Government Involvement in Sport

When is it appropriate for the Government to become involved in the organisation of Sport?

In the UK there is much Government involvement in Sport through such governmental agencies as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport; UK Sport and Sport England.

These agencies will often work in conjunction with the National Governing Bodies of particular sports in relation to many issues such as the distribution of Lottery Funding, bidding for International Sporting Events and the improvement in facilities and participation in relation to the grass roots level of the sport.

There is one area, however, where Government involvement in sport is strictly forbidden and that is the organisation and the overseeing of the sport – i.e. the requirements of the national governing body for that sport.

The European Model of Sport

According to the European Model of Sport the national governing body of a particular sport will be responsible for all of the decision making of that particular sport and the organisation of that sport in that country. The National Governing Body will be required to implement the rules of the sport adopted by the Worldwide Governing Body and the European Governing Body. Accordingly this is an arena which must be free of political involvement.

Has there been any case in which a government has become involved in the organisation of Sport?

There have been two famous cases involving Government interference in sport. They are as follows:

  1. The Hellenic Football Association  

  2. The Iraqi Olympic Committee

The Hellenic Football Association

In 2004 the World Governing Body of Football, FIFA, found that the Greek Government had broken rules on the independence of members and decision making in that country.

Prior to this FIFA had issued many warnings to the Hellenic Football Association and the Greek Government that the running of the federation should be free from any kind of political involvement. The law at issue was a new law adopted in 2004 which increased government involvement in the running of the professional football leagues in Greece.

What was the outcome of this case?

The initial outcome of this case was that the Hellenic Football Association was banned from FIFA from any involvement in international competition. For example the Greece National team was banned from taking part in either the World Cup or the European Championships – of which they were the current holders. The Greek clubs who had also qualified to play in European Competitions such as the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Cup were also banned from participating in these tournaments.

FIFA ends suspension of Greece

The ban imposed by FIFA was however, lifted shortly afterwards when the Greek Government amended the law restricting the independence of the Hellenic Football Association.

The Iraqi Olympic Committee

In 2008 Iraq were suspended from taking part in the 2008 Olympic in Beijing due to the ongoing political interference by the government in the sports movement in Iraq. The Iraqi government took the decision to disband the countries national Olympic committee which was the final straw for the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

It is a requirement of the IOC and the Olympic Movement that each country involved in the Olympics has to have a national Olympic Committee which can oversee the organisation of that countries participation in games and where appropriate organise a bid to host the games.

The government interference in disbanding the Iraqi Olympic Committee made Iraq’s position in the Olympics untenable.

Independence of National Governing Body

Following these cases it is clear that international governing bodies take a hard line on increased political involvement in the organisation of sport in various countries. The only way in which sport can continue to function on a level playing field is if the national governing bodies are totally independent from the government of that country.