University academic develops improvement benchmark for sporting organisations

Professor Barrie Houlihan.

A Loughborough University academic is taking the lead in developing a toolkit to support international sporting federations improve their governance and accountability.

Professor Barrie Houlihan, from the Sport Policy and Management Group at the School of Sport, Exercise & Health Sciences, has been instrumental in the ‘Sports Governance Observer’, a benchmark tool to measure transparency, democracy and accountability.

The benchmark has been developed in co-operation with leading experts from six European universities and the European Journalism Centre as a part of the ‘Action for Good Governance in International Sports Organisations’ (AGGIS) project.

The findings of the project including the roll out of the benchmark tool, are to be presented at a seminar in Brussels (8 April) called ‘The Challenge for Europe in the Governance of Sport’, being hosted by Play the Game and the Danish Institute for Sports Studies.

The benchmark consists of four ‘dimensions’: transparency and public communication; democratic process; checks and balances; solidarity.

Each dimension consists of a list of factors that are important indicators of good governance and improvement in accountability within sports organisations. Also included is a range of ‘factual questions’ that ensures full details about an organisation are captured.

The tool has been initially aimed at international sporting federations and organisations, but can easily be adapted to national governing bodies. It has also been piloted and refined with the support of several European sporting organisations

Professor Barrie Houlihan, who will be speaking at the seminar in Brussels, explains the need for such a benchmark and why accountability is so important, by stating:

“Sports organisations are unique in that they are legally sanctioned monopolies and have complete control over their sports.  So if you want to play a sport at the highest level you have to play within the rules of that international federation.

“That privileged position gives them a very strong obligation in terms of accountability not only to the athletes but also to spectators, sponsors, and to governments who often host and subsidise their championships.”

Professor Houlihan also states why accountability makes good business sense for sport:

“These organisations are operating in an increasingly competitive environment for broadcasting and sponsorship income, for talented athletes and for fans’ allegiance.

“As such it’s good business to understand your stakeholders. Adopting high standards of governance provides a framework to establish a strong relationship with stakeholders and better protect the interests of the sport organisation.”

Although there will be no formal requirement for organisations to utilise the benchmark, Professor Houlihan believes that the need to demonstrate accountability to sponsors, partners and governments will lead to it being embraced, stating:

“Once the tool is publicised there will, hopefully, be a sense of obligation for international federations to use it as a self-assessment tool.  However, the adoption of the tool will rely to an extent on the expectations and informal pressure from stakeholders rather than any legal requirement.

“We would hope that some federations we have been working with would lead the way in using the tool and demonstrate its value to them in the management and development of their business.”

Full details about the AGGIS project and Sports Governance Observer can be found on the Play the Game website at:


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