Governance of European sport: A shared exercise

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

"We should remember that historically sport has nearly always been run by private law organisations," writes Colin Miège, an administrator at the French Interior Ministry and co-director of French think-tank Sport et Citoyenneté's  scientific committee. 

"Public authorities became interested in sport well after the inception of the sports movement, notably during the period before the war. This historical legitimacy gives the sports movement the right to claim an autonomy which no democratic state could challenge. The Council of Europe has adopted this principle of self-government and has continually helped member states to democratise their sports institutions, particularly since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 ('Sprint' programme). 

It is true that there have been many examples of excessive state interference in sport, to the extent of using sport for nationalistic and even belligerent ends, including during the recent past in Europe. In this respect the DDR represented the excess of state control over sport and a sad illustration of the errors which can result from this. 

Fortunately, the picture presented by European sport today is more balanced, with national institutions complementing a diversified sports movement on the organisational front with the public authorities responsible for sport, where coordination is ensured by procedures of consultation and various forms of cooperation. National forms of sports governance remain very diverse, and generally governments in southern Europe intervene in the sports sector more than in northern European countries, which favour a more liberal approach. 

However, we do not have all the answers to the question of autonomy in sport, particularly since the ECJ Bosman ruling in 1995, which was regarded by national and international sports organisations as an intrusion in their domain. Faced with the necessity of changing certain sports regulations which had been found to be contrary to EU law, part of the sports movement, led by football authorities, put forward a claim for a 'sporting exception' to EU law, or at the very least for recognition of a real 'specificity'. Since then, there have been a lot of political statements on sports 'specificities', without providing much detail. 

The Meca-Medina ruling in July 2006, in which the ECJ decided that "the fact that a rule has a purely sporting character does not mean that the person carrying out the activity or the body responsible for the rule falls outside the scope of the Treaty," reawakened the concern of the sports movement. This particularly involves EU competition law, which is applied on a case-by-case basis, thus fuelling a sense of legal insecurity. 

The implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon, in which Article 165 deals with sport, will finally allow the EU the competence to support, coordinate or supplement actions in this domain, and not, as hitherto, in an indirect way, while the EU court was too often called upon to regulate sport as a last resort. This is a step forward in response to the clear need for sports policy at the European level and for the treatment at this level of questions which go beyond the national framework, even if, according to the principle of subsidiarity, "sports organisations and member states have the prime responsibility for conducting sporting affairs". 

Therefore sports governance can only be shared between different actors, with the sports movement, its traditional role recognised and upheld by the state, in the forefront. This foremost position does not exempt the federations from respecting state rules, either national or supranational. In this respect, FIFA's insistence on the modification of the European norm in accordance with its demands is not the best example of a cooperative attitude. 

The legitimacy of the federations is founded on the satisfactory performance of their role in organising, promoting and monitoring, and on the defence of values such as fairness, solidarity and equal access to sport for everyone. The implementation of a system of licences within European professional football is an example of good governance in sport, with a federal initiative tending towards greater fairness and transparency. This is being encouraged by the European Commission, with respect for the prerogatives of the sporting authorities."

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