Michael Pavitt

The collapse of the sporting calendar has placed an even larger focus on International Federations, as they seek to chart a path for their sports to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic with as limited damage as possible.

Recent weeks have seen IF’s tasked with rejigging their calendars amid cancellations and postponements, as well as providing financial resources to come to the assistance of national bodies, event organisers and athletes.

World Athletics were among those to announce a fund aimed at helping athletes during the pandemic, with this week seeing confirmation of support of $500,000 (£400,000/€455,000) made available with the International Athletics Foundation (IAF).

Governing bodies for tennis also teamed up to produce a player relief fund, while the likes of World Rugby, FIFA and UEFA have released funds to aid national associations during the crisis.

The IFs have been fulfilling the role you would expect, but the financial ramifications are expected to be vast.

"Our International Federation is going through a crisis that we haven't experienced since the Second World War," International Cycling Union President David Lappartient said last month when acknowledging the organisation faced a considerable loss of earnings.

Potential postponement of expected revenues due from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, as well as the loss of calendar registration fees, were cited among the reasons for the earnings loss.

Given the bleak assessment from IFs to date, it will be interesting to see the approach several take as they aim to emerge from the crisis.

A concern is that several could decide that a rich benefactor could be the answer to bail them out of a tricky financial position.

ISSF President Vladimir Lisin gave a sizeable donation to establish a development fund last year ©Getty Images
ISSF President Vladimir Lisin gave a sizeable donation to establish a development fund last year ©Getty Images

Both fencing and shooting are expected to be insulated from the financial impact of the crisis due to their respective IFs being led by Russian billionaires.

International Fencing Federation President Alisher Usmanov has already been projected to have gifted CHF80 million (£66million/$82million/€75million) to the sport across three Olympic cycles.

With Usmanov having also been prepared to pay $8,806,500 (£7,042,765/€8,003,945) to secure the manuscript in which Baron Pierre de Coubertin laid out plans to revive the Olympic Games, only to donate it to the Olympic Museum, you suspect he would be prepared to bailout fencing should it face financial pressure.

Similarly, the International Shooting Sport Federation were gifted a $10million (£8million/€9million) donation by its President Vladimir Lisin in December to establish a development fund for the sport.

As we reported at the time it was "not surprisingly" approved by members of the ISSF Executive Committee.

As noted by my colleague Liam Morgan earlier this week, the pandemic should see IFs work towards trimming costs and be forced into innovation in an effort to become more independent of the IOC.

It does seem possible that IF’s could instead follow fencing and shootings into switching from its financial security being reliant on the IOC to being reliant on a rich President, perhaps stemming the need to innovate.

Concern would surely also exist over how this would fit with the idea of "good governance", two words which have been regularly trotted out in the Olympic Movement in recent years.

If a federation becomes financially dependent on considerable donations from its President, could you really envisage the scenario where that official would be defeated in an election? The phrase "turkeys voting for Christmas" springs to mind.

It goes without saying that deep pockets do not necessarily mean that a President would be able to steer a sport to a brighter future.

I found it notable that International Ski Federation Presidential candidate Johan Eliasch, also a billionaire, has reportedly pledged not to take a salary should he be elected President when the postponed election occurs.

Eliasch, the chairman and chief executive of sportswear company Head, supposedly said the salary should be put towards development of the sport.

It is certainly a noble gesture, but also a fine piece of electioneering if his rivals for the position are not able to take on the role without a salary.

The International Handball Federation has told the IOC it does not require extra financial assistance ©Getty Images
The International Handball Federation has told the IOC it does not require extra financial assistance ©Getty Images

Joining fencing and shooting as federation’s expected to emerge from the crisis in relatively good shape is the International Handball Federation (IHF).

I certainly raised an eyebrow earlier this week when reading that it had told the IOC it does not require extra financial assistance and suggested that it targeted available support to those in greater need.

As revealed by my colleague David Owen, the IHF’s financial assets amounted to well over CHF130 million (£108million/$135million/€121million) as of December 31 2019, the most recent accounting date.

I would argue there are two ways of viewing the figure.

In the current circumstances the initial reaction is to acknowledge some prudent financial planning, with the rainy-day funding giving the IHF the confidence it can cope.

Yet had the financial assets have come to light a couple of months ago in a much rosier world, we would surely be questioning why one of sport’s governing bodies was not focusing its financial muscle elsewhere.

In line with its responsibility as an IF, questions would have centred on whether the funding should be distributed to boost handball’s development activities and promotion.

Nor would it have surprised me to have heard calls from athlete groups for a greater share of the impressive financial results to be directed their way, as the pressure group Global Athlete did to the IOC last month by claiming there should be collective bargaining to secure athletes a share of Olympic revenues.

The timing of their call seemed somewhat curious with the complaints that the IOC was prioritising funding for bodies including IFs over athletes coming when IFs are requiring support.

A comparison to major professional leagues also seemed oddly timed, as despite the perceived riches in competitions like the Premier League the high outgoings in wages and lack building reserves present their biggest problems during the pandemic.

What seems clear is that greater transparency on finances and spending priorities needs to be outlined by sporting organisations moving forwards, as they attempt to navigate the pressures caused by both the pandemic and athlete calls to increase the distribution of wealth.