The purpose of the article is to contribute to the scientific debate on the effectiveness of the tools available to promote gender equality in the governing bodies of organizations and, at the same time, to contextualize this debate in the world of sports federations. The two policies in support of female presence have been compared for some time in the literature: the introduction of mandatory gender quotas, on the one hand, and the introduction of female presence targets to be reached on a voluntary basis, on the other hand. The literature argues for and against both measures but this debate has never been addressed in the world of sport despite both having already been applied. Some countries are in fact experimenting with mandatory gender quotas for their national federations. However, the International Olympic Committee has introduced gender targets for NSFs since 2000 with rather disappointing results globally.
The article explores to what extent the NSFs of the five countries participating in the GESPORT project (Spain, Italy, Portugal, Turkey and the UK) have complied with the goal proposed in 2000 by the International Olympic Committee, of having at least 20% women within the sports boards of the NSFs, and whether the size of the board, the age of the federation and the country of origin may have played some role in its achievement or not. The first two variables were chosen because the literature on gender diversity in corporate governance bodies usually identifies links with them. The third variable has the function of incorporating the country-specific differences of the federations. To this end, a binary logistic regression was applied on a sample of 297 NSFs (almost all of the federations of the five countries). The data used for this study was collected from the federations’ websites in 2018 and is part of Database.
The analysis confirms that, as found in previous studies, the goal set by the International Olympic Committee has not been achieved overall, as only 45.1% of the sample has achieved it. In addition, while the age of the federation is irrelevant, the size of the governing federation and the fact that it is an Italian, Portuguese or Turkish federation, negatively indicates the probability of achieving the objective itself. The three countries in question, unlike Spain and the UK, did not experience any form of gender quotas during the period under consideration. This result leads to reflect on a joint use of the two measures to promote gender equality.
The main implication of this study is that if the goal is to promote gender diversity in the governing bodies of sport, the simple target-setting, even if proposed by an authoritative body such as the International Olympic Committee, is not effective. The study challenges the quote-versus-target debate, at least in the international governance system of sport, promoting the prospect of a complementary use of the two forms of regulatory intervention to increase the percentage of women on boards. The gender issue in sport governance requires an architecture of various regulatory interventions that involve different national and international institutional levels and combine both pressure on self-regulation and coercion.