The news that the Global Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF), an organization of more than 100 Olympic and non-Olympic sports governing bodies, will begin the process of shutting down in May 2022 took most industry members by surprise – and that’s putting it mildly.
After all, the organization’s website is still carrying news of the election of its new president, Ivo Ferriani, dated November 12. (In that news article, Ferriani is quoted as saying, “I am very much looking forward to bringing my sporting experience to serve all GAISF’s Members, Associate Members and Observers, and to support them over the next two years.”)
The announcement of the dissolution of the organization came on November 19, according to Inside The Games, which noted all GAISF members received a letter notifying them that a motion to dissolve GAISF would be on the agenda at its General Assembly in May.
"One topic on the agenda that I would already like to bring to your attention is the dissolution of GAISF as already discussed before my arrival as President of GAISF," Ferriani wrote in the letter.
The question of why was not addressed by Ferriani in the letter and in fact, has not been addressed by GAISF at all.
While larger sports federations, particularly those already recognized by the IOC, are likely to be unaffected, the same can not be said for smaller sports. In total, GAISF has more than 100 members. Many are going to be left without representation from a larger governing body. Then there are others who have been granted GAISF Observer status, since they are just making their way onto the international scene.
In fact, Inside The Games adds, “a five-member taskforce has been created to begin the process, which may alarm the smaller sports and organizations that form the bedrock of the GAISF.”
The International Lifesaving Federation is one of the organizations that has clapped back at GAISF, calling its actions "morally reprehensible" and accusing the organization of poor governance, according to Inside The Games. ILF is calling upon other members to voice their opposition as well.
"I ask for your support in voicing your fierce opposition to this initiative, rooted in the ultimate consolidation of power, and as the timeless proverb states 'absolute power corrupts absolutely,'" wrote ILS secretary general Harald Vervaecke.
Inside The Games also noted that the Association of IOC-Recognized International Sports Federations and the Alliance of Independent Recognised Members of Sport will remain and are set to be strengthened when the GAISF is disbanded.
"Unfortunately, good governance seems to be an empty phrase that is only used when beneficial to reach a goal with an ulterior motive," added Vervaecke.
To the sports industry as a whole, there was no clue the announcement was coming – and in fact, it appears that GAISF is in complete denial of its own decision. On November 24 (five days after the organization announced its impending demise), its website carried the news that a GAISF delegation had GAISF delegation recently concluded a site visit of Riyadh, in Saudi Arabia, for the 2023 World Combat Games (WCG).
And, in fact, back in October, GAISF announced it was bidding out three multi-sport events: the World Combat Games, World Mind Games and World Urban Games.
SDM contacted GAISF in an attempt to find out how (or whether) all these multi-sports events are expected to be held. No reply was received by press time.
Over the years, GAISF has encountered trouble in putting on its multi-sport events. In 2017, SDM noted that all three events had been scheduled, put on hold, cancelled and delayed at various times, which led to the open question of how much could be supported in a market where sponsorship funds are tighter than ever, and where many cities are backing away from the bidding table for large events that stand to disrupt traffic, necessitate construction and result in extra taxes.
In fact, in April of 2020, IOC president Thomas Bach had stated that a “proliferation of sports events” had become a concern, citing climate change and “financial pressure on all the stakeholders,” according to WTOP.
Another organization, the Association of National Olympic Committees (ANOC) signed a partnership agreement with GAISF in 2018 to put on future World Beach Games, another multi-sport event, together. (The World Beach Games, originally scheduled for San Diego in 2019, were delayed several times, then ultimately moved to Qatar). SDM contacted ANOC to ask about the future of the World Beach Games, given GAISF’s announcement; no response was received by press time.
In the years since its formation in 1967, GAISF has seen some struggles. Inside The Games notes:
“The organization was a thorn in the side of the IOC and its President Lord Killanin for much of Thomi Keller of Switzerland’s 17-year Presidency, which ran from 1969 to 1986. Juan Antonio Samaranch sought to reduce the considerable power GAISF yielded at the time he became IOC President in 1980 and succeeded, largely through the formation of the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations and Association of International Olympic Winter Federations. The body remained as the GAISF until 2009, when it rebranded to SportAccord under the Presidency of Hein Verbruggen, which caused confusion due to the similarity in names with the SportAccord Convention.” (If you want a full accounting of GAISF's woes in this regard, it can be found here).
Then, notes Wikipedia, in April 2017, following the former president Marius Vizer's controversial remarks against Thomas Bach during the opening of SportAccord's 2015 convention in Sochi and Vizer’s subsequent resignation, the organization rebranded back to GAISF under its then-new president Patrick Baumann.
(In case you’re wondering, Vizer alleged that the IOC "lacked transparency,” that its Agenda 2020 reform process had brought "hardly any benefit" to sports and that it had unfairly blocked SportAccord in its drive to organize new commissions and events).
But a lack of transparency is something GAISF itself seems to have in spades these days. GAISF's seemingly abrupt decision to end its work, its lack of an explanation – indeed, its entire lack of an announcement of its oncoming dissolution on its website, and the fact that it seems to be unable to state definitively whether its events will continue to be held – all combine to give the impression of an organization in disarray.