July 8, 2021

Consulting for change in the sports sector

Author:
Rachel Phillips, Director in Research, Insight and Consulting
It is vital that Boards do not have a ‘tick box’ approach to diversity and inclusion; rather that they allow the new voices to change the culture of the Board.

Governance. Not considered the most exciting or ‘sexy’ of topics, but vital for the efficient running and, indeed, flourishing of organisations.


One definition of governance is the way rules, norms and actions in an organisation are structured, sustained, regulated and held accountable. Governance is usually enacted by a Board made up of Company Directors and non-executive Directors, who may bring certain skills or knowledge to help the organisation achieve its strategy. Governance not only holds the organisation accountable e.g. responsible for signing off budgets to ensure accurate accounting, but can also support organisational change from the top down.

Governance in the sports sector.
Sports organisations in receipt of public funding from either UK Sport or Sport England are required to demonstrate they are viable organisations worthy of public investment. To do this, they comply with A Code for Sports Governance. First published in 2016, this commits the organisation to certain rules including Board terms, reporting financial accounts, and for organisations in receipt of a larger amount of money (Tier 3), at least 25% of the Board should be independent non-executive directors and a minimum of 30% of each gender on its Board.

The value of having a diverse Board is the inclusion of different voices around the table. As argued in an Arts Council England report, diverse boards can make decisions more effectively by reducing the risk of ‘groupthink’. People will have different life experiences based on age, gender, and ethnicity as well as a range of other personal factors. Hearing and responding to these voices are one way of challenging and improving the sport. It is vital that Boards do not have a ‘tick box’ approach to diversity and inclusion; rather that they allow the new voices to change the culture of the Board. This arguably would then lead to changes in the organisation as a whole, creating greater diversity and inclusion throughout the sport.

Consultation as part of Governance reform.
In July 2020, it was announced that the Code would undergo a review, with a particular focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. Savanta ComRes were commissioned to conduct a consultation comprising of both an online survey sent to stakeholders, and also open to the public, as well as ten focus groups with stakeholders.

The consultation found that compliance with the Code had increased diversity and strengthened Governance across many organisations. Although some of this change had been challenging, there was appetite among governance leads to go further.

Last week, UK Sport and Sport England announced changes to the Code for Sports Governance, including the requirement for organisations to develop a detailed and ambitious Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (DIAP) to increase the diversity on their Boards and senior leadership teams, as well as across their wider organisations. This is an exciting step in the area of sports governance which will hopefully lead to greater diversity in sport at all levels, down to grassroots.

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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