Governance | ASOIF encourages members to ask tough questions

  • Set of governance principles developed specifically for sports organisations
  • 17-page self-assessment questionnaire sent out to ASOIF members
  • ASOIF thinks majority of federations are already well-governed but fall down on culture

In the wake of corruption and doping scandals that engulfed Fifa and the IAAF, new governance models are now a top priority for sports administrators.

International federations are retooling themselves in a bid to prevent the problems that have afflicted the two global sports bodies. It’s a significant learning curve. The 28 summer Olympic federations are currently implementing changes to a greater or lesser degree to deal with weaknesses in their internal structures.

Over the past year, the Association of the Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) has pushed them in this direction. A governance task force created in November 2015 was mandated with helping the sports to promote and ensure a culture of good governance.

A set of governance principles were developed with indicators tailored to the specific characteristics and needs of sport organisations. Chaired by Francesco Ricci Bitti, president of ASOIF and SportAccord Convention, this new mechanism is designed to jointly evaluate the current status of each summer Olympic federation and regularly monitor progress. Last year’s ASOIF general assembly endorsed a paper on what the federations should be doing on good governance.

A 17-page self-assessment questionnaire went out to the federations with questions linked to 50 indicators of best-practice governance including transparency, ethics, doping, integrity, democratic rules for the appointment of federation leaders, sports development and solidarity, along with questions on financial checks and balances and control mechanisms. The 28 sports submitted responses by the deadline of the end of January.


ASOIF executive director Andrew Ryan underlines the crucial nature of the governance project in the aftermath of the scandals that rocked world sport. “For ASOIF and our members it remains of the highest priority. This is fundamental to the confidence that the public at large and the media have in sport,” he says.
Ryan notes a trend over the past 12 months. He says federations have “addressed a huge amount in their governance already”. In their self-evaluations, some federations have been “too tough” on themselves, some “a bit generous”.

Rowland Jack, founder of I Trust Sport, a sports governance and compliance company, has spent recent weeks analysing the responses and seeking clarifications from federations before deciding how to grade them. Several ASOIF task force members have had the final say on the scores. The interim report is presented at April’s ASOIF general assembly on the sidelines of SportAccord Convention in Aarhus in April.

While it has not named and shamed federations for the flaws and loopholes in their governance and day-to-day operations, Ryan says the report is highlighting, in general terms, “if there are common areas where they are weak and common areas where they are perhaps stronger”. It will “look at the whole position,” he says, and will plot the next steps.
This will set the benchmark for ASOIF’s work to “improve all the weak areas” in the governance of individual federations over the coming year. The bigger issues may require statute and constitution changes, which would need to be passed at the respective federation’s AGMs. A further assessment of the sports will be conducted in a year’s time to measure progress in their transition to better management against the new standards. ASOIF will then publish much more detailed results.

PICTURE: Fifa's Gianni Infantino


Despite the scandals that have ripped through Fifa and the IAAF, Ryan dismisses the suggestion that some summer federations are badly governed.

“No, I don’t think there are glaring failures,” he says. “I didn’t need the questionnaire to see this. As we looked generally at governance across the institutions, both at government level and corporate level, we realised that a huge amount of what the federations were doing was very, very strong in governance.

“The difficulty in the past was naivety. The international federations in many cases have not understood the importance of this area. They had a number of things in place that were very good but the bit that’s been missing is the culture of governance within these bodies.”

According to Ryan, Play the Game research in 2015 showed how federations are doing “a great deal of good work in setting correct things in paper terms”.

Perhaps surprisingly, Fifa came out top, partly due to reforms put in place after corruption scandals brought the federation to its knees and saw a series of ethics investigations into abuses of power bring down its leaders Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke. Fifa’s problems went a lot deeper, not least the way it was financially mismanaged.

“What we are looking at is how embedded in the culture of international federations is the concept of good governance,” Ryan says.

