In February 2017, Sports Shorts looked at the EU angle on sports governance, particularly the European Parliament’s Resolution on an “integrated approach to Sport Policy: good governance, accessibility and integrity”. That resolution included a call upon EU member stated to introduce governance conditions on funding, similar to those contained in UK Sport and Sport England’s Code for Sports Governance. In the last week, there have been further developments on sports governance in Europe, as the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (“PACE”), unanimously adopted a draft resolution based on the report “Working towards a framework for modern sports governance”.

The 24-page draft resolution (“DR”) opens with a stark statement that “the crisis in confidence seems nowhere near the end” to the extent that “the sport movement cannot be left to resolve its failures alone”. The DR expressly “upholds the importance for sports to enjoy autonomy; yet autonomy triggers responsibility and should be allowed to flourish only where there is good governance in practice”. Key points in the DR include:

  • calls upon specific governing bodies to take action, including calling upon the IOC to bring its Basic Universal Principles of Good Governance within the mandate of its Agenda 2020 by bringing them in line with the ASOIF Key Governance Principles and Basic Indicators.
  • ASOIF is also urged to publish detailed data on the assessment of all its indicators and the results of the self-evaluation process undertaken by its member federations, following an announcement earlier this year that it planned to create a governance compliance certification system.
  • The DR calls for a “solid set of harmonised good governance criteria, which should be elaborated through the system of a globally recognised and indisputable standardisation body such as the International Standards Organisation (ISO), by creating an ISO certification standard on governance of sports organisations”.
  • Proposals for the creation of a Council of Europe Convention on Good Governance in Sport.
  • An expression of regret that “there is little co-ordinated parliamentary action or international parliamentary partnership that would allow parliamentarians to have a credible stakeholder voice in the current debate on sports governance and integrity outside the scope of individual reports. To this end, [PACE] resolves to consider setting up a Parliamentary Alliance for Good Governance and Integrity in Sport with the aim of bringing together national parliaments and international parliamentary bodies around a meaningful discussion on sports governance and integrity issues.”

In order to understand the potential implications of the DR for sport and sporting autonomy, it is worth briefly rehearsing the role of the Council of Europe and PACE itself. The Council of Europe (“COE”) is the 47-state organisation in the continent of Europe (including 28 EU member states) dedicated to monitoring and upholding human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In particular, it was responsible for the European Convention on Human Rights and oversees its implementation in the 47 member states. PACE is the parliamentary arm of the COE, consisting of 324 members of parliament from the 47 COE member states. PACE exists to provide a democratic forum for debate and its various committees (which include the Committee For Culture, Science, Education and Media, from which the report underlying the DR originated) are tasked with examining current issues. PACE meets four times a year for week-long plenary sessions in Strasbourg, and is empowered to adopt Recommendations (which are addressed to the COE’s decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers), Resolutions (expressions of its own viewpoint), and Opinions (e.g. on membership applications, draft treaties etc.).

As a draft resolution, the DR, is at this stage only a draft of PACE’s own opinion. It will be debated at PACE’s next plenary session in late January 2018. However, the DR (and the fact that it was adopted unanimously) certainly speaks to the political climate in the area of sports governance and alludes to the potential for a change in the approach of national governments. Whether this would see more than just conditions imposed upon receipt of state funding (as per the UK Code) remains to be seen. But, regardless, the language of the DR will have caught the attention of world governing bodies, (particularly the IOC) whose constitutions, charters and regulations are premised on the concept of sporting autonomy, key to which is the absence of government/legislative interference in sport. Indeed, the IOC (as well as other world governing bodies, such as FIFA) have, on a number of occasions, suspended the national associations and committees in countries which have sought to legislate on the matter of governance in sport. The potential for governments to act in this area en masse may cause a shift in the approach to sporting autonomy and the January 2018 plenary session, and its aftermath, will therefore be watched with interest.