The future of sport: what national and international policies ?

A political approach to sport

In July 2023, SKEMA Publika published the first part of its report on The Future of Sport: Needs and Ideas of International Youth for Use by Policymakers, which analyzes the interests and concerns of young people aged 18 to 24 in various countries, based on the results of quantitative and qualitative surveys. In part one, we found that sport is multidimensional, touching on education, health, work, entertainment and social issues.

However, sport is also a political tool. Firstly, with its different models of governance at national and international levels. Secondly, as a vector of influence, development, social sustainability and the promotion of values. It is on these political aspects that part two focuses…

The report is divided into six parts and three perspectives:

1. Are national and supranational sports systems meeting expectations? How can we do better tomorrow ?

The first part of the report presents four sports systems: the American system, the Chinese system, the so-called “European” system, including the French system and the African systems. However, sport is a sector that is not immune to globalization. Sports sectors are coveted by large international companies and funds, which will not invest without exporting their own vision of sport. While governments are recognized as being responsible for public sports policies, there is a growing awareness of the need to attract private investment. Major international sporting events (MISE), and the Olympic Games in particular, are catalysts for major geo-economic stakes. Comparing the effectiveness of these different systems and policies remains a difficult exercise, as the criteria are very diverse. This report outlines the main attempts at measurement, including sporting victories, public participation and the degree of citizen satisfaction.

Young people also associate sport with health, education and pleasure. Yet the fun aspect of sport seems to be little mentioned in public policies. Without the means to make sport accessible, there is a risk that it will be reduced to a “sport entertainement”, according to the logic of the highest bidder.

2. What role can states play in the global governance of sport when the watchword is preservation of the autonomy of the sports movement ?

The second part of the report presents the players who oversee the global governance of sport, and examines the dynamics of their interaction.

Global sport governance is dominated by private players. These are the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Paralympic Committee and the international federations. States are represented via international organizations such as UNESCO, the Council of Europe and the OECD. The latter are more likely to issue a set of ethical principles and recommendations, although several binding texts do exist. Our report provides a comprehensive overview of international regulations, both binding and non-binding, that exist to date.

This grip on sports governance by private players is a legacy of the principle of sports autonomy, which stipulates that the sector should be protected from political interference. However, the numerous corruption and fraud scandals that have shaked private sports bodies in recent decades call for a reform of the way they operate. The fact that they simultaneously carry out commercial and regulatory functions, without any clear supervisory body, raises questions.

3. Should the values of sport be decided at the international level ? Avenues to explore

The third moment focuses on the values of sport and whether it is desirable to regulate them on a global level. Our survey showed that young people are keen to diffuse sport with universal values. For their part, international organizations consider that sport permeates many areas of human life. They see it in terms of its educational, public health, social, cultural, recreational and safety functions. The IOC Olympic Charter establishes sport as a veritable “philosophy of life”. Working towards this ideal means tackling the following questions: How can we reconcile values-based sport with the principle of the political neutrality of sport? Are there intrinsic values in sport? As sport becomes increasingly global, how can the international community agree on common values?

We suggest that all stakeholders strive to find a “lowest common denominator” of values at international level, acceptable to all and respecting freedom of choice. The notion of sport as a common good may seem politically connotative, but on closer examination it is nevertheless put forward by most national policies. In particular, it implies the notion of equal access regardless of age, gender or financial means… and fits in well with the concept of responsibility, which is asserted everywhere. It seems to us to be a fruitful way of meeting the expectations of young people and all citizens. What’s more, it’s a concept that can be used and adapted by all the key players in sport, whether public or private, national or international.

Read the report

Read the executive summary