“So this is a big difference from publishing your accounts on your website. This about looking deeply to see what education is provided for staff, for newly-elected officials, to ensure that they are aware of the issues and conform to all the rules.”

PICTURE: Fifa's Fatma Samoura


One year on from Fifa’s extraordinary congress which approved a package of reforms and elected Gianni Infantino as Blatter’s replacement, world football’s governing body is trumpeting its achievements in righting some of the wrongs of the past to help re-establish trust in the body.

It led to restructuring of the Fifa Council – now with 36 members plus the president – and a clear separation between its strategic powers and the affairs of the general secretariat which is handling management and executive functions. Other notable changes include the appointment of Fatma Samoura as Fifa’s first female secretary general, disclosure of the annual compensation of senior management, naming of a chief compliance officer and dedicated chief women’s football officer and unveiling of Infantino’s ‘Fifa 2.0: The Vision for the Future’. The Fifa Forward Programme, meanwhile, aims to more than triple development funding for its 211 member associations over a four-year cycle.

“There is still much to be done. This is just the beginning. What we did was to set up a framework… what I firmly believe is a solid one for FIFA to operate in for years to come,” Infantino said in a Fifa statement published ahead of this spring’s congress.


Questioning of other ASOIF members reveals, more than ever, how desperate they are to raise perceptions about the way they are managed from top to bottom.

International Cycling Union president Brian Cookson says: “In the past three-and-a-half years, we have transformed the UCI’s governance by implementing a comprehensive reform to our constitution, including a three-term limit for the UCI president and strict procedure rules to ensure the fairness of the presidential election.

“We have also adopted a robust new code of ethics fully in line with international best practice, with an ethics commission made up of a majority of respected individuals from outside the world of cycling.”

Fernando Lima, secretary general of the International Volleyball Federation (FIVB), says that promoting and upholding the highest standards of good governance “is a key priority”.

Lima adds: “It is vital that our athletes, fans and the whole volleyball family have complete confidence and trust in our sport and its management. The FIVB is committed to ensuring volleyball remains credible and resolute on protecting its integrity.”

To this end, the FIVB board approved last year a series of procedural checks and balances to ensure a higher level of transparency and financial control over the federation’s projects and investments. The FIVB is also in the process of implementing the Olympic Movement Code on the Prevention of the Manipulation of Competitions, while it vows to evaluate and implement reforms that emerge from ASOIF’s governance project.


In the equestrian world, FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibanez claims the federation has been “at the forefront of sports governance for the last 10 years, proactively initiating clear channels of communication and transparency across our network of stakeholders and constituents”.

Ibanez explains: “Like other IFs, we use the ASOIF self-assessment tool as an evaluation instrument to identify areas we can improve… and we see development of our governance as a continuing mission.

“Part of our major reforms is ensuring that we communicate openly and transparently through simple, user-friendly channels. We consistently benchmark ourselves against other sports governing bodies and are happy to share best practices with other federations.”

The International Triathlon Union is also raising its game in a number of areas. In 2015, the ITU introduced an independent arbitration tribunal to review disciplinary issues. Last year, the executive board introduced an ethics code, enhanced gender-balance terms to its ruling body and committees, and recommended term limits that were approved at the annual congress in December. The federation has also created a “governance” section on its website that provides documents covering areas such as ITU finances and policy information.

“The ITU will continue to be proactive about strong governance and transparency,” ITU president Marisol Casado, who was re-elected to a third term in office in December, says. “We are committed to ensuring triathlon remains a sport that offers an environment of fair play and clear policies.”

ASOIF members are expected to endorse the interim governance report at the Aarhus assembly to trigger the next stage of the initiative.

“There will be no great revolution. This is an ongoing piece of very important work that actually will never stop,” Ryan says.

“It’s something which has to be worked on constantly. The main reason for this is that the goalposts tend to move. What is considered good governance in today’s context is not necessarily good governance in tomorrow’s.”

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