Sport: Reconciling prosperity with political and financial independence

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

The main challenge for sports authorities is to reconcile prosperity with political and financial independence, writes Vincent Chaudel, director of sport at Ineum Consulting and vice-president of French think-tank Sport et Citoyenneté, in a December paper.

"The Old Continent is the cradle of the world sport movement, of its organisation and its model of governance. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, each sport tried to organise itself by federating the different actors at national level, then by bringing together all the nations at the continental and world levels, usually through a confederative model. 

At the same time, the national and international sports movement has always tried to maintain its independence from the private and public spheres. Thus it developed an original answer while creating a model of governance based on the volunteering of governing board, the amateurism of practitioners and the sharing of responsibilities between national (federal) and international (confederation) scale. 

On a political level the model has proved to be successful, but economic globalisation has considerably increased the interest of the business world towards the sport phenomenon. 

From a business angle, the confederative model is made up of entities with a very strong level of autonomy, for they can even own a veto right upon central decisions. The rhythm of decisions can be slow and there exists a risk of divergence. It is difficult to achieve a 'mutualisation' of resources and energies. This model proves to be limited when transversal initiatives have to be implemented (financial regulation, the fight against doping). 

Across the Atlantic, sport has been built on a federative approach. The federal level is in charge of controlling mutualised elements of the activity (talent and TV rights repartitions), providing services linked to coordination (management style) and monitoring franchises – which are responsible for guaranteeing interaction with [the] final customer. The last ones focus on aspects that will provide them differentiation but also on local business (brand territory, local deals). The efficiency of the system relies on the quality of global coordination as well as respect of the rules implemented at a federal level. 

Over a century, the sport movement has managed to handle its political independence but the success of its expansion has generated a real economic dependence. 

Of course it seems inconceivable to come back to basics (amateurism, volunteering), but the sports movement needs to remain attractive to business and at the same time safeguard its independence. How? Confederation should be able to impose its orientations to confederates. Decisions would be then faster and have coordinated operational results. The political level can help the sport movement to do so while defining the adapted legal framework. 

Confederation should produce a sustained piloting effort – while guaranteeing the total independence of the confederates, who should be kept out of day-to-day management, but must be able to judge and sanction the governing board – so that general interest always prevails over special adaptations. 

Finally, the sports movement has to reconcile two notions that are sometimes opposed: uncertainty of results and return on investment. 

The American closed league seems to manage to do so but Europe finds it more than difficult to accept this model. With such strong and independent daily governance, the pattern below is qualified as 'monarchic' in an entrepreneurial universe. The key to success mainly relies in the choice of the 'monarch' and a kind of submission of its subjects. Is this the only issue? Maybe not. There appears to be a hybrid alternative between the pyramidal system and the one of franchises: club licensing (cf. UEFA) or the recognition of the 'firm structure' for 'professional' clubs." 

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