Liam Morgan

Richard Peterkin was never one to shy away from asking the tough questions during his time as an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member.

The Saint Lucian, whose term on the IOC came to an end in December, offered another welcome intervention following the publication of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations (ASOIF) "future of global sport" report last week.

"So the big question remains, what is ASOIF doing to curb or sanction those IF members that do not meet the "exemplary standard of governance" If the IOC sanctions an IF (AIBA)? Should ASOIF follow suit? Are they walking the walk?" Peterkin wrote in a post on Twitter.

It is the type of query which plenty of high-ranking officials - especially Peterkin's former colleagues at the IOC - often overlook and ignore, and was certainly worth asking.

Governance is a buzzword in the Olympic Movement these days, joining transparency and Agenda 2020 in the higher echelons of irritating phrases which emanate from officials and governing bodies on a regular basis.

Yet very few organisations hold IFs to account when it comes to their governance, defined as "the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented" by a regional United Nations commission in 2009.

Ignoring the crisis surrounding the International Boxing Association (AIBA), you do not need to look particularly hard to find examples of IFs demonstrating governance which calls both of those elements into question and would even raise an eyebrow among the most ardent of the offender's followers.

These range from the unethical to the downright immoral, from the unbelievable to the worryingly frequent.

Last year, the International Shooting Sport Federation (ISSF) was in the spotlight for its governance in the build-up to the Presidential election after the organisation banned vice-president Luciano Rossi for three years with little explanation.

Rossi's ban was eventually slashed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), meaning he could stand for President. The situation then took another turn when the Italian claimed he had received death threats from those within the body and was so fearful of his safety that he had a police escort at the Munich hotel where the vote was taking place.

The larger federations in the Olympic world, such as FIFA, also faced questions regarding their decision-making last year after a series of leaked documents purported to show President Gianni Infantino interfering with the organisation's supposedly independent Ethics Commission. Not a new accusation levelled at FIFA but a pertinent one nonetheless.

At the International Biathlon Union - now under new management - a criminal investigation focused on doping, fraud and corruption was opened into then President Anders Besseberg and former secretary general Nicole Resch. Both deny wrongdoing and the probe being conducted by Austrian investigators continues.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA), which governs a top-tier Olympic sport, also had its share of issues after entering a bitter and acrimonious dispute with independent event organiser the International Swimming League, culminating in the filing of anti-trust lawsuits and public criticism from a series of top swimmers, who were initially threatened with bans before FINA relaxed its position.

The International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) also did not cover itself in glory with the way it handled the Larry Nassar scandal, refusing to take action against USA Gymnastics despite repeated failures, instead shifting responsibility to the United States Olympic Committee, even though it clearly fell under their remit as the worldwide governing body.

The independence of the FIG Ethics Foundation has been questioned ©FIG
The independence of the FIG Ethics Foundation has been questioned ©FIG

In the lesser-explored world of handball, the International Handball Federation ignored a CAS verdict when it announced it would press ahead with plans to split one of its continental bodies, the Pan-American Team Handball Federation, in two.

There are other examples - yes, there are also demonstrations of IFs acting properly and efficiently - but the above is a snapshot of some of the issues the Olympic IFs have faced in recent years, many of which are their own doing.

More generally, there are obvious areas where they could all improve, such as term limits.

In a report released by ASOIF last year, which did highlight several improvements made by IFs, the organisation found that out of the 33 whose governance was analysed - the 28 Olympic sports plus the five added to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic programme - 17 did not have term limits for their key roles, such as President.

A total of 10 of the 28 core Summer Olympic IFs have Presidents who have been at the helm for a decade or longer. For the winter federations, three of the seven heads have been in charge for over 20 years.

The International Modern Pentathlon Union is the worst offender in this regard as President Klaus Schormann has been in his role for 26 years. That is a year longer than I have been alive.

Josef Fendt was first elected International Luge Federation President in 1994, a year when René Fasel was elevated to the same position at the International Ice Hockey Federation.

