Sport federations' responses to institutional complexity : the case of Triathlon in Australia and Portugal

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National Sport Federations are responsible for governing all aspects of a sport in their country. They experience multi-level complexity when responding to numerous, often conflicting, requirements coming from: commercial, government and social logics; interests of affiliates within the federation; and a dual-mission to deliver elite and participation outcomes. While the effects of complexity in organisations have been extensively researched, little is known about how sport federations respond to multi-level complexity. Drawing on institutional logics and complexity, this research took a case study approach to investigate Australian and Portuguese triathlon federations’ responses to their complex environments, by conducting 29 semi-structured interviews with Government officials, and National Sport Federations’ board members, senior managers and staff members. Interview data were complemented with an examination of National Sport Federations’ annual reports and government policy documents (1998-2016). Four dimensions and several themes emerged from inductive and iterated thematic data analysis: (1) external complexity – alignment, transcendence, negotiation, reinterpretation; (2) interstitial complexity – empathy, formalisation, collaboration, specialisation, centralisation, delegation, rejection and manipulation; (3) internal complexity – division, balance, leverage and exploit; and (4) emotions – connection, harness. Federations responded by embracing all levels and sources of complexity (logics, designs and agendas). The theoretical contributions are to extend knowledge of institutional theory about the location of complexity, and alignment of responses; and to advance the understanding of organisational settlements by shaping the relationship of critical events and responses to establish new organisational settlements. Practitioners can draw on evidence-based recommendations to manage multi-level complexity using hybrid and aligned responses.
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