Le Graët, Laporte… How to change the governance of sports federations?

► “The rather conservative world of sport is difficult to move”

William Gaspariniprofessor of sociology and sports sciences at the University of Strasbourg, specialist in sports governance

“The difficulties experienced by Presidents Noël Le Graët and Bernard Laporte in their football and rugby federations obviously raise the question of the evolution of governance within these institutions. But it is a cyclic questioning. In 2021, the renewal of presidents after the pandemic had already been the subject of a debate on the age of leaders and feminization… which had not prevented the broad re-election of Noël Le Graët, at 79 years old. The average age of sports leaders is still 64, although some federations have experienced a slight rejuvenation. In the end, there are only two women presidents out of 36 Olympic federations.

The question of the opacity of decision-making also comes up often, as does the absence of a limit to the number of terms served by the same president. These managerial techniques from another age appear to be out of step with the needs of more modern governance. The methods of internal appointment are also to be reviewed, because the elections often reveal a formal democracy, theoretical more than real. The cooptation system generally lacks transparency. In a general assembly of a departmental or regional committee, elected by the clubs, we often always find the same people, those who have time and are retired, out of step with the mass of young graduates. But without them, often volunteers, it must also be emphasized that the associative movement would not work.

Can the state reform this governance? We see it with the Le Graët case, he can actually demand accountability, since it is the State which delegates public service to the federations. But the latter are also very attentive to their autonomy and the State cannot interfere too much in their affairs. Above all, he cannot afford a general crisis with the sports movement within two years of the Olympic Games. In the case of football, the ministry is therefore calling on the authorities to move, in this case the executive committee of the federation, but I do not believe that the government is ready to go further.

He knows, however, that France is also watched with the organization of the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Games in Paris in 2024, and therefore he cannot let the image of sport continue to deteriorate. But the ridge line is hard to find. The rather conservative sports world is difficult to move. Ideally, the reform should come from the base, from athletes and clubs. But sport is not the sector of commitment and activism. So I don’t really believe it. »

► “The State cannot intervene in the internal management of a federation”

Bernard FoucherDoctor of Laws and President of the Federal Ethics Committee for French Rugby

“You have to keep in mind that the federations are associations under the 1901 law. The French Football Federation has its statutes, its members, like any association. The difficulty is that sport is a public service, which therefore comes under state management. The latter delegates its power to the federations, but retains a right of inspection, a power of supervision. The whole ambiguity is knowing how to combine the autonomy of associations and the powers that the state has. I believe that the difficulty lies in this duality.

The State officially recognizes associations and federations through approvals and delegations. It can impose a common framework so that the statutes of the federations conform to a standard statute. And, to obtain the delegation and the approval, it is necessary that the statutes are in conformity with the standard statute which the State imposes. The only thing that the State can do is therefore withdraw the approval and consider that the federation it wishes to sanction is no longer recognized as the depository of the right conferred on it by the State. But doing that is the atomic bomb assured. Furthermore, the State cannot intervene in the internal management of a federation. Only members of the federation can.

The law of March 2, 2022, aimed at democratizing sport in France, sought to impose more democratic governance on federations through these standard statutes. In particular with a limitation of mandates, the creation of ethics committees or the prevention of conflicts of interest. The federations are brought, if they want to preserve their approval, to be always in conformity with their statute.

Furthermore, each federation can adopt its own provisions without waiting for the law. There are systems that preceded what the law of 2022 imposed in terms of prevention. In the event of a problem, the ethics committee could intervene, but it all depends on how it works, which is specific to each federation. Regarding the rugby ethics committee, we do not have the possibility of making binding decisions. What we can do is give opinions, recommendations, injunctions, like asking someone to step back. You can also go to the Disciplinary Committee.

