IHF By-Laws: Desirable Changes (Part 1)

Some time ago I commented on the importance of having IHF establish clear goals and strategies, before it rushes ahead and focuses on detailed changes in its By-Laws. Nevertheless, as the IHF has now set a date for an ‘extraordinary’ Congress and has established a working group for considering changes in the By-Laws (a group that many observers find to have a ‘strange’ composition), several handball friends, both inside the IHF and elsewhere, have asked me to go ahead and present my views on desirable changes. I will divide up my comments and suggestions into 3 installments, with today’s efforts involving primarily the Executive Committee and the Council, soon to be followed by articles dealing with the Congress, the Commissions and some other specific issues.

First one needs to remember that the effectiveness of any rules and regulations depend on the good intentions of the people who are set to implement them, so even the most perfect By-Laws do not guarantee good governance. However, it also holds true that By-Laws, on the basis of actual experience, may need to be made more comprehensive and specific, precisely because one cannot just rely on adherence to sound principles in the absence of binding rules and regulations.

It is clear to many observers that, for some time now, the IHF Executive Committee has become inappropriately autonomous and powerful, with far too little respect for the role of the Council and far too little accountability. This may partly be the result of excessive complacency on the part of Council members and others, but it is also a direct result of a lop-sided work distribution in the By-Laws. The fundamental flaw is that the Executive Committee is viewed as a much too independent body, instead of having the six Council members who are supposed to constitute the Executive Committee serve as [u]the Council’s [/u]executive body, with a full accountability to the Council as a whole. This must change!

Moreover, Article 16 in the By-Laws generally has a wording that is clearly too open-ended or all-encompassing in describing the tasks assigned to the Executive Committee. The powers to interfere in the work of other IHF entities are much too broad, and a large part of the suggested monitoring role would be far more appropriate for the Council to assume. In addition, some of the provisions in Article 16 are in direct conflict with roles and tasks already given to the Council in Article 15. This applies, for instance, with potentially disastrous effects, in the area of decision-making in financial matters.

However, this is not to suggest that the Council has a perfectly clear and appropriate mandate. One [u]could[/u] interpret the role of the Council to be very strong if some parts of Article 15 are taken literally. On the other hand, the By-Laws are totally, and quite inappropriately, silent on the key role that the Council undoubtedly must have in not just the ongoing policy-making but also in the underlying establishment of goals and strategies. But when one argues for a strengthened role for the Council, it is necessary to keep in mind that such a change is very much related to the composition of the Council and the basic responsibility that its members tend to feel, which in turn depends a lot on how they are elected.

Clearly it makes sense to try to achieve synergy by having two different dimensions represented, namely the technical and operational activities through the Commission Presidents and the broad knowledge of people being familiar with the grassroots work and the special circumstances in the different member countries. However, it has become very obvious that there is a problem involved in having about half of the Council consist of members who are specifically nominated by their respective continents and primarily tend to see themselves as persons expected to look after the interests of the continent that nominated them. This means that a large chunk of the Council may not really see itself as managers and policy-makers of the [u]IHF[/u] but as political representatives of one geographic segment of the IHF. (I cannot resist the temptation of making the comparison with the U.S. Congress and the unattractive ‘ear-marking’ traditions…).

While an effort needs to be made, there is no simple solution to this dilemma. Perhaps only [u]one[/u] member should be nominated by each continent for ‘rubberstamping’ in the Congress. Then the remaining slots could be filled on the basis of open elections in the Congress from among candidates from continents. Alternatively, perhaps the remainder of the Council should select the second person from each continent, on the basis of their previous collaboration with these individuals. Moreover, it could be mandated that the second person from each continent must be someone who does not have a role in the Continental federation and therefore can be have a more independent position. I am confident that other ideas could be identified on this important issue.

It must not be forgotten that one of the well-known weaknesses in the role of the Council comes from a lack of sufficiently firm and detailed By-Law requirements regarding the meeting procedures in the Council. Again, the ability to run meetings may depend largely on the individuals, but it is clear that the Council meetings have become too informal, inconsistent and ineffective in terms of the procedures followed. As has been noted on some controversial issues, this can become very dangerous. So, regrettably, it seems necessary to use the formality of the By-Laws to bring about change, including the need for more structured and formal meetings, with legal expertise available.

Finally, an issue that comes to mind when recent worries about decision-making based on sound legal principles is recalled: it is not an acceptable situation to have positions on the Arbitration Commission and the Arbitration Tribunal filled by persons who do not have the necessary education and experience as a jurist. The current By-Law requirements are not strict enough on this point.

IHF Bylaws: http://www.ihf.info/upload/Manual/IHF_STATUTS_CHAP_01_GB.pdf

Part 2, focusing on the Commissions, will follow in the next couple of weeks.