Background: The need for innovative solutions

In recent years, issues of good governance in sport have climbed to the top of the global sports political agenda. Among the many challenges is the fact that within international sports governance, athletes are often not allowed to participate effectively in decision making processes within their own sport.

As athletes are the sine qua non of international sports competitions, they should as a matter of justice be entitled to influence the environment in which they spend most of their time and efforts. This is particularly important as most national and international federations in principle are democratic organisations that draw legitimacy from their bases of millions of athlete members.

However, often athletes do not enjoy such rights. In many places, athlete organisations have clearly expressed their experiences of neglect and even exploitation in the processes of sport production in recent years.

The Russian-international doping scandal has shown how athletes have been marginalised by sport organisations, and it has inspired a growing number of calls from athlete organisations to be better included in decision-making structures in WADA, and in sports organisations in general.

Currently, there is no place for athletes and policy makers to look for specific guidance or models of good practice that can be adapted and implemented in pursuit of better athlete representation.

The SAPIS project aims to directly address this deficiency by examining the extent of the ‘lack of voice’ for athletes, how it is distributed across European sport, and how models of better practices can best be developed.

The current lack of an overview of athlete-related governance, and the lack of experience within the athlete community to participate in decision-making processes requires an innovative approach.

The SAPIS project will be innovative in a number of ways by:

  • comprehensively mapping the width, depth and quality of athlete representation, the powers associated with representation, and their action-generating power

  • producing an overview of effective ways for athletes to communicate and seek influence in the governance of the 35 Olympic sports

  • providing new insights for policy makers and governments by showing the benefits of more democratic inclusion of athletes in decision-making processes in sport

  • building networks and facilitating dialogue between a wide range of stakeholders including the association-based sports movement, athletes and athlete organisations, public authorities, and other societal actors

  • offering regional workshops with training and capacity building for athletes, athlete organisations, sports officials, policy makers, and other relevant stakeholders.

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