The View From Lausanne: Why individual athletes should be members of international federations
May 4, 2023
In this View From article Michel Cutait, Acting Secretary General of the World Obstacle Federation, dives into the benefits of individual athletes being members of international federations.
When discussing innovation, the first thought that often comes to mind is technology. However, it’s important to note that innovation can take many different forms. The objective of this article is to explore how international sports federations can innovate their business models to drive growth and success.
It’s essential to clarify that the proposal presented in this article does not intend to conclude the subject, nor does it suggest that the current model is necessarily obsolete. On the contrary, the main objective is to evaluate new possibilities and opportunities to enhance the existing business model.
It is worth stating that the suggestion outlined here is feasible and has the potential to innovate governance in sports.
Traditionally, international sports federations grant membership to national federations, which represent their respective countries. However, this model limits the action of the international federations, and above all makes the relationship with athletes and the community dedicated to sport more difficult.
Not subscribed to our weekly newsletter? Click here to sign up and receive more content like this to your inbox every week.
There is an alternative that has not yet become effective among international federations, and which could bring several benefits for the growth of the organisations, by allowing individual athletes to become members of international federations with rights and obligations according to the statutes of
the international federations.
This article will explore the benefits of allowing individual athletes to become members of international sports federations.
Just to frame the discussion, it is important to clarify that national federations are responsible for the development and organisation of sports in their respective countries, which is why they are members of international federations.
Among various responsibilities, in addition to organising sports nationally, they select and send teams to international competitions and ensure that their athletes comply with the rules and regulations of the international federations.
The participation of national federations in international federations provides a platform for collaboration and cooperation between countries, a model that has allowed sports to keep evolving around the world.
Allowing individual athletes to become members of international federations as well would establish a new paradigm in the world of sports that could intensify the scope and purpose of international federations, without undermining the importance of the work done by national federations.
A small number of federations have already started to draft, and even include individual athletes as affiliates, but not exactly as members, and this proposal could be undertaken by many other federations, especially those that aim to grow the sport and its community of athletes.
Here are at least six interesting advantages of implementing the proposed change in this article.
It would increase their engagement with the sport. They would have a direct link to the international federation, which would give them access to information about the sport, training opportunities and updates on international competitions, as well as establishing a feeling of belonging for the athlete.
Moreover, implementing a membership fee for athletes, even a token amount, would generate significant financial benefits for the federation. This complementary revenue could be utilised to develop the sport, support training programs, and endorse international competitions.
However, it is crucial to emphasise that a portion of this revenue must be allocated towards enhancing the benefits of membership for the athletes. One way to achieve this is by creating a membership program.
Individual athletes, as members of international federations, would have a voice to participate in discussions of committees, commissions, and even assemblies.
They could provide feedback, suggestions, and recommendations based on their experiences as athletes. This would benefit the federation with a more diverse and representative perspective of the sport and put athletes at the centre of the decision-making process.
Additionally, It would offer direct benefits to athletes. These athletes would have access to resources and support provided by the federation, such as anti-doping education, medical support, training, and other benefits that the federation may extend to athletes.
Partnerships could also be expanded with companies and organisations, such as insurance companies, retailers, service providers, etc., who might be able to offer benefits based on agreements made with the international federations.
This would help athletes make the best of their performance with all the support that an international federation can offer.
One of the big challenges that international federations face is the difficulty of communicating with their community, because they depend on this bridge being largely made by the national federation.
Unfortunately, many times, this bridge is not made in an efficient way, and communication about the actions implemented by the international federation, such as projects, programs, and other initiatives, end up being poorly understood by the athletes.
Obviously, communication between the international federation and its national federations can be improved, but if the athletes could be considered as individual members, communication could be done in a direct way, and therefore much more efficient and assertive.
Ultimately, the inclusion of athletes as individual members of the international federations would provide an advantage which turns out to be extremely important for expanding the database of the international federations.
All the technological innovations of this digital world, augmented by artificial intelligence, require organisations to maintain a comprehensive, reliable, and detailed database on their members, athletes, participants, and/or stakeholders.
In this case, if international federations could build their databases using the athletes’ information directly, without necessarily depending on the national federations, they could leverage this database meaningfully and productively.
For example, it could increase communication, boost engagement, facilitate sponsorship and fundraising, and create a collaborative environment in which all athletes would be connected right up to the leadership of the international federation.
Of course, this can be done by the national federations, and in practice this is what happens, but from the international federation’s point of view, having direct access to this information would be an excellent turning point for governing the sport.
In order to ensure that this model not only proves to be useful but also yields positive outcomes for international federations, particularly given the crucial role played by national federations, it is imperative to take into account at least four key recommendations when implementing this new model.
First, any athlete who wants to join an international federation must also join the national federation of his or her respective country, following the specific requirements established in the statute of the national federations.
This would ensure that the national federations preserve their autonomy, independence and growth.
The proposed recommendation suggests a reciprocal affiliation process whereby if an athlete becomes affiliated with a national federation, it would be possible, based on the criteria set by each organisation, for the athlete to also affiliate with the international federation.
This would broaden the athlete’s participation at both national and international levels and provide advantages for both organisations.
Second, to uphold the principle of representation, it is crucial to limit voting rights in assemblies and committees only to national federations. This measure does not impede the rights of athletes, as they are already represented by their respective national federations.
It also does not hinder the national federations’ authority to make decisions in the assemblies and committees that have a significant impact on the future of the international federation and the sport.
If an individual athlete exercises the right to vote, he would be expressing his own interest and not the collective interest, which is why this prerogative would not become a solution for the common good of the organisation.
Third, this proposed model shift requires a modification of the statute, which can only be accomplished through a deliberation by members via an assembly set up for this specific purpose, in accordance with the statute of each organisation.
As it is essentially a statutory modification, implementing the proposal may pose a challenge due to the requirement for a highly qualified quorum.
However, for organisations that are currently in the process of forming, the foundation has the potential to propose the change.
Finally, fourth, the nomenclature for individual membership, associate, or participant can be decided by each organisation in accordance with the rules outlined in their statutes.
Nonetheless, it is crucial that athletes could exercise their rights and prerogatives in an effective and participative manner.
Allowing individual athletes to become members of international sports federations is a step forward for the federation business model.
It would intensify athlete and community engagement, increase revenue generation, strengthen athlete participation in matters of relevance to sport, allow for more benefits to be provided to athletes, bridge the communication gap between the organisation and the community, and represent a turning point in building a reliable and relevant database on behalf of the international federation, and, of course, on behalf of the national federations.
International federations could also create different separate membership categories for other stakeholders such as coaches, judges to ensure that everyone participates in the development of the federation, promoting a more collaborative approach to the governance of sport.
Recognising the benefits of this model, international federations can progress in a more collaborative and inclusive manner, ultimately benefiting both the national and international sports communities.
Michel Cutait is a Senior Executive Sports Manager, Consultant, Lawyer, Professor and Author. He is currently the Acting Secretary General of World Obstacle, the international governing body for obstacle
sports (Obstacle Course Racing, Ninja and Adventure Racing) and related events, where he runs the Secretariat, and works actively in the areas of governance, membership, partnership, development, and
strategy. He served as the Brazilian Triathlon Confederation’s Strategy Advisor. Graduated in Law, holds Masters degrees in Social Relations (Brazil), Marketing (Australia), and Sports Administration and Technology (AISTS) from EPFL in Lausanne, the Olympic Capital. In addition, he serves as an editorial board member and reviewer for the Journal of Global Sport Management. He has authored five books, with his most recent work titled “Management Performance Rio 2016 Olympic Games,” which is catalogued in the Olympic Library in Lausanne.