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Stepping onto the field for the first time is daunting for a participant. What is the purpose? What are the rules? Who is on my team? What is my position? What is the spirit of the game? Being a director or a CEO, no matter the size or complexity of the organisation, can raise the same questions. This section provides a basic understanding of sport governance and is complemented by a glossary.

What is governance?

An internet search will bring up many definitions of governance. These definitions are often more confusing than helpful because of the amount of information and the complexity of the terminology. At its most basic, governance is the system by which organisations are directed and controlled. It is the way in which expectations are made clear and the culture of the organisation is modelled. The following lists further clarify what governance is and is not.

Governance is:
  • The ‘brain’ – the thinking and monitoring part of an organsiation
  • Leadership in terms of purpose, strategy and values
  • The structures and processes for decision-making in an organisation
  • Ongoing, deliberate and proactive
  • A set of checks and balances for managing risks
  • A method for evaluating organisational performance
Governance is not:
  • The ‘body’’—the doing and running of an organisation
  • A recognition of long-term service to a sport
  • An organisation’s day-to-day and week-to-week activities
  • A secondary, sporadic thing to be done when time permits
  • A reactive process when things go wrong
  • Box-ticking to receive funding

Good governance does not guarantee success; however, poor governance almost certainly guarantees failure.

Much like a coach develops a training plan and goals for a team, governance helps set the purpose for an organisation, its vision and how it will get there. For a gameplan to be effective, it is important to know the objective, the rules, the team members, and the team’s approach. The same applies in governance.

What's the objective?

Governance is having the processes and systems to enable good decision-making to help our organisation achieve its purpose. It is also about setting and exemplifying our agreed values and behaviours both individually and collectively.

What are the rules?

When governing, we must follow a set of rules. These rules are determined by legislation and the constitution agreed to by our members. The rules include policies and procedures which outline what we can and cannot do.

Who's on the team?

Our governance team includes the board of directors and, where there is one, the CEO, with the support of members. We all have different roles to play including holding each other to account in achieving the best for the organisation.

How's it played?

Our agreed values underpin our culture and guide our behaviours. Our culture is exemplified through our trust in each other and the confidence that comes from the support of our teammates

The Governance Team

  • Who the organisation exists to serve
  • Granted powers under the constitution
  • Elect directors to the board and approve major changes to the organisation
  • The group of directors who hold ultimate responsibility for the organisation in accordance with the constitution
  • Makes decisions based on what is in the best interest of the organisation and its members
  • Sets, approves, and is accountable for the vision and strategy of the organisation
  • Individuals elected or appointed to serve on the board
  • Have personal legal duties and responsibilities to the organisation
  • Come together to make decisions as the board
  • Exemplify the moral, ethical and behavioural expectations of the organisation and all its stakeholders
  • An individual hired by the board to implement the organisation's strategy
  • Directs and oversees the day-to-day operations of the organisation
  • Is responsible to the board and provides information to help the board monitor progress and make decisions

Why is sport different?

Governance is a part of every organisation. So why do we need a specific set of principles for the governance of sport? The characteristics of sport which produce a different governance environment to that of the corporate or not-for-profit sector are outlined in the following.

Unique Structures

  • There are often interdependent relationships between organisations within a sport
  • Most commonly found in the federated model (national, state/territory, clubs)

Long histories and traditions

  • Many organisations have long-standing traditions which can make change difficult
  • Sport is reliant on volunteers who fulfil multiple and often conflicting roles
  • Traditionally in Australia, sport has grown from within communities or the ground up


  • Even experienced directors can make decisions with their heart rather than their head
  • The desire for on field success can override good governance practices
  • Directors often have an emotional connection to and investment in the sport they are involved with

A variety of purposes

  • A single organisation can have many conflicting priorities, with a tension between high performance success and participation growth
  • For some sports, this includes considering its role as an entertainment or lifestyle product
  • Sports have a broad range of stakeholders.
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