Female Chairs on the Boards of European National Sports Federations: A Comparative Study

This article compares the five countries involved in the GESPORT project (Italy, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the UK) in terms of the presence of women in the role of president in the NSFs. It also aims to verify whether some organizational variables of the federations, specifically the size of the federation board, the degree of gender diversity existing within the board, and the year of the foundation of the federation, produce any impact on the probability of having a woman at the presidency of a NSF. In addition to descriptive purposes, therefore, the article aims to contribute to the knowledge of the factors that promote female leadership in sport by verifying whether there are organizational aspects.

Starting from the premise that internationally there are very few female presidents of sports federations, the article, after noting how many female presidents are present in the NSFs of the five countries under investigation, checks whether some variables have influenced the probability of having a female president. The three variables relate to some organizational aspects of the federations. Specifically, a governance variable is considered (size of the board of the federation); a sociological one (gender diversity on the sport board), and a demographic one (birth date of the federation).

The reason for this choice is due to the fact that these variables have already been related in the literature to the presence of women in top positions in different types of organizations and in different sectors, including sports. To evaluate the effect of the aforementioned variables, a logistic regression analysis was applied to a sample of 297 NSFs, almost all of the federations of the five countries. The sample is equivalent to 55 federations in Italy (18.5% of the sample of 297), 56 in Portugal (18.9%), 66 in Spain (22.2%), 62 in Turkey (20.9%) and 58 in the UK (19.5%). The data for the federations are taken from the first database created which was built between March and November 2018 on the basis of information available from the official websites of the federations.

The analysis confirms that, in the period considered, the federations with a woman as president are few and represent an average of 0.07% of the sample. The country with the most female presidents is the UK, with 13. Spain and Turkey follow, with three female presidents. Portugal has two presidents (9.1%) and Italy only has one female president (4.5%). The key finding is that the size of the board, the gender diversity of the sport board, and the age of the organization, have no significant effect on the gender of the president in federations. Furthermore, being in Italy, Portugal, or Spain, and taking the UK as a reference, negatively affects the odds of having a woman as president of a corporate board.

The study contributes substantially both to gender-oriented literature as well as in constituting an essential information base for policymakers. As for the contribution to literature, it should be noted that the latter has always found in contexts other than sports that the three variables considered somehow influence the gender of leadership positions. Our study finds instead that they do not produce effects in sports federations, highlighting the latter as having peculiar characteristics compared to other types of organizations.

This same result suggests that policymakers adopt more radical gender policies in the sports sector than in other sectors. This conclusion stems from the reflection that the presidency in this type of sports organization evidently has a stronger symbolic meaning linked to masculinity than it does in other organizational contexts. Above all, the fact that no significant relationship has been found with gender diversity within the board of the federation suggests that the social representation of a female director is different from that of a female federation president. Consequently, the reasons for having women on the boards of federations are significantly different from the reasons for having women presidents. A preprint version of this article can be downloaded from Zenodo and from the project website.

The article reference is:

Female Chairs on the Boards of European National Sports Federations: A Comparative Study. DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.6834672