• Organisation name change to better reflect the work of federations
• Rotating presidency will help to heal divisions between small and large federations
• Outsiders still complain of ‘hidden agendas’
Landmark changes are coming to SportAccord, including a possible name change and rotation of the presidency.
President Patrick Baumann, a rising star in the Olympic world who was recently appointed chair of the IOC’s 2024 Olympics evaluation commission, has been at the helm of the umbrella association of international federations for one year.
At SportAccord Convention in Aarhus, Denmark, he will seek to put his stamp on the presidency and transform an ailing organisation into one with better structures and a more meaningful purpose. There are signs that the body championing the rights of Olympic and non-Olympic federations is back on course after hitting troubled waters after Marius Vizer’s bitter attack on the IOC at the Sochi SportAccord Convention two years ago sparked a mass exodus of federations who refused to join the Vizer rebellion and sided with Thomas Bach.
Juggling his SportAccord responsibilities with his IOC functions and role as secretary general of the International Basketball Federation (Fiba), Baumann admits that the progress of reforms to the organisation have taken more time than he hoped, but he is happy with what has been achieved.
The first fruits of months of internal discussions by the nine-member SportAccord Council, who represent all stakeholder groups, surfaced in March. An eight-page document detailing proposed amendments to the organisation’s statutes was circulated to the membership of around 120 federations and sports bodies. They will be debated and put to a vote at SportAccord’s general assembly on April 7.
PICTURE: Patrick Baumann
Back to GAISF
After confusion over the differences between SportAccord and the annual convention of the same name since former president Hein Verbruggen introduced the branding in 2009, Baumann has gone back to the past to give the organisation a new moniker. He wants it to be called the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) to better reflect the work of the federations. The organisation was previously known as GAISF, firstly as the General Assembly of International Sports Federations and then, from 1976 to 2009, as the General Association of International Sports Federations.
Baumann says that scrapping the name and bringing in GAISF branding will distinguish the products, allowing the SportAccord tag to be used for the convention and potentially as a brand to deliver revenues, sponsorship and other funding to stage multi-sport events.
Rotation of the presidency among SportAccord’s respective umbrella organisations and two-year term limits are also up for discussion in Aarhus. When the Swiss IOC member relinquishes the job in 2020, the plan is that the organisation will be run by first the Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations (ARISF) from 2020 to 2022 followed by a president from the Association of International Olympic Winter Federations (AIOWF) from 2022 to 2024. The Alliance of Independent Members of Sport (AIMS) would hold the presidency for the next cycle before it returns to the summer Olympic federations body, ASOIF, from 2026 to 2028.
The revised statutes acknowledge the past rifts in the membership that were created by opening the position of the presidency to any fully paid-up member. Experience, the statutes say, “has indicated that this process may lead to intense debates dividing the membership, creating instability for the organisation in terms of mission, vision and objectives and alienating the support of other key stakeholders.”
SportAccord’s leaders believe “it would be more pragmatic and democratic to install a rotation system amongst the respective stakeholders/umbrella organisations.”
“It is an organisation that has to not become a political organisation in the sense that it is going to suddenly want to challenge other stakeholders in the sports world or create divisions within the groupings that exist,” Baumann says, a nod to Vizer’s outspoken tirade against the IOC that rocked the Olympic Movement.
Under ongoing efforts to unite the federations, the Fiba chief says it is “fair and correct” that the organisation is not always run by Olympic sports, but that non-Olympic bodies get their chance at the helm.
“The idea is to make sure that these divisions don’t happen anymore, that we concentrate on things that are important for international federations like ensuring smaller ones coming in get better and better and go to the pinnacle one day… and being recognised by the IOC and maybe becoming part of the Olympic programme,” he explains.
Initial feedback to the reforms suggests that the revised statutes may not be greeted with too much opposition.
Raffaele Chiulli, vice-president of SportAccord and head of ARISF, has played a key role in developing the amendments and believes they will stabilise the organisation.
He agrees that a rotating presidency will help to heal the divisions – the financial gulf and tensions between smaller and larger, Olympic and non-Olympic federations – that have existed under Verbruggen and Vizer. “I am convinced that the proposal will certainly strengthen the unity of the organisation,” Chiulli says.
PICTURE: Raffaele Chiulli (centre)
The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) is also supportive of the revamp. “The FIG values the endeavours of SportAccord to renew its organisation and generally welcomes the proposed changes,” secretary general André Gueisbuhler says.
Matt Smith, executive director of World Rowing (Fisa), tells SportBusiness International: “Fisa is satisfied with the direction that Patrick and the council are moving and feel that the issues of the past are behind us. We want to actively support Patrick in forming the new direction of SportAccord… GAISF.”
One key aspect of the reforms is likely to stir considerable discussion at the AGM and serves as Baumann’s biggest challenge in the second year of his tenure – membership issues.
World Rowing has not returned to the fold after withdrawing in the fall-out from the Vizer controversy. However, Smith says that the Fisa Council has decided to re-start its membership at Baumann’s request, “so we will soon be a full member again.” He adds: “We understand that the SportAccord Council will simply re-activate their long-time member, Fisa.”
