Reform of governance in sport

The Australian Sports Commission (ASC) has released a paper to support ongoing governance reform that calls for sports to take a unified approach to behaviour, processes and supporting systems. Building trust and national cohesion, while improving sports’ commercial and financial positions, are the key objectives of the next stage of governance reform led by the ASC.

The paper, Governance Reform in Sport, was released in June 2016, and was the result of an extensive national consultation. The ASC distributed a ‘white paper’ for discussion in mid-2015 to promote governance reform that concentrated on voting structures and appropriately delineated roles of members, boards and management; how the collection of member registration fees is best managed; and the need for sports to continuously evolve their governance for improved performance.

Feedback on the white paper was provided by both national and state sporting organisations, state department of sports and recreation and other interested parties in the sport sector, and town hall meetings were held, providing ‘grass roots’ perspectives on governance reform in the sector.

Building on reforms implemented in the last three years by the ASC, the paper aims to support the ongoing alignment of sports with governance best practice in areas such as board chair elected by the board not the members; performance evaluation processes for boards; corporate rather than association structures; establishment of key board committees including nominations, audit and risk; and board diversity and skill mix.

The paper clarifies that the need for ongoing governance improvement has to be considered in the context of the social, commercial and financial environment facing many sports today. This covers the growing importance of integrity, safety and duty of care responsibilities; the increasingly lucrative commercial broadcast and media deals for the larger professional sports, which are placing smaller sports at a growing competitive disadvantage in the sports marketplace; a challenging and highly competitive sports sponsorship market, causing sponsors to focus increasingly on those sports with large broadcast audiences; and national economic pressures which mean that sports cannot rely on increased government funding to bridge the revenue gap to remain competitive.

Importantly, the ASC paper stresses that ‘good governance does not in itself guarantee success on the sports field, but its absence almost certainly guarantees failure’. This should assist sporting organisations to understand that good governance is an enabler of performance, not a determinant.

Australian sport is complex because of its federated structure, but the ASC hopes the paper will assist sporting organisations at every level to take a uniform approach, so as to build trust between key stakeholders. The paper encourages a unified and transparent approach to strategic planning, financial reporting, workforce management and commercial arrangements. It recognises that voting structures require some flexibility suited to the individual characteristics of the sport.

The ASC proposes to partner with state departments of sport and recreation to drive the reform, focusing first on Olympic and Commonwealth Games sports.

The paper can be found here.

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