top of page

Sports Governance

Kelvin .S. Sabao

16 Nov, 2023

Unravelling its Significance in the World of Sports


Sports are a universal language that transcend borders, cultures, and generations. They embody the essence of human competition, teamwork, and achievement. Recently, in the Rugby World Cup Final the Springboks triumphed over the All Blacks, retaining its world champion status and breaking a record by being the only country ever to win the Rugby World Cup four times. In essence, sport is a crucial component of contemporary society. Sports have been regarded as a unifying factor in society.  However, behind the scenes of the thrilling matches and breath-taking moments lies a complex web of rules, regulations, and structures that ensure the fairness, integrity, and sustainability of sports. This intricate framework is known as sports governance. This article seeks to delve into what sports governance entails, its historical evolution, and why it plays an indispensable role in the world of sports.



At its core, governance is the process of decision-making and implementing policies and rules within an organization or system. In the context of sports, governance extends to the management and oversight of sports organizations, including national and international governing bodies, clubs, leagues, and other entities involved in the administration and promotion of sports.


Sports governance encompasses a wide array of functions, including but not limited to rule-making, financial management, ethical standards, athlete welfare, inclusivity, and sustainability.



In the early days of sports, governance was often informal, with local customs and traditions dictating the rules. Communities would come together to compete in various activities, each with its own set of rules and informal leaders.


As sports grew in popularity and complexity, the need for standardized rules and structures became evident. It was the Industrial Revolution in Britain that introduced formality in sports. For instance, the first rules of soccer, known as the “Cambridge Rules” were written by undergraduates of Cambridge University. Organizations like the Football Association (FA) in England, founded in 1863, played a pivotal role in formalizing the governance of football. In the 19th century, various sports established their rulebooks, while the 20th century saw the implementation of disciplinary regulations to address rule violations and other transgressions, along with corresponding penalties for offenders. 


The founding of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894 marked a significant milestone in the internationalization of sports governance. The IOC's mission was to promote fair play, ethics, and international cooperation in sports, setting a precedent for international sports federations.



Firstly, at the heart of sports governance is the preservation of fair play. Fair competition is the bedrock of sports, ensuring that athletes have an equal and unbiased opportunity to succeed, based on their skills and dedication. Next, sports governance is instrumental in safeguarding the rights and welfare of athletes. This includes ensuring fair compensation, safe training environments, and protection against exploitation.


Transparency is a fundamental principle of sports governance. Open and accountable decision-making processes build trust among stakeholders and the public. Financial transparency, in particular, is vital to prevent embezzlement and mismanagement of funds. One of the greatest challenges in sports is corruption and doping. Effective sports governance is essential to detecting and preventing these issues, preserving the integrity of sports and the health of athletes.


Further, sports governance plays a pivotal role in promoting inclusivity and diversity in sports. It ensures that people of all backgrounds have equal access to sports and opportunities within sports organizations. Sustainable development is increasingly becoming a focus of sports governance. This involves responsible management of resources, environmentally friendly practices, and long-term planning for the growth of sports.


Next, sports governance also impacts the fan experience. Fair and transparent governance ensures that fans can trust the outcomes of competitions and have confidence in the sports they love. Finally, sports organizations often operate within legal and regulatory frameworks. Effective governance ensures that these organizations comply with relevant laws and regulations.



To achieve its objectives, sports governance adheres to several the principles of transparency, accountability, democracy and integrity.


Transparency ensures that sports organizations operate openly, with stakeholders and the public having access to information about their operations, decisions, and finances. It is the foundation of trust in sports governance. Accountability means holding individuals and organizations responsible for their actions and decisions. It is crucial for addressing issues like corruption, unethical behaviour, and mismanagement.


Many sports organizations have adopted democratic principles in their governance structures, involving various stakeholders, including athletes, coaches, and fans, in decision-making processes. This ensures a more inclusive and equitable approach to governance. Sports governance upholds the highest ethical standards. This includes combating corruption, protecting the rights of athletes, and ensuring that sports are free from external influences that could compromise their integrity.


Challenges in Sports Governance

Despite the progress, sports governance has faced numerous challenges and scandals throughout history. Controversies ranging from doping scandals to corruption within sports organizations have highlighted the need for robust governance structures.


Corruption scandals at international as well as national level have rocked the sports world time and again. These scandals highlight the ongoing need for vigilance in maintaining integrity. Also, achieving gender equality in sports governance remains a challenge, with women often underrepresented in decision-making roles.


Some sports organizations have faced criticism for their financial practices and lack of transparency in revenue distribution. Finally, protecting the rights of athletes, including issues such as fair compensation, proper healthcare, and safe training environments, remains a priority.



Sports governance is an evolving field that continually adapts to the changing landscape of sports and society. To address the challenges, sports organizations should take steps to enhance fairness and transparency.


To begin with, sports bodies should implement stringent anti-corruption measures, such as robust auditing and compliance programs, to prevent and detect corrupt practices. Next, initiatives promoting gender diversity and inclusion should be adopted to ensure that decision-making bodies reflect the diversity of the sports community. Sports organizations should work to enhance financial transparency, including disclosing financial statements and revenue-sharing mechanisms. Also, empowering athletes through representation and advocacy is gaining momentum to ensure their voices are heard in key governance decisions.


Sports organizations, even when operating under the structure of voluntary associations, should adopt and adhere to corporate governance policies. This practice is vital to ensure transparency, accountability, and the overall ethical conduct of the organization. It helps maintain the trust and integrity of the sports body, enhancing its ability to manage resources effectively, handle disputes, and fulfil its mission of promoting fair and competitive sports.


By embracing corporate governance, sports bodies can establish clear structures for decision-making, conflict resolution, and financial management. This includes creating boards of directors or governing bodies responsible for overseeing key functions, developing and implementing strategic plans, and ensuring that the organization's resources are used judiciously and in the best interests of the sport and its stakeholders.



Sports governance is the silent guardian that ensures the integrity, fairness, and sustainability of the sports we cherish. It is the custodian of the values that make sports a source of inspiration for millions worldwide. As we continue to enjoy the excitement of sporting events, we must also appreciate the meticulous work done behind the scenes to uphold these values. Sports governance is not just about rules and regulations; it is about preserving the spirit of sportsmanship, fairness, and inclusivity that makes sports a universal passion.


In a world where the impact of sports extends far beyond the playing field, sports governance is our guarantee that the games we love will continue to inspire, unite, and transcend boundaries for generations to come. It is the compass that guides us toward a future where sports are not only thrilling but also a force for positive change in society.



 Butterworths Forms and Precedents Commercial Transactions 5 “Sports Law”

bottom of page