The IAAF still remains on the outside looking in, busy in the past year dealing with the Russian doping scandal and corruption in the sport whilst waiting to see what the benefits are of Baumann’s new strategy.
“We are following closely the developments in SportAccord and we will contribute to the events in the coming Convention, where the IAAF will attend with the president and the chief executive officer,” an IAAF spokesman says. “However, at this stage there is not a specific reason for the IAAF to re-think the position and formally re-join SportAccord.” The track-and-field body will review its position later in the year.
However, bringing the world athletics body back into the fold is the least of SportAccord’s problems.
Controversial proposals to shake-up the membership process are not finding favour among some of the federations trying to join. Arm wrestling, poker and rugby league missed out last year and are understandably frustrated after being told they won’t be allowed to become members in Aarhus. Concerns have been voiced about the transparency of the recognition process among the 29 international federations knocking at SportAccord’s door.
Baumann “appreciates” the work of the trio of bidders in trying to comply with admission rules, but adds: “The criteria that SportAccord has in its statutes are very strict. So, we can’t just close one eye and one ear and move ahead with them. The reality is that unfortunately they are not at the end of that process.”
The Rugby League International Federation and International Federation of Poker remain upbeat. Both sent executives to Lausanne in March to hold discussions with SportAccord chiefs about the new membership structure.
Danny Kazandjian, general manager of the Rugby League European Federation, describes the visit as a “positive engagement” whilst adding that becoming a member is a “strategic imperative.”
“The requirements that the sport needs to meet SportAccord regulations were discussed openly,” says Kazandjian, adding that solutions are being sought to achieving government recognition of some national federations, a move that is closely linked to SportAccord recognition.
Patrick Nally, president of the International Federation of Poker, is ready to collaborate – and makes a compelling case for his sport, while highlighting the challenges in adding members to the union of federations.
“The world has changed. We now have technology, digital, we now have young people not watching television but watching esports and other activities, social media,” he says. “To be relevant, sports have to adapt. New sports are appearing, therefore new recognitions are needed and because SportAccord has been through this complete turmoil, there does need to be a clarity of how the international sports world responds to all these challenges of transparency, integrity, match-fixing, recognition, digital technology, young people… maybe different combined games.”
Citing SportAccord’s Mind Sports Games and Combat Games, he believes there is plenty of scope “for other multi-sports events than just the Olympics, because times have changed and hosting events has become more and more expensive, so hosting events that have good significance and different audiences is very important.”
Nally says that “a properly structured, reorganised SportAccord is required to help maintain that momentum of change, development and collaboration between non-Olympic and Olympic sports.”
In the revised statutes is a proposal to grant observer status to applicants “subject to there being no rivalry issues whatsoever,” allowing them to attend the annual meeting, while confirming their candidatures. This would help “accelerate their efforts to become a member of SportAccord and allow the administration to assist them in the process.”
PICTURE: Patrick Nally
Of the other 29 applications, Baumann underlines one of the key problems for non-members. “We need to be very cautious in rivalry matters. We are very allergic to that,” he says.
“But there are a number who are at the door and we need to service them. If we want to be the voice of sport, we need to bring in everyone that has a role in that world.”
While patience may be a virtue for arm wrestling, rugby league and poker, patience for other federations seeking access to SportAccord’s benefits is running out.
The International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) is one of those disgruntled about the acceptance process. CEO Densign White is “very frustrated.” He completed his federation’s application last August. However, he claims he did not hear anything from SportAccord for six months until he received a letter to say the application was incomplete, whilst failing to detail what changes were needed.
“For me it’s a completely unsatisfactory experience with SportAccord. It’s like the lights are on but no one is home,” he says. “The obvious agenda is to run the clock down and tell us at the last minute before congress that the application is not going forward. It demonstrates a lack of transparency.”
Asked if there might be hidden agendas at play, he says: “My understanding of the situation is we are being blocked by existing members of SportAccord, probably other combat sports.”
Acknowledging that executives had the right to block the IMMAF on the grounds of rivalry, he says the sport deserves not to be vilified as “just street fighting” and recognised for its rapid global growth. “They are afraid that if we get recognition it will be further detrimental to their sport.”
The IMMAF says that gaining recognition from SportAccord is vital so national federations around the world could get recognition at their local level and support from government ministries.
“More important is that we can regulate the sport,” he adds, speaking of improved safety rules and education for coaches, judges and referees. “We don’t belong to anybody. It’s a very precarious place to be for the sport. You will always have people trying to work outside the system.”
Baumann’s message to those federations worried about the recognition procedure is that SportAccord is “cleaning the whole process.” He adds: “We are making it very transparent.”
All 29 bidders will be invited to an information day in the summer, after which they will have individual meetings with SportAccord before some big decisions are made in the lead-up to 2018. Engagement and unity are the watchwords in year two for Baumann, who admits that his presidency isn’t about being “flashy” and adds: “It is not incredible things. But it is really getting back a team spirit.”