This is a real subject and it is an object of reflection with the State and the Minister of Sports: how to improve the functioning and the role of the ethics committees? The law made these mandatory in 2022, but how are they made? Are they really independent, with a minimum of power? It varies a lot from one federation to another. »



A new wind shakes the elections in the sports federations

He held the rope firmly, he did not let go. Philippe Bana was elected on Saturday November 28 as president of the French Handball Federation. At 63, the irremovable technical director since 1999 is well ahead of his two opponents with 57.5% of the vote, and can breathe. He at least is not carried away by the wind of freshness which agitates the sports movement this fall.

The fact that, for the first time, the campaign was tough and between three candidates – in a federation accustomed to unanimous crownings – shows that the lines are moving. Elsewhere, other representatives of the system in place did not resist like Philippe Bana, who presented at least a flattering sporting record. On the tatami, Stéphane Nomis, 50, ex-blue from the 1990s who became an IT entrepreneur, defeated a Jean-Luc Rougé pretending to a fourth term and in the judo house since the 1980s. On the fencing side, Bruno Gares, 55, a former gunsmith for the French teams, prevented an Isabelle Lamour from aligning a third term in a row.

The Covid-19 accelerator

“The desire for renewal is a classic aspiration, the typical president being in the federations a man aged on average from 64 to 66 years old and running for a third term., underlines the sociologist William Gasparini, specialist in the governance of sports institutions. But this time the aspiration is all the more present as new challenges arise in terms of feminization, professionalization, adaptation to new practices, and this in a context disrupted by the Covid-19. “

Most Federations are, in fact, faced with significant redundancies and a terrible economic turmoil. But not only. The evil is also psychological, the morale of the volunteers appearing more and more leaden. “The pandemic has played a role of accelerator by highlighting the impossibility of continuing with a sport still dominated by the high level, analyzes Yohan Penel, 36, one of the three candidates for the presidency of the French Badminton Federation. Admittedly, the consideration of health sport or leisure sport among others, is present in the speeches, but most federations only tackle these subjects at the margins, without real global plans. “

Finally, take social performance into account

To change the situation, Yohan Penel proposed a “Citizen call” signed by some federal candidates such as Stéphane Nomis, new president of judo. The only contender declared for the moment for the presidency of the French Equestrian Federation, Anne de Sainte-Marie, 36, former director of the Cense stud farm, also a signatory, shares this desire to review the traditional sporting model. “We have had pioneers who have done a wonderful job, but whose ideas have dried up, with outdated management, difficulty in understanding societal changes, she blurted out. The number of licensees is important, but cannot be the only indicator. What interests me is the quality of life of my club leaders, which includes economic, ethical, etc. issues. “

For William Gasparini, the sports movement is crossed by a dynamic seeking to take better account of social performance. “ Medals and sports heroes are obviously still essential, supports the sociologist, but the societal dimension also requires mobilization: healthy sport, with a diversified offer and above all trained educators who are not competition coaches; the integration of young people, in difficult neighborhoods but also in the countryside; citizen sport, very important in the fight against radicalization; feminization finally. Do we need a new generation of leaders for this? I do not know. But we see that some of the answers go through digital technology, and that at this level, there is a real divide. “

Would sport be affected by degagism? “It is a real risk, but it is limited by respect for inheritances and people, swears Anne de Sainte-Marie. The opposite risk also exists: that of making major cultural errors. “ Refocus therefore, more than anything to revolutionize. “ But with determination, advocates Yohan Penel. Because to change in my opinion, it’s now or never. The latter evokes “The prospect of the 2024 Games”, but not only : “This time, if we do not manage to put sport in its rightful place by showing how it can respond to current social issues, I fear that afterwards it will be too late. “


The National Olympic Committee, the other essential campaign

“An educational, social, health, societal and economic objective. “ This is the mission that Patrice Martin wants to assign to sport, who announced in mid-November his candidacy for the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF). The president of the French Water Ski Federation since 2009 is currently the only candidate for the election scheduled for June 29, 2021. Because it is the other electoral campaign that looms after those of the federations. It will also be a question of adaptation to the current world, with major issues such as feminization or the place of e-sport which, again, shake up traditions.