Governance in Sport: A Platform for Growth & Development

The sporting landscape in Australia is largely enriched and delivered through the countless hours of service and support provided by volunteers - volunteer boards, committees and administrators. Good corporate governance plays a vital role in underpinning the integrity and efficiency of any sporting code. However, some see governance in sport a painful obligation but really, it should be considered a platform for development and growth.

In recent times, there has been a growing trend of scandals and corruption in sport, which, in turn is leading to a growing trend of dissatisfaction, scepticism and lack of confidence in the leaders of our sport.

In today's environment, we are increasingly subjected to media scrutiny, continuous social media attention and an increasing demand for transparency and accountability. The corporate and political worlds have been living their decisions through this lens for some time. Now sporting associations are facing the same challenges; and in my opinion - so they should!

If we accept that the status quo is no longer viable, then it makes sense for sporting associations to look to other sectors, such as business and non-profits, for governance lessons. The Australian Sports Commission recognises that effective sports governance requires leadership, integrity and good judgment. Additionally, effective governance will ensure more effective decision making, with the organisation demonstrating transparency, accountability and responsibility in the activities undertaken and resources expended.

It is commonly accepted that governance structures have a significant impact on the performance of sporting organisations. Poor governance has a variety of causes, including director inexperience, conflicts of interest, failure to manage risk, inadequate or inappropriate financial controls, and generally poor internal business systems and reporting. Ineffective governance practices not only impact on the sport where they are present, but also undermine confidence in the Australian sports industry as a whole.

It is essential for sport to act ethically and with integrity and with transparency; essential for the progress and prosperity; prevents fraud; and protects the rights of members and sponsors, donors and the governing body along with protecting the long-term objectives of the sporting code. Leading governance bodies in Australia have recognised this growing trend, now offering specific governance courses for administrators of sporting associations. See AICD Sports Governance Course or Governance Institute of Australia - Governance in Sport courses.

Another consideration is that as sport becomes increasingly commercialised, sponsors investing their money and reputation are becoming more demanding of the organisations they partner with. Sponsors demand greater transparency prior to entering into arrangements and may exercise termination rights in event of high profile governance failures.

But most importantly - effective communication is important for all governing bodies. Members should be regular informed of the governing body’s activities, policy decisions, elections, approach to governance, and other business (e.g., executive, legislative, judicial, commercial). A two-way communication, which provides channels for feedback from the members, is encouraged. If all the members of the organisation are encouraged to share their ideas, they would feel like they are an essential part of the organisation. Members should be informed of policies, procedures, financial responsibilities, and new marketing adventures.

Let our sport grow with transparency, engagement and solid ethics. Lead from the front, like any great sportsperson, with integrity and humility. Moreover, good governance is a smart business decision and fundamental to the longevity and success of our sport.

Note:  Ilona holds a Bachelor of Laws and Masters in Law from the Queensland University of Technology; a Certificate of Corporate Governance from the Governance Institute of Australia and is a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. She is a Non-Executive Director and Chair - Audit, Risk & Governance Committee of Karting (New South Wales) Inc and a strong advocate for increased governance and transparency in sport.