Sports leaders need clarity on governance

It had already been a long day and as Fiona took her seat at the table for her first board meeting, she wondered: ‘What am I doing here – corruption at FIFA, doping and corruption scandals at the IAAF? What am I facing and expected to contribute?’

Fiona is not alone. Very often directors are not clear about what role they are supposed to be performing. I have seen boards where, when a discussion on responsibilities and governance starts, it is evident that for many there is a lack of understanding of their role.

In a recent blog on the website Inside the Games, sports writer Mike Rowbottom suggests the recent direction of travel for top sporting administrators maximises the temptation for the average sports follower to embrace the defensive default of cynicism: ‘They’re all at it. You can’t trust any of them.’

This attitude chimes with Lord Acton’s sentiment expressed in his celebrated letter of 1887: ‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

It doesn't have to be like this. Board directors sit in a very privileged and very responsible position, with personal reputations at stake and, in some cases, carrying personal risks. They do themselves and sport no favours if they are ill-prepared and go with the flow.

Thirty years ago the term ‘corporate governance’ barely existed in vocabulary of business leaders let alone those charged with leading sport at international or domestic level. Now it’s on the agenda, in some shape or form, of every board and committee meeting of those organisations and clubs who manage sport. How qualified are volunteers in the sector to manage and lead in this increasingly complex world? The need for diverse and skilled boards with clarity of their role and the governance landscape has never been greater.

Recent legislation including the Bribery Act and the Modern Slavery Act focus the attention of directors on corruption and ethical behaviour. Risk has also become a key focus. Consider the risks are you are facing as an organisation and your appetite for risk. How to mitigate them and what to about risks over which you have no control.

Perhaps as she reflects on these challenges and the business of the meeting, Fiona might consider that personal development is something which she can focus on to become a more effective board member. With the demands of the role becoming greater and the risks more serious, she owes it to herself and her board colleagues to be better informed and prepared.

ICSA in association with the Sport and Recreation Alliance has a new Advanced Certificate in Sport Governance and Administration.

Craig Hunter is a qualified company secretary, Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators, and the founding director of VERSEC Limited, an award winning consultancy, specialising in corporate governance and compliance. Clients include multi-national corporations, listed companies, smaller independent companies as well as charities and sporting organisations.

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