David Owen ©ITG

"Good governance and autonomy are strongly linked; they are two sides of the same coin.” This maxim, taken from the background document to the Olympic Agenda 2020 proposals approved almost exactly a year ago by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Monaco, encapsulates why 2015 has been such a disastrous year for advocates of maximum autonomy for sports organisations.

The hugely damaging crises afflicting both FIFA and the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), two of the most prestigious and important International Sports Federations, threaten to set the cause of sporting autonomy back several years, if not sweep it off the international agenda altogether.

So it was not surprising that the IOC top brass, meeting last week in Lausanne, should have decided that the time had come for strong words and strong action.

Much of the immediate focus, understandably, will be on what the IOC had to say in the Olympic capital on making the anti-doping system independent of sports organisations by early 2018. However, the hardening of the leadership’s line on financial transparency is just as striking and is likely to yield faster results.

Here, in place of the vagueness and motherhood and apple pie feel of Agenda 2020, comes a firm “proposal”, though it is worded like a directive: “The basic principles of good governance, including transparent and democratic decision making processes, financial reporting and auditing according to international standards, publication of financial reports and ethics and compliance rules, etc. to be applied during 2016.” That is to say from less than three weeks’ time.

It is true that the IOC may need to be prepared to back up its tough words with sanctions if it is to secure universal compliance with this new stance; true too that if the ever-restless media spotlight drifts elsewhere, taking the pressure off, then Olympic leaders may likewise be tempted to drift back to a more lenient enforcement policy.

Crises at federations such as FIFA have been hugely damaging for sport
Crises at federations such as FIFA have been hugely damaging for sport ©Getty Images

But equally, with the Olympic sport programme in a state of flux and many International Federations utterly dependent on the handouts of cold hard cash they receive as a consequence of their participation in the Olympic Games, there is no shortage of pressure-points that the IOC can bring to bear should it so choose.

So how far are we away now from good governance nirvana? This month, insidethegames has been attempting to ascertain what proportion of the 28 current Summer Olympic International Federations have already set off along the path to this blissful state, to the extent of publishing annual audited financial accounts on their respective websites. What emerged was a very mixed picture.

As a result of this exclusive piece of research, insidethegames has established that, with certain caveats, around half of Summer Olympic International Federations  already publish their accounts each year.

To avoid a surfeit of Federations and a jumble of alphabet soup, I will list them by sport: archery, badminton, cycling, equestrian, fencing, football, hockey, rowing, rugby, sailing, table tennis, tennis, weightlifting and wrestling.

I have to say, this is rather more than I was expecting. Then again, there is a simple reason for that: often accounts are posted in such obscure places that you would struggle to find them without the sort of expert assistance we journalists can appeal to when necessary. 

Indeed, one sport – table tennis – acted immediately and most commendably to post its accounts much more prominently after receiving our request for the information.

In the case of two International Federations, equestrian and hockey, the figures I was directed to appeared not to include the Notes that generally flesh out the basic data in a given set of accounts and often contain glittering nuggets of information. Indeed, equestrian confirmed that more detailed accounts were provided to stakeholders, but were not available publicly.

Wrestling told me that the information I required was available on a previous website that appeared to be redirecting traffic to the sport’s new homepage, but was helpful enough to ask what particular portion of the accounts I was interested in.

Fencing publishes its accounts in French and has recently changed its financial year-end from June to December. This means, in effect, that its 2014 financial year was only six months long.

Incidentally, in case you were wondering, this is more than a rather recondite journalistic exercise. Once all 28 sets of accounts are available – presumably, now, after 2016 – it will be much easier for everybody to compare International Federation spending on everything from staff to anti-doping programmes, as well as income from, say, broadcasting and sponsorship. This should, in turn, help the IOC to propagate best practice.

To offer just the most basic example of how such benchmarking might clarify comparisons between individual sports, here is a table I have drawn up of 2013 income received by 12 Summer Olympic International Federations. (I have converted the reporting currency to US dollars where necessary.)

Sport/IF2013 Income ($)
1Football1 386 000 000
2Tennis57 828 000
3Equestrian49 627 634
4Cycling37 516 321
5Rugby13 349 270
6Badminton12 550 468
7Table tennis10 917 933
8Hockey9 278 338
9Rowing9 002 940
10Weightlifting4 071 263
11Sailing4 047 248
12Archery3 975 682

These figures do illustrate the shortcomings, as well as the benefits, of such blunt comparisons: in a Rugby World Cup year, World Rugby’s income runs into hundreds of millions of dollars. But then, league tables in any field require intelligent interpretation. 

One further point: the presence of football, ie FIFA, among the International Federations which already make audited annual accounts available – indeed, I would argue that FIFA is probably the most transparent of all International Federations in this regard – might cause cynics to conclude that financial transparency has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of governance.

I would say that is an unwarrantedly pessimistic conclusion to draw. What it does suggest, however, is that financial transparency is no panacea, but rather a minimum requirement for the most prominent sports bodies, given the sheer quantity of money that now gushes into the sector.

The International Boxing Association posts its accounts every four years ©Getty Images
The International Boxing Association posts its accounts every four years ©Getty Images

What about the rest of the Summer Olympic International Federations?

Well, the fairly positive news is that the proportion of them publishing annual audited financial statements was set to rise appreciably even before the IOC put its foot down last week. (I should emphasise at this point that our research was completed just before that IOC statement.)

