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Game Changer

02 March 2020 by Craig Beeston

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The annual conference of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity (CIMSPA) in Derby last month marked the start of an exciting new development in governance for the sports and physical activity sector

Last month saw the launch of the Sports Governance Academy (SGA), a unique partnership between the Institute and Sport England, the body responsible for funding and promoting grassroots sport and activity across the country. The SGA is a governance support hub for the sport and physical activity sector, designed to embed strong governance cultures in the sector’s organisations by developing and connecting people in governance roles of all types. It is an ambitious and high-profile programme which underlines The Chartered Governance Institute’s position as the authority on governance across all sectors.

Since the introduction of the Code for Sports Governance in 2017, the sport and physical activity sector has undergone enormous change. The Code, mandatory for all bodies receiving public funding through Sport England and its sister organisation, UK Sport, established a new standard in sports governance and initiated considerable change – in both the governance architecture of organisations and in attitudes – in a sector which has traditionally lagged behind other areas of the economy.

Though the intention was always to raise governance standards generally, the Code was rolled out against the backdrop of a number of high-profile stories which laid bare the need for the sector to pay attention to governance. Trust in organisations which play an important role in the cultural and social life of the nation – and which attract considerable public investment – was at risk of damage. Tackling these issues and embracing the Code were not insignificant challenges for the sector.

Code implementation was a massive step towards a shift in sports governance in this country. But compliance was simply the first step. Sport England’s focus has now turned from implementing the Code to helping organisations and their personnel adopt a culture of governance in the post-compliance phase. While the Code remains compulsory for bodies in receipt of public money, the funding bodies’ emphasis has moved from a mandated approach to a drive for the sector to own its governance responsibilities and to upskill those who work in the sector in order to achieve this.

This is where SGA comes in. In delivering the Academy, the Institute and Sport England are demonstrating a shared commitment to equipping people and organisations across the sector with the knowledge, skills and confidence to embed good governance at all levels. Writing as the SGA launched, Sport England Director of Sport, Phil Smith, noted the value which the Academy places on people and the role they play in the success of the sector. “For me, this is exciting”, he wrote, “if we can crack getting everyone involved in sport and physical activity to focus on how to run effective organisations, then the sector can really excel in terms of what it can achieve. The impossible becomes possible and we can become an example to other sectors”.

Smith’s comments echo the belief driving the SGA that the narrative around governance should not focus simply on compliance or the avoidance of bad news stories. Sport England and the Institute are in complete alignment in that good governance should be presented positively, as an enabler of improved performance which helps bodies of all sizes achieve their objectives and maximise their impact in a sustainable but confident manner. Embracing governance, instead of viewing it as a burden, is a further feature of that cultural shift within the sector that we want the SGA to promote.

SGA Offerings

The Sports Governance Academy is designed around three pillars: Resources, Learning and Community. Together, these provide a comprehensive governance support hub for the sector.

• Resources: the SGA provides access to a trusted set of resources to offer support in all aspects of governance. Advice on how to implement good governance practices, guidance and a library of support documents will help SGA members meet and exceed compliance goals and use governance as a tool to drive success.

• Learning: a series of introductory and intermediate-level training courses, with CPD recognised by the Institute’s strategic partner in the SGA, the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity.

• Community: connecting SGA users to a network of people in similar roles, through both face-to-face events and an online forum.

The value of this latter feature has been reinforced by the ongoing conversations with the sector that Sport England and the Institute have had. One of the many objectives that we have for the SGA is to make holding governance responsibilities a less lonely place. A desire to bring people together to share experiences, exchange ideas and good practice, and collaborate on thinking and current debates, is underpinned by the very ethos of the Academy. It is for the sector and very much driven by the sector. We want SGA users to access the best guidance and support available, but also to feed their own input and expertise back into the community. This will be the life of the Academy going forward. The people within the sector will be at the centre of all that the SGA does.


The SGA has as its core audience organisations and their personnel who are funded by Sport England and UK Sport at Tiers 2 and 3 of their investment structure. These represent a broad range of bodies: household names such as The FA, British Cycling and the Lawn Tennis Association; active partnerships operating at county level; and a host of sporting and non-sporting partners, including charities, education establishments and sector bodies.

This encompasses a diverse range of organisations and people working in them. The complexity of their business and their governance arrangements, as well as the resources available to them, varies enormously. This presents a challenge for the SGA to ensure that all their needs are catered for, but it also demonstrates a fantastic opportunity to bring together those with governance responsibilities who might otherwise never meet. The potential for a dynamic community is hugely exciting.

For the Institute

For the Institute, not only does the SGA represent an unmissable opportunity to cement its reputation in the sport and physical activity sector, reinforcing its position as the governance authority across the economy, it also offers an exciting opportunity to explore innovative operating models and methods of delivery for our content and services.

The Academy has its own branding and website from which training courses, webinars, networking events and the SGA annual conference can be accessed. The site also houses a comprehensive sports governance Knowledge Base, delivering the Institute’s guidance, good practice, template documents and checklists in an accessible and flexible format.

This is the first time that all of the services we offer at the Institute – intellectual property, training, professional development, formal learning, and professional networking – have been brought together in a single, dedicated package. And it gives us scope to try new things in order to take the Institute’s expertise to its audience in a modern, digitally-focused and relevant way.

The Institute has been developing its presence in the sports sector over the last few years, building up its intellectual property through the publication of guidance, the Sports Governance Handbook and recent reports on organisational culture and the Future of Sports Governance, released in 2019.
These sit alongside the Level 4 qualification in sports governance.

In delivering the Sports Governance Academy in collaboration with an influential partner in Sport England, we are well positioned to expand our reach across the economy, bring the Institute’s work to a wider audience in exciting new ways, and play our part in safeguarding the future of a sector which is close to the hearts of many across the country.

Craig Beeston is the SGA Programme Manager at the Chartered Governance Institute.

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