The controversial figure of Gian-Franco Kasper, currently the subject of resignation calls from athletes following comments he made about climate change, boasts 21 years at the top of the International Ski Federation tree.

FIL President Josef Fendt, left, has been at the helm of the governing body since 1994 ©Getty Images
FIL President Josef Fendt, left, has been at the helm of the governing body since 1994 ©Getty Images

Of course, not all of those who have enjoyed lengthy tenures as President of their respective organisations have done a bad job. IFs often claim that the reason they have stayed so long is testament to what they have achieved.

But it also exudes a negative perception at a time where IFs are constantly urged to refresh and re-energise their administration if they are to survive. Having Presidents hang around for decades or more hardly adheres to that.

The 17 IFs who do not have time limits also, surprise surprise, scored on the lower end of ASOIF's governance-measuring scale.

In the latest ASOIF report, the umbrella body states that IFs "must demonstrate an exemplary standard of governance in order to maintain the confidence of the media, Governments, business and the public at large while also protecting the integrity of their sports".

Given the scandals of past and present in the sporting world, some of which are detailed above, "exemplary" governance is a bit of a pipe dream. In fact, how many of the 28 summer IFs can legitimately attest to this?

Good governance is also a difficult notion to judge. Except from the obvious examples, it is hard to gauge exactly how it is defined.

In 2017, ASOIF used five parameters - transparency, integrity, democracy, sport development and solidarity and control mechanisms - which were to be implemented by IFs through 10 "simple and measurable" indicators to assess their governance.

At the time, ASOIF did not reveal any details of what these indicators were and in an updated report, published last year, that number grew to 50.

The problem that some IFs face is that there will always be rogue individuals within their organisations who seek to exploit the sport for personal gain, just like there will always be athletes who cheat to win given the financial incentives on offer.

It is how they deal with these officials that matters, which brings me to the topic of Ethics Commissions.

ASOIF released a governance report last year and is continuing to monitor how IFs are run ©ASOIF
ASOIF released a governance report last year and is continuing to monitor how IFs are run ©ASOIF

These groups are often the target of deserved criticism, particularly as numerous Ethics Commissions appear inept and not fit for purpose, while others are supposed to be independent but are controlled by the powers-that-be behind the scenes.

The ISSF are again on this hit list. When its Ethics Commission announced the initial sanction on Rossi, insiders told me they didn't even know it existed.

In cutting the length of suspension from three years to 20 weeks, the CAS stated the Ethics Commission was open to interference as the panel is appointed by the Executive Committee and ruled "personal and political motivation" had been a factor.

The FIG was at pains to insist its Ethics Foundation, established in the wake of the heinous Larry Nassar scandal, would "operate entirely independently from the FIG" but its members are approved and appointed by the General Assembly.

The IOC Ethics Commission has barely made a ruling or sanctioned anyone since it was established, while questions over its independence were raised last year after it emerged IOC director general Christophe de Kepper serves on the Board of a centre led by chairman Ban Ki-moon.

FIFA’s own ethics panel has faced similar accusations, particularly following suggestions of Infantino leading an alleged coup to oust both the head judge and investigator in 2017 after the commission had investigated him the previous year.

The subject was thrust back into the limelight when the OCA's Ethics Committee cleared its President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of wrongdoing for the third time, giving him the green light to stand for re-election at the recent General Assembly in Bangkok.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been accused of influencing the Ethics Commission, allegations which he denies ©Getty Images
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has been accused of influencing the Ethics Commission, allegations which he denies ©Getty Images

The trouble with these groups is they often wait for criminal cases to end before making decisions, which makes sense in some ways but it is possible an official could be guilty of an ethical violation while being cleared of a criminal one. They do not necessarily need to be intrinsically linked.

Allowing cases to drag on implies the use of delaying tactics, where the body at hand simply waits for it to fizzle out before declaring that no action will be taken.

As for Peterkin’s question, it seems ASOIF does not have the teeth nor power to sanction IFs whose governance falls considerably below the standards set out by the umbrella body.

It appears the organisation is doing very little to punish these IFs, leaving the impression that IFs can act as they wish without fear of consequences.