Sport: Supervisory Authority Proposed by the Italian Government

Legal - May 27, 2024

Several things have changed in the sports sector in Italy over the past year. Firstly, the implementation of the reform containing the revision of the discipline regarding labour relations in the sports sphere; secondly, the official inclusion of sport activity within the Constitution, with the amendments to Article 33; and finally, the intention (not yet official) to set up a body to deal with the economic and financial supervision of professional sports clubs with reference to two particular disciplines: football and basketball.


What happened

When news of a draft decree-law on the subject leaked out – “without authorisation and not from the offices of my ministry”, the Minister for Sport and Youth, Andrea Abodi, was keen to clarify – the numbers one and two of CONI (Italian National Olympic Committee), FIGC (Italian Football Federation) and of the top management of the sports clubs did not welcome it warmly.

For many, the desire to establish what is intended to be a government agency to supervise the economic and financial life of clubs is considered unacceptable. As things stand, the task – at least as far as the football world is concerned – falls to a specific independent body, namely the COVISOC (Supervisory committee of professional football clubs) which is part of the FIGC, while for basketball it is the COMTEC that deals with it. The opinion shared by the parties involved is that a government agency could undermine the autonomy of the sports system.


The Agency: structure and purpose

The government’s aim, Abodi went on to explain, is to guarantee transparency; the minister referred to this new reality as a “third and independent body” that would not see interference or meddling from the government.

In fact, looking at the draft that reached the press ‘illegally’, reference would be made to a public body (based in the capital) that would report to the Department of Sport with regulatory autonomy. Other investigations even suggest that the body would refer to Palazzo Chigi. In any case, the aim would be to examine the budgets of sports clubs, examine corrective measures, order inspections and so on. In addition, and this is perhaps the most complex step, the agency would have the power to summon the heads of leagues and federations to provide binding warnings on competition registrations.

For all this to be managed in the correct manner, a structure has been set up: a president along with two other figures that would be appointed by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Sport. As for the costs to be incurred, these would amount to more than EUR 2.5 million due to the clubs.

Abodi, from the very beginning, made it clear that “no one wants to touch the autonomy of the sports sector, so much so that the strategic operations remain in the hands of the federations”. The minister met with the heads of the involved sections after their request for a speedy discussion on the issue. At the end of the meeting, he said he was satisfied, not least because on that occasion he was able to “explain the reasons for the new authority”.

The text, forwarded to the Federcalcio on Friday morning,” he then specified, “represented a working hypothesis and, as such, it was meant to open that confrontation that today has found a meeting point, and not a definitive document for approval. The meeting was an opportunity to explain the reasons that led us to imagine the constitution of this new Authority – technical and independent – and to proceed in full respect of the autonomy of sport, which has always been among my priorities along with transparency, respect and fair competition.”

 Once again, the Minister mentioned that the draft should not have left the offices where it was kept and was being processed, and he also reiterated his commitment to guarantee full transparency. He then told the press that he had listened carefully to all positions and suggestions that had emerged, so that it’ll be possible to make “appropriate evaluations, before bringing the decree-law to one of the next Councils of Ministers.”


Top management comments

The matter, therefore, is still open. Gabriele Gravina, after the meeting, wanted to reiterate that the Italian government must be supportive of the activities: “The department for sports could validate principles to which we’ll have to adhere, as it happens in Spain and England. Because if you establish more rigid principles, then the COVISOC will also be rigid and vice versa. Let’s work together on sustainability. The minister will let us know about this matter,” he said. Gravina also reported on the relaxed atmosphere while the discussion was taking place and on the importance of the shared objectives between the parties, that is, “to give stability to the economic and financial management. We do not agree with the tool, because in the last 20 years COVISOC has worked very well. There have been only two successful appeals to the TAR and two to the Council of State out of 200 excluded clubs.

FIP President Gianni Petrucci also confirmed that there will be changes and that the voice of the federations has been heard. “The climate,” he added, “has been collaborative, now the final text counts but there has been no controversy, only great civility.”


Beyond the borders

The news did not stay in Italy, but crossed borders, so much so that it involved the most structured and influential international sports bodies. It must be specified that the involvement is not official, but nonetheless opinions and hypotheses of different scenarios have arrived. Evelina Christillin, UEFA’s additional member of the FIFA Council, guest on the radio programme Radio Anch’io Sport (Radio 1) pointed out that the topic was immediately commented on by UEFA and FIFA at the FIFA Congress and Council in Bangkok. “It was not officially discussed,” she explained, “but the questions were there. When the proposal for the organization of this new authority took shape, UEFA and FIFA wanted to see the available documents and wrote a joint letter urging the utmost attention and emphasising the independence and autonomy of the sports sector.” Because the central theme, as already pointed out, is precisely that of independence. It goes without saying that the Italian one is not the first case in the world. In fact, Christillin also cites the cases of Spain and England. “There are other cases where two important federations such as Spain and England are under observation by international bodies. We must not rush things and we must follow the matter with the utmost respect for the government,” she said, looking at a possible way forward.

Christillin also noted that the construction of a dialogue and the concretisation of a new reality depend on “the president of CONI Malagò, the sports minister Abodi, the FIGC president Gravina and the FIP president Petrucci, the latter being the only one who seems to me to have opened a window of possibility.”

There is one pivotal point, something that cannot be ignored by the two main sports bodies: “For FIFA and UEFA, the independence and autonomy of sport is a priority.” However, Christillin also clearly admitted that the situation “of the accounts of the Italian teams is really out of control.” Certainly not an attestation of esteem, but an analysis of what emerges from observing data, numbers and papers.

According to the Uefa report,” she argued, “83% of the revenues of Serie A teams are spent on wages, no other club would stand with accounts like that.” Finally, she again expressed the need to build a road that puts autonomy at the centre and recalled the importance of mediation that sees the parties work together towards the goal.