lee, P. C. (2004). ‘Governance and ethics in sport, in The Business of Sport Management (Beech, J. & Chadwick, S.), Harlow: Prentice Hall, pp. 25-42.

International Olympic Committee (2016). Sustainable Development Strategy. Available at:–03–21-IOC-Sustainability-Strategy-English-01.pdf

Kinsella, E., Pitman, A., and SpringerLink. (2012). Phronesis as Professional Knowl-edge Practical Wisdom in the Professions (Professional Practice and Education: A Diversity of Voices ; 1). Rotterdam: Sense: Imprint: Sense.

Macklin , R. and Whiteford, G. (2012). Phronesis, Aporia, and Qualitative Research In Kinsella, Elizabeth ; Pitman, Allan. Phronesis as Professional Knowledge (Vol. 1, Professional Practice and Education: A Diversity of Voices). Rotterdam: Sense.

Roos, J. (2017). Practical wisdom: Making and teaching the governance case for sustainability. Journal of Cleaner Production, 140, 117–124.

Stoker, G. (1998). Governance as theory: Five propositions. (Governance issue). International Social Science Journal, 50 (1), 17–28.

Theodoraki, E. (2015). The problem with sporting mega event impact assessment. In Transparency International (Ed.), Global Corruption Report: Sport. Oxon: Routledge ISBN 978113890589.

Theodoraki, E. (2017). Third party sustainability assurance of Olympic Games related practices: The case of the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 in Mc- Cullough, B. Kellison & T. B. Handbook on Sport, Sustainability, and the Environment. Routledge.

UN (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. Available at: pdf

UN (2015). 17 Goals to transform our world. Available at:

THEODORAKI Eleni,"Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development", in:K. Georgiadis(ed.), Ethics,Education and Governance in the Olympic Movement, 57thInternational Session for Young Participants (Ancient Olympia,17/6-1/7/2017),International Olympic Academy, Athens, 2018, pp.142-153.


Article Author(s)

Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development
Assoc. Prof. Dr Eleni THEODORAKI
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Articles & Publications


Article Author(s)

Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development
Assoc. Prof. Dr Eleni THEODORAKI
Visit Author Page

Articles & Publications


Article Author(s)

Improving the governance of International Sport Organizations for sustainable development
Assoc. Prof. Dr Eleni THEODORAKI
Visit Author Page