Liam Morgan

Last week, members of the biggest and best-known International Federation in the Olympic Movement clapped their President into a fresh four-year term.

As The White Stripes' hit Seven Nation Army rang around the Congress hall in Paris, Gianni Infantino walked back onto the stage having just been re-elected FIFA President by acclamation.

It came after the FIFA Congress had, in a not-at-all unsurprising move, approved a motion from the Council to change its statutes with immediate effect to allow the head of the governing body to be re-elected without a vote of any kind.

Not only does it suggest it is not the last time the FIFA President is voted into office by applause, but it also saw the organisation follow a continuing trend in the Olympic world.

Elections by acclamation have become the ordre du jour in recent years. We have reached a stage where an announcement from a Federation that there is more than one candidate for its prized position is a rarity rather than a regular occurrence.

After Infantino became the latest to enjoy this privilege, it got me thinking: how many of the current IF Presidents were re-elected unopposed?

Gianni Infantino was re-elected FIFA President by acclamation last week ©Getty Images
Gianni Infantino was re-elected FIFA President by acclamation last week ©Getty Images

The results will not surprise keen followers of the Olympic Movement and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) since Thomas Bach’s elevation to the top job in world sport in 2013.

Two-thirds of Presidents who lead a sport on the programme at next year’s Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo - 22 of 33 - stood unchallenged to secure their current term in office.

This includes all five who govern a sport added to Tokyo 2020 by the IOC and the Organising Committee.

Of the 11 who actually had to win an election, only two - International Hockey Federation head Narinder Batra and International Tennis Federation (ITF) President David Haggerty - were faced with more than one challenger.

Just two of the current 33 assumed their position by defeating an incumbent. Kim Andersen defeated Carlo Croce to become President of World Sailing in November 2016 and David Lappartient unseated Brian Cookson as International Cycling Union President 10 months later.

Since then, it has been plain sailing for incumbents, particularly those at the helm of Winter International Federations. 

Five of the seven were up for re-election in 2018 and only one, the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation, had a contested vote, where Ivo Ferriani duly retained his position after beating rival, Switzerland's Fritz Burkard, by 38 votes to five.

Of the other two, René Fasel, International Ice Hockey Federation President since 1994, was re-elected – yep, you guessed it, unopposed – in 2016, while the last remaining winter governing body, the International Biathlon Union, was forced into holding a vote last year after Anders Besseberg resigned following allegations of corruption.

I say "forced" because it is possible Besseberg, the only President in the IBU’s history before Olle Dahlin took over in November, would still be there if the accusations of wrongdoing had not surfaced.

Sebastian Coe is set to be unopposed when he seeks re-election for a second term as IAAF President later ©Getty Images
Sebastian Coe is set to be unopposed when he seeks re-election for a second term as IAAF President later ©Getty Images

This pattern extends to the regional confederations and bodies within International Federations, particularly at FIFA. Since Infantino’s first victory in 2016, there has only been one contested election in any of the five Confederations which make up world football’s governing body.

It is also likely to continue later this year, where Sebastian Coe seems set to stand unopposed for a second four-year term as International Association of Athletics Federations President. No challengers have emerged and none are likely to before the "vote" at the Congress on the eve of the World Championships in Doha.

Another Olympic International Federation holding an election between now and the end of 2019 is the ITF and, in fairness, it promises to be one of the most intriguing held in recent memory.

Haggerty, who replaced Francesco Ricci Bitti in 2015 following an eight-vote win, is up against three others for the Presidency, including the man he narrowly beat four years ago, India's Anil Khanna. Ireland's Dave Miley and Czech Republic's Ivo Kaderka are also in contention.

Yet an International Federation having more than one Presidential candidate still represents an anomaly.

There is a belief that this demonstrates just how good a job those in question are doing at their respective organisation and some claim running unopposed is proof of their success.

A counterargument is officials are reluctant to challenge the incumbent in fear of retribution because of the power exerted by the leadership, which hardly represents good governance in action.

After all, federation after federation clapping in or re-electing their President by acclamation hardly paints a picture of democracy. The sceptics among us might even highlight how it in fact suggests the polar opposite.

IOC President Thomas Bach has centralised power at the organisation to the Executive Board ©Getty Images
IOC President Thomas Bach has centralised power at the organisation to the Executive Board ©Getty Images

This centralisation of power is common in the Olympic world and is a trait best demonstrated by the IOC, which Bach seems to have accelerated during his six-year stewardship.

Those more experienced than I tell me there were sections of the IOC’s membership who used to openly speak up or question a decision taken by the leadership when they gathered for the annual Session.

Now, with Bach in charge, IOC Sessions have become little more than echo chambers, where the vast majority of members turn up, collect their per diems, approve every move made by the administration with little debate and return home believing they have done their service to the world of sport.

You need only look at how those who have gone against the grain in Bach’s tenure have been treated to understand why this is the case.

There were numerous interventions at last year’s Association of National Olympic Committees General Assembly in Tokyo - but most of these were merely to heap gushing praise on departing President Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, who stepped aside following accusations of forgery. He denies wrongdoing.

Infantino enjoys a similar level of control over his electorate, so much so that none of the 211 Football Associations spoke or raised anything from the floor at the Congress where he was re-elected, sparking questions as to how much change has been enacted at FIFA as he embarks on a four-year term handed to him by the members on a silver platter.