Ihe resignation of Bernard Laporte, Friday, January 27, from the presidency of the French Rugby Federation (FFR) seems to close a soap opera with twists and turns, which, beyond the person of its president, shook the federation. Football is not to be outdone, each week delivering its share of “revelations” which are so many gusts making a similar outcome inexorable.
However, a broader observation is essential: the governance of sports organizations must evolve. Of course, we must not generalize: not all sports federations are going through governance crises. Of course, too, the behaviors in question are neither specific to France nor to the world of sport. But the “failure of representation” denounced by the Minister of Sports, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, calls for responses of a broader scope than those tinkered with in the emergency for the governance of the oval ball and that of the round ball.
Should the sports code be changed? The French legal framework is already solid, if not dense. To tell the truth, rare are the countries where the legislator intervenes so much and so often to supervise the functioning of the national federations. The latest law, that of March 2, 2022 “aimed at democratizing sport in France”, has already provided for a three-term limit for federation presidents, as well as parity in governing bodies. Adding an age limit (set for example at 65 for the first term) could be an improvement to consider.
Recent cases have also shown that it is necessary to clarify and regulate the solution of “withdrawal”, from which Bernard Laporte benefited and Noël Le Graët still benefits on a transitional basis. If this ad hoc mechanism makes it possible to preserve the suspensive nature of the appeal as well as the presumption of innocence, it brings the federation into a gray area, under the tutelary shadow of a president absent (or supposed to be) but still occupying the function.
Resignation should be an unavoidable option, especially when, beyond the person concerned, it is the reputation of the federation and its sport that is affected. Because good governance also, and even above all, involves personal behavior. If the law does not provide it, ethics imposes it.
We must continue to change mentalities and spread a culture of ethics in the sports world, including basic ethics for leaders, their accountability, transparency, the absence of any form of abuse or harassment, but also awareness of conflicts of interest, which must be prevented and, when they arise, properly dealt with. In this area, there is still considerable room for improvement.
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