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The fundamental cultural changes required in sport

Steve King Senior Vice President: Customer Experience 13/01/2022

UK Sport has called for the introduction of ‘fundamental, cultural, behavioural and procedural changes’.

There are so many ‘fine lines’ in a competitive sporting context; between ‘pushing athletes to achieve their full potential’ versus ‘bullying’ or between ‘banter’ and ‘abuse’.

Badminton has become the latest in a long list of sports to come under the spotlight for the Cultural Health of the organisation. This comes hot on the heels of a 2021 where cricket was blighted by a number of issues, most notably the Azeem Rafiq case, but also high profile incidents that saw Ollie Robinson shamed (and subsequently banned) during what should have been a career changing introduction to Test Cricket, and Tim Paine stepping down as Australian captain on the eve of a home Ashes series.

The sad truth is that there will almost certainly be more. There are so many ‘fine lines’ in a competitive sporting context; between ‘pushing athletes to achieve their full potential’ versus ‘bullying’ or between ‘banter’ and ‘abuse’. Often (if not always) the key differentiator is the impact on the victim rather than the intent of the abuser. Context, personality, and historical experiences all play a role in how an organisation’s/team’s culture can be seen very differently by individuals involved within it.

Ignorance of the impact of words or actions on another party plays a huge role in failures to address issues before they develop into widespread cultural concerns. Policies, training and empathy can only go so far. It is vital that the views of all members of an organisation are constantly being taken and that there is a pro-active attempt to monitor and address those factors relating to cultural health. It is not good enough to wait for victims or whistle blowers to come forward, by this point it is likely that what may have been isolated will have become endemic.

Savanta has worked for a number of years with organisations to put in place crucial Cultural Health Check programmes. These programmes are designed to pick up issues early and to allow organisations to address concerns before they become established. Whilst culture can form part of wider employee surveys the subtle changes in message that indicate the start of issues (rather than the more obvious red flags that become apparent once problems have magnified) can be lost in the background noise of these more encompassing programmes. A specific Cultural Health Check (with the ability for third-party, anonymous one-on-one discussions as a follow up where requested) should be a vital tool within all sporting organisations. As has been seen the cost of failure sadly takes a very human toll and produces board level consequences.

For more information on our work with sporting bodies, NGB’s and other organisations involved in delivering sport please get in touch.

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