Boxing told me it publishes its accounts every four years. In some ways it does make most sense to seek to analyse a governing bdoy's finances over the Olympic quadrennium - which is not the same as saying annual accounts are not necessary.

Triathlon said its board had just voted to include “several governance documents” on its website. “By the end of the year, we will include the last four years’ audited annual financial reports.”

Taekwondo plans to make its annual auditor’s report available “in the future”.

Swimming, one of the biggies, will “publish it on our website after the audit”.

Basketball is “planning to do so as of the yearly results of 2016”.

When I asked judo, I was told: “All annual audited financial reports are officially presented to all our members during the Congress and approved by them at the same time. As you know, our members are the National Federations and the Continental Unions. Therefore that information is available for them.”

Several of the remaining International Federations appeared to adopt a similar stance.

Canoeing: “The [International Canoe Federation] has independently audited accounts every six months and these are published to our National Federations who make up our membership. It’s true that we do not publish these reports to the general public, but they are submitted as record to Swiss authorities each year.”

Shooting: “Currently, the [International Shooting Sport Federation] does not publish the annual financial report on its website. The financial report is distributed to the representatives of all ISSF Member Federations and to the ISSF Administrative Council members two months prior to each ISSF General Assembly according to article 1.6.5 of the ISSF constitution.

“The financial accounts are examined by the auditors, who give then a written report to the ISSF General Assembly (1.17.1 of the ISSF constitution). Furthermore, the ISSF secretary general reports about the financial status in each meeting of the ISSF Administrative Council (1.18.2 of the ISSF constitution).”

The International Canoeing Federation is one body which publishes accounts only to its members
The International Canoeing Federation is one body which publishes accounts only to its members ©Getty Images

Golf: “I am able to confirm that the [International Golf Federation] financial report is not made public. It is audited by PWC and is made available to all IGF member organisations but it is not shared with the public.”

Modern pentathlon: “We can confirm that [Union International de Pentathlon Moderne] does not publish its audited accounts in public either online or elsewhere.

"We do however share the information with our member National Federations.”

Handball in its reply focused on its obligations, rather than who exactly was given access to the information. “The [International Handball Federation] does not make its annual report and accounts publicly available,” I was told. “According to the law and our statutes we are not obliged to publish our figures.”

Gymnastics, another really major sport for the Olympics, said the accounts were “only available on the intranet”. I was, however, advised that I could find “some information” in certain Federation bulletins.

That leaves just two summer Olympic sports to account for.

One of the most interesting responses came from volleyball, which sent me a link to the body’s financial regulations (19 pages) and informed me that the Federation’s financial reports “are made available through the webcast of the [Federation’s] Congress, which is held every two years”. It went on: “With transparency and good governance one of its key goals, the [Federation] is currently investigating ways of improving this reporting process.”

A link to the relevant bit of the 2014 Congress was very helpfully supplied. This, to me, underlines the problem with making your membership the focus of your financial reporting, rather than the world at large – this is even though a sport’s National Associations have a more direct interest in the state of IF finances than just about anyone else.

Don’t get me wrong, the video clip, which incorporated slides alongside a spoken commentary was not lacking in information. I gleaned that the Federation made a loss of CHF1.85 million (£1.23 million/$1.88 million/€1.71 million) in 2012 and CHF5.5 million (£3.7 million/$5.6 million/€5.1 million) on income of some CHF61.6 million (£41.2 million/$62.7 million/€57.1 million) in 2013.

The IAAF are set to publish audited accounts next year
The IAAF are set to publish audited accounts next year ©Getty Images

Bar charts gave a reasonably detailed breakdown of the main income and expenses components, although the explanation of the annual losses – attributed mainly to “unrealised losses and the exchange difference linked to the reevaluation of the currencies against the Swiss franc” – seemed a trifle opaque.

The webcast I think demonstrates that an unchallenged verbal summary of two years in the financial life of a Federation, to an audience at least half-familiar with the episodes alluded to, raises as many questions as it answers, and is no substitute for a promptly-filed and full set of financial accounts.

If you have 17 minutes to spare, you can see if you agree with me by clicking here. I should say that the communications director offered to help with any questions, but that is not really the point: an opportunity to digest a full set of accounts would I am sure plug many of the gaps in my understanding.

Even so, making available this webcast is a great deal better than publishing no audited financial information at all.

Oh yes, athletics.

When I asked, back around the start of this year, for access to the IAAF’s latest annual financial report, I was informed that since its move from London in 1994, the governing body “is established under the laws of Monaco – see Article 1 of our constitution – and is not obliged and has never publicly published its audited accounts beyond its national members”.

I was also told that the annual accounts were “audited, in accordance with our constitution, and certified by Pricewaterhouse Coopers. The auditors deliver a report to IAAF Council on an annual basis. IAAF Congress, which is composed of the elected representatives of the 213 National Member Federations, is requested to approve the audited accounts when it meets every two years.

“A summary of the accounts are published in the official minutes of each Congress which are sent to all Member Federations, Council members, honorary life members and Committee and Commission chairpersons.”

I am happy to report that insidethegames has now been told that the IAAF is to publish audited accounts next year - a small but telling example of the change in attitudes that this quite extraordinary year in the out-of-arena affairs of international sports bodies has brought about.