“The question is no longer whether or not an institution is needed to regulate sport, the urgency is to determine the modalities”

The searches and complaints aimed at the preparation of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games come at a time when most major sporting events of the last two decades have been or are the subject of legal proceedings linked to acts of corruption. Let’s see the glass half full: for once, it is upstream, a year before the Games, that the legal actions are taken.

Let us also be pleased that the control systems are functioning and are not prevented from carrying out their missions. The reports from the Court of Auditors, which regularly point out the risks of slippage, also demonstrate welcome vigilance.

When it comes to closing several thousand contracts in a relatively short period of time, there is no such thing as zero risk. The purpose of the control system is precisely to put in place strict rules and to report detected violations to the competent authorities, so that they can investigate and prosecute violations if necessary.

Any interference prohibited

But these procedures reflect French legislation equipped in the fight against corruption which only applies because the Games will take place in France. So why wouldn’t the sports movement impose such high ethical standards and uniform rules of integrity for all major international sporting events, wherever they take place in the world?

To date, the international sports movement, led by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), takes refuge behind its concept of“autonomy of sport” to prohibit any government interference in sporting affairs and thus self-regulate without external control. It was the meaning of Thomas Bach’s speechthen new president of the IOC, ten years ago at the United Nations platform, when, following the various corruption scandals that had splashed sport, he called for a “responsible autonomy”namely respect for the principles of good governance in exchange for this freedom in the management of sports affairs.

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As surprising as it may seem, the global regulation of sport is ensured by an ecosystem of private organizations, in which the IOC and the international federations themselves dictate the rules to which they intend to comply. And only some of them delegate control of compliance with these rules to organizations that they create and whose degree of independence and real sanctioning powers vary extremely.

If these initiatives, following the example of discussions with certain international public organizationshave the merit of explicitly recognizing the existence of the problem, none lives up to the urgency and importance of standardizing the governance of international sport, monitoring practices within institutions but also guiding mega events sports towards a more durable and more protective model for athletes, as suggested by a recent UN report.

Abuse, violence, match fixing

The debates surrounding the allocation of major sporting events and all of the contracts linked to their operation (sponsorship, media rights, etc.), the multiple cases of abuse and violence against athletes and even match cases faked must not be uncorrelated. Together, they attest to the need for binding regulation of international sport.

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Because behind the tree of legal cases hides the forest of political collusions and other conflicts of interest which are the daily life of world sport. The billions of euros in revenues from major competitions flow into this pyramid of federal sport, where public money is also injected to host the competitions but in the total absence of uniform rules in terms of integrity and any control. externally by a specialized and truly independent authority.

More and more federations such as athletics, tennis and swimming, or states, such as Australia and Finland, are tending to create structures dedicated to the control of integrity in sport; but none is intended to regulate the entire sporting world at the international level.

It therefore becomes necessary for public authorities, the ultimate guarantors of public order and the general interest, to take up their responsibility and initiate a structural reform of the regulation of world sport, as they were able to do during the creation in 1999 of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), whose hybrid public-private governance could serve as a model.

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Although numerous proposals have been made in this direction over the last twenty years, two initiatives have recently relaunched this debate.

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The first comes from the European Parliament, where a German MP proposes creating a Independent global anti-corruption agency.

Another comes from the Danish NGO Play the Game, which published a report in June defending the creation of a Global Agency Against Corruption and Crime in Sport.

An independent sanction system

But the question is no longer whether or not an institution is needed to regulate sport, the urgency is to determine the modalities: What mandate? What funding? What structure? It is eminently desirable that the mandate of this institution aims to cover the integrity of sport as a whole, both the integrity of competitions, the integrity and safety of athletes and finally institutional integrity.

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But it is also important that this mandate is not purely repressive and covers as a priority the establishment of a code establishing the rules of conduct intended to apply to all players in the sporting world, but also the missions of prevention (awareness, education and assistance with compliance), detection (monitoring, risk analysis, receipt of complaints), investigation and an effective and independent sanction system.

This structure should benefit from three forms of independence:

– statutory independence first of all, by enjoying its own legal personality;

– financial independence then, on the basis of multi-party contributions (States, private sports organizations, sponsors, organizers of events in particular, seizure of the proceeds of sanctioned offenses);

– strategic independence through the supervision of a governance council whose members would have no interest in private sports organizations.

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Ultimately, only a sufficiently independent and powerful structure will be able to guarantee compliance with the best standards of governance and integrity within the sector and force sports stakeholders to be accountable for their management. It must serve as a horizon and ultimate reference in the transition of international sport.

At a time when States are engaging in “sports diplomacy” and where most international public organizations are aligned with the need for international regulation of the sector, France has a role to play in finally bringing international sports governance into the 21st century.e century.

Frédérique Reynertz is Managing Director of FRConsulting, Assistant Professor in Sports Governance, Law and Economics.

Pim Verschuuren is a lecturer at Rennes-II University.

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