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Sport Governance Principles

The game is changing

contemporary and stable governance structures

Can our sport benefit from sharing our resources?

Sporting organisations should regularly consider how their governance structures allow them to best achieve their purpose and respond to the challenges of a changing environment.

Sporting organisations can benefit from taking action in the best interests of the sport, as a whole, and should look for opportunities to maximise the sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness of their sport. Across a sport, organisations should adopt evidence-based and contemporary governance structures which are reflective of good governance.

Many sports are now realising the significant benefits that can be achieved by presenting a picture of the sport as a whole. This whole of sport view may include marketing, sponsorships, fundraising, government programs or even borrowing money. Effective sports are no longer focusing their marketing and sponsorship programs through states or regions, but rather looking for the efficiencies and returns of national campaigns. A procurement opportunity also exists within areas such as travel and even utilities. Public and private investors in sport are now seeking to understand the consolidated financial positions of a whole sport. This is part of their overall due diligence process in awarding grants or in the funding of projects, as often projects require on going operational expenditure component to manage infrastructure or programs.

Having the ability to prepare a national picture on a range of functions for sport is considered to be at the forefront as an outcome of good governance and reflective of a strong united sport. Sports seeking to move towards a national approach, and particularly in relation to the consolidation of annual financial statements, can begin by aligning all state sporting organisation financial year ends, and either pursuing alignment of financial systems, or creating shared services. This will position the sport to prepare annual consolidated financial statements and to take advantage of the significant whole of sport opportunities.

The modern era

There is increasing evidence that the historic structural model for sport lacks the agility required to best meet the needs of our changing community and the associated expectations of participants, spectators partners and other consumers. As a result, the position of traditional sport in Australian culture is being challenged by the proliferation of recreational activities and the rise of the internet and on-demand consumerism. More than ever before, Australians are choosing non-sport options for their physical activity.

Sporting organisations that are best able to meet the needs of their consumers, deliver high performance outcomes and grow participation are those that have adopted contemporary governance models and operate in a cohesive manner. These organisations harness the collective capability within the sport, are led by capable and experienced directors, and are underpinned by modern constitutions and corporate models.

Sporting organisations must comply with multifaceted legal obligations; produce audited financial statements; negotiate partnerships with government and commercial organisations; and meet important obligations for the protection of children and vulnerable people. No longer is a sport’s success determined only by the on-field contest. The business of sport is competitive, technical and intense. It takes significant commitment from those who choose to participate in the governance of sport.

The traditional federated system of governing sport in Australia has not changed significantly in over 100 years and is embedded within Australian sporting organisations. Unlike the alternative contemporary activity and recreation offerings, traditional sports often operate in a system of shared responsibility across a national sporting organisation and multiple state sporting organisations which creates duplication and inefficiencies.

While national and state sporting organisations may share the same goals for a sport, each may favour different methods or approaches for achieving those goals. Without contemporary structures, a sport’s resources—both human and financial—can be duplicated and at times wasted as national and state bodies work to deliver separate (and sometimes competing) outcomes, or the same or similar outcomes in different ways.

Structural change is not easy or quick. It must not be led by any one party in isolation, and requires the absolute commitment of the national sporting organisation and state sporting organisations to achieve a common purpose of strengthening the whole of sport in the most efficient way. To do this a sport should look at how it could transform to create stability and representative democracy, and how it can place emphasis on an outward vision of the future rather than the past or present. It is incumbent on directors, at every level of the structure to initiate change. It is relatively easy to point out what is wrong and what the problems are.

Lead the change

Genuine leadership is the creation of strategies that will promote change and solve the problems faced by the sport.

Sporting organisations should review how their practices and structures align with the emerging and established evidence-base for contemporary good governance. This will likely require challenging some historical practices and structures within both the organisation and the sport. By robustly discussing and evaluating the effectiveness of current governance structures, the organisation can identify what works and what may need to change. There is no single best structure for all sporting organisations. Each sport and each organisation is responsible for identifying and justifying what the best structure is for it into the future.

Structure is an enabler for supporting the way national and state sporting organisations collaborate—shared strategies, streamlined administration, consistent constitutions and governing structures, practices and behaviours—decreasing complexity and increasing agility so that sports can best achieve their purpose and deliver timely responses to market needs.

Leaders in our sector have a joint responsibility to recognise and address structural deficiencies, while respecting and appreciating the historic achievements of Australian sport. In doing so, sporting organisations can co-design and deliver the structures required to optimise their sport at all levels, respond to a changing society, and deliver the best experiences for their participants, partners and consumers.

  • Increased efficiencies enabling greater support for community and participant programs.
  • Increased consistency in positioning and presentation of the sport.
  • Greater reach and consolidated membership base, being more attractive to private sector partners and perhaps creating new partnership opportunities.
  • Improved organisational agility to take advantage of emerging opportunities.
  • Enhanced ability to recruit and retain high-quality directors.
  • Greater stability in the governance structure of a sport at all levels.
Questions to ask
  • Does our sport maximise the use of its resources?
  • How can we improve our current structures to achieve stability?
  • Does our structure optimise the services we can provide to our participants, partners and consumers?
  • Who should our members be?
  • Do our voting structures reflect the breadth of our membership?
  • Does our membership structure reflect how people engage with our sport?
  • How effectively does our structure distribute responsibilities and provide checks and balances on these requirements?
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