Lars  Haue-Pedersen

Since the end of last year, I have been following FIFA President Gianni Infantino on LinkedIn. I could probably get most of the same information from official FIFA accounts, but I feel it is more interesting to hear directly from the person leading the organisation, while also hoping to get an idea about his individual views and opinions.

I would also like to get the same kind of information from many other leaders of international sports organisations, but that’s not possible because only a few international sports leaders are in fact active on social media.

The question here is: why is that so?

It is not because international sports organisations don't prioritise communication on social media. 

In BCW, we recently published the 2022 ranking of the International Sports Federations' performance on social media and it shows double-digit growth for many of the federations across several social media channels.

This growth across basically all of the - Olympic/non-Olympic - International Federations shows that their social media activation has been accelerated during the pandemic. 

And the result is an increased reach for all, which I think is great news for international sports.

But what about the leaders of the same international sports organisations?

Our data shows that with a very few exceptions - like the President of FIFA as well as World Athletics President Sebastian Coe and Annika Sörenstam, President of International Golf Federations (now most followed sports leader on Twitter) - the leaders of international sports just haven't yet fully embraced social media. 

World Athletics President Sebastian Coe is among the few International Federation Presidents who are active on social media ©Getty Images
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe is among the few International Federation Presidents who are active on social media ©Getty Images

And for those that do have active channels, the numbers of followers are quite small considering the international audiences that follow various sports.

Compare that to both the business and political world, where the personal channels of top leaders are much more followed than the institutional accounts of the organisations they are leading. 

Elon Musk is just more interesting than Tesla; we follow Joe Biden, not the White House.

Being a chief executive or chairman of an international business means playing a crucial role in shaping the company’s reputation and culture. 

These business leaders now have an additional platform to communicate with all their stakeholders beyond the institutional communications provided by their companies. 

The personal social media accounts are an opportunity to share her/his perspectives - and not at least the values that guide them. 

We want to know about this, and authenticity is clearly enhanced when we hear from the top leaders directly.

Moreover, social media has shown to be a strong platform for both political and business leaders to engage in debates and advocate for important causes and issues. 

Their presence on social media can help to demonstrate their company/Government’s commitment to issues which are important to us. 

And again, it is more credible when we hear it from the leader directly.

So, wouldn’t that be exactly the same case for leaders of international sports organisations?

I would clearly think so, but it hasn’t happened yes, so back to the question - why?

Political leaders like United States President Joe Biden has more social media following than The White House ©Getty Images
Political leaders like United States President Joe Biden has more social media following than The White House ©Getty Images

One reason could be that the sports world - not at least on the international level - tends to be guided by a quite compressive set of regulations and protocols in many areas, including communications. 

Social media can be a less formal and more immediate platform, which may align less with such a regulated structure and a related culture.

Another reason could be the challenge for international sports leader to manage and balance the interest of so many different groups - member federations, players, teams, fans, sponsors, etc., - and thus they may be hesitant to communicate directly with them for fear of causing confusion or even the smallest controversy.

Both are fair reasons and as someone who has been actively involved in the international sports world for many years, I fully respect that these constraints may play a role.

However, as social media continues to evolve and become an increasingly important part of international - as well as national - sports organisations’ communication, I would strongly encourage the leaders of these organisations to find way to get involved and engage with their members and stakeholders online. 

Besides the few exceptions, it has so far been a missed opportunity - it is time for that to change.

Many of us strongly believe in the power of sport and the transformative role that it can have on society. 

But if we - and this must begin with the leaders - in the international sports world don't talk more about this by using all the channels available, it will take a long time for the same society to recognise and acknowledge this.