The Future Challenges of Sport Governance

By Kristel Van der Elst

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This article was published on the Huffington Post website. Click here to view it.

Sport governance keeps hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons: corruption, doping, match-fixing. And yet, for every high-profile global sport governance body with vast commercial revenues, there are many other lesser-known national or regional bodies facing very different issues - often struggling with limited public funds to keep grassroots facilities going.

In different ways, all these sport governance bodies are facing questions about their fitness for purpose. The European Commission recently held a flagship event on good governance in sport, with stakeholders at all levels coming together to explore current and future challenges.

As part of this event, we asked participants to stretch their minds by imagining how changes in the world over the next 15 years might affect sport governance. Here are the top seven ideas. 

  1. The doping landscape. Medical technologies are likely to advance hugely in the coming years, opening up new ways to enhance sporting performance – not only new pharmacological compounds, but potentially uses of gene editing and human augmentation devices, both physical and mental. Athletes might need “biological passports” allowing the tracing of suspiciously unusual changes in their physiology and performance. In general, the question of what constitutes doping and how to prevent it is likely to become ever more complex.
  1. National identities. The current political mood might be seeing national identities reassert themselves against globalization, but the long-term effects of increased human mobility across borders will continue to play out in the sporting sphere. Questions about who should have the right to represent what country are likely to become more acute, and the entire notion of competitions among ‘national’ teams might start to look outmoded.
  1. Challenges to autonomy. Young people are typically more impatient about lack of transparency in any kind of decision-making. Pressure may grow on governments to contest the authority of sporting bodies which are seen to be unfit for purpose.
  1. Tighter control of public funds. Economies are stagnating, populations are ageing, and there is ever more pressure on the public purse. Governments are expected to take an ever more professionalised approach to their investment in sports, with stricter “key performance indicators” to measure the effectiveness and efficiency with which organizations use funding.
  1. More demand for economic justification. While funding for sport has traditionally been justified by cultural and social benefits, ageing populations and tighter finances may shift the focus more towards economic benefits, such as population health outcomes. Governments may take an increasingly holistic view of promoting healthy activity, which will bring sports bodies into more direct competition for public funds with, for example, recreational areas in parks or networks of bicycle lanes in cities.
  1. Innovative funding models. Declining public funds may see more sporting bodies look for alternative business models, which may bring problems of their own. Imagine, for example, the proliferation of the fact that fans have to place a bet with a particular bookmaker to gain access to viewing an event.
  1. Redefiniton of ‘sports’. Advances in technology are expected to increasingly merge the virtual and physical worlds. This may lead to a blurring of the boundaries between gaming and sports, and questions over what exactly sport governance bodies should be governing.

Perhaps it is no surprise that ethics, transparency, values and professionalism were recurring issues in the discussion. While well-functioning governance is typified by checks and balances and the separation of powers, sports governance bodies tend to lack these features: they make the laws, adjudicate individual cases, and enforce the penalties. Moving towards more effective sport governance models will be essential to meet these seven looming challenges.

This article recaps the insights of a workshop in the context of the flagship event focused on future sport governance scenarios. It was facilitated by Kristel Van der Elst, Co-Founder and CEO of The Global Foresight Group, a global research, development and consulting firm specialized in Strategic Foresight.

NOTE: A second workshop in the context of the flagship event focused on current sport governance challenges. For insights of this workshop please visit:

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