David Owen

The structural issue with International Sports Federations (IFs) is that Presidents are elected, which means their first priority will be re-election, which often means it becomes the organisational priority.”

This opinion was posted on social media this week by a former journalist, turned national governing body official, for whom I have much respect.

Even so, I must admit, my initial instinct was to retort with that evergreen Winston Churchill chestnut: “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” 

A much better response is to acknowledge the logical coherence of the first quote and think about how we might address the issue it outlines.

Unusually for subjects of this type, a very simple response presents itself: we could render re-election impossible by restricting Presidents of all international sports bodies, not just IFs, to a single term.

Oh, I can hear aghast sports officials cry, but that would consign us all to a world of perpetual campaigning, in which time and money would be wasted on internal bickering, not focused on the important issues.

Could sporting Presidents be limited to a single eight-year term? ©Getty Images
Could sporting Presidents be limited to a single eight-year term? ©Getty Images

For this reason, I would combine the "one term only" reform with a doubling from four to eight years of the standard term for sports body Presidents.

This ought also to deal with the complaint that a single-term limit does not allow a leader enough time to achieve anything of substance.

Of course, resourceful leaders tend to find ways around even clear-cut rules.

I seem to remember Vladimir Putin was at one point technically barred from serving more than two consecutive terms as President of Russia.

Yet this has not stopped him to all intents and purposes running the show for the past 20 years – and counting.

So if the reform is to have its desired effect, you might need to introduce another rule banning past Presidents of sports bodies from serving again in high office at the same organisation.

It is also now crystal clear that improved transparency is a minimum requirement for adequate governance, not an end in itself.

Now that all Summer Olympic IFs have been convinced, one way or another, to publish their accounts, the next step should be to set up an independent financial watchdog, modelled to an extent on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in the legal realm and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in anti-doping.

International sports bodies should have an obligation to send audited accounts for scrutiny by this body within six months of completion of the financial year in question, and to publish them within nine.

The new watchdog should be empowered to summon top sports body representatives to explain any questionable entries, and generally to fulfil the same sort of oversight role as those undertaken by the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in British public life.

An international financial watchdog could probe questionable entries in the accounts of IFs ©Getty Images
An international financial watchdog could probe questionable entries in the accounts of IFs ©Getty Images

The watchdog should also be encouraged to use benchmarking techniques, where appropriate, to compare relative performance between bodies and encourage the spread of best practice.

Another route to better governance would be to insist that a minimum 33 per cent of those sitting on international sports bodies' main strategic decision-making councils be independent outsiders.

By this I mean that they not be officers of national bodies lower down the sport's administrative pyramid.

These independent voices would be expected to act like good non-executive directors in commercial enterprises, adding non-sport-specific perspective and, where relevant, sharing the benefit of their experiences.

It is very important that these appointments be short-term in nature – at most four years and, again, not renewable – so as to minimise the risk of these first-stage guardians gradually losing the element of detachment that makes them effective.

Departure dates should also be staggered so that not all "non-execs" end up being replaced at once.

There seems no reason, however, why a good independent outsider should not go on and sit on the strategic council of a different sports body, once their initial term of office has expired.

Indeed, the new watchdog might usefully curate a list of approved non-execs, much as various lists of arbitrators can be consulted on the CAS website.

At least one, and preferably two, current athletes should also sit on the main strategic councils of every international sports body.  

To recapitulate: publication of audited accounts is not the end of the road to adequate governance; it is not even the beginning of the end; but it may be the end of the beginning.

The Bobby Moore statue at Wembley Stadium ©Getty Images
The Bobby Moore statue at Wembley Stadium ©Getty Images

• You may have noticed that we have been talking a lot about statues this week in Britain.

This follows an incident in which the statue of a now divisive local figure was torn down and dumped in the river in the normally rather demure and placid city where I came of age.

Could it be that such quasi-permanent artefacts are en-route to becoming obsolete in our polarised, fast-changing, fast-fragmenting societies in which, seemingly, everybody's opinion is equally valid and equally accessible?

Actually, there is one area in which this old-fashioned, indeed Classical, way of commemorating noteworthy lives remains all the rage: popular culture, including sport.

Perhaps it should be a point of reassurance for the sector at this time of crisis that its heroes, along with cultural icons such as Eric Morecambe and John Lennon, can still be immortalised in this way without undue controversy.

Put it this way: it will be a long time, I fancy, before a mob, raging or otherwise, converges on Wembley Stadium with the aim of toppling England World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore from his imposing plinth.