An ongoing study of sporting federations finds that FINA ranks near the bottom of all sports federations in terms of good governance principles.
The study is being conducted by Play The Game, which describes itself as “an international conference and communication initiative aiming to strengthen the ethical foundation of sport and promote democracy, transparency and freedom of expression in sport.”
In other words, it’s an oversight group that observes national and international sport.
Early returns not pretty for FINA
Play The Game and Belgium’s University of Leuven created a measurement tool for sporting institutions called the Sports Governance Observer, which highlights 38 different “indicators” of good or bad governance in sport. The indicators fall into four categories: Transparency & public communication, Democratic processes, Checks & balances and Solidarity.
So far, Play the Game has evaluated sporting federations on 6 of the 38 categories, and will continue moving forward with the other 32 evaluations. But earlier this month, they released an update of the study’s early results – and those results were not complimentary of FINA, the international swimming federation.
Play The Game ranks FINA among the lowest-scoring federations, alongside the federations of boxing, volleyball, canoe and biathlon.
The Sports Governance Observer does include a disclaimer along with their early results, noting that “the Sports Governance Observer and its indicators do not say anything about how corrupt or mismanaged an organisation is. In principle, a very low scoring organisation could be clean-cut, while a high scoring organisation may be sinking in a swamp of corruption.”
FIFA, UCI among top-scoring federations
The top-scoring federations are also a bit head-scratching in some cases. Most notably, FIFA, the international soccer federation, and UCI, which governs cycling, are near the top.
FIFA has been all over the news lately, with allegations of corruption leveled at the institution and its president, Sepp Blatter. But the study organizers say that exposure of corruption may have kickstarted reforms that helped FIFA score higher in this particular study.
“FIFA and UCI have taken some modest but good steps in the right direction, which is reflected in the scores,” says University of Leuven senior research fellow Arnout Geeraert in the study results piece. “Secondly, FIFA is a huge global organisation, and organisations of that size really need state-of-the-art governance structures because the risks are higher.”
Changes to age limits could hurt FINA’s rank further
A few of the factors the study noted in its early results:
- Weak or non-existent audit committees
- Weak or non-existent ethics committees
- No terms limits or age limits on leadership
- Regular and frequent general assemblies
- Insufficient transparency
That third point could be an area of contention for FINA in the near future. Current president Julio Maglione would be ineligible to serve another term based on current FINA rules regarding both age limits and term limits, but he spoke out earlier this year in favor of abolishing those limits.
Just last week, Maglione gained an endorsement from UANA (the combined swimming union of North and South America) to run for a third term, and he now has the support of all the major continental federations, though the age limits would still have to be abolished.
His vice president, Dale Neuberger, was also elected to remain in his role, meaning the same two people could remain at the head of FINA through 2021.
Play The Game included this description of their ‘term limits’ category in the study results, again quoting study organizer Arnout Geeraert:
“With seniority comes power. We know that people who hold office have a higher chance of being re-elected, but if it is for sure that a certain person will be re-elected, there is a risk that the members of the organisation will lose interest in the democratic processes and the senior officials will lose touch with their own voters,” Geeraert argues.
The lack of term limits has led to a number of presidents sitting in office for many years. In 2013, a the final report from the AGGIS project leading up to the Sports Governance Observer showed that all of the presidents of the international Olympic sports federations had been in office for no less than 14 years on average.
Geeraert also points out Blatter’s 17 years as the head of FIFA as one example of long leadership terms leading to an imbalance of power at the top.