The State of Sports Governance – board report with Moore Stephens

The Birkbeck Sports Business Centre, in partnership with Moore Stephens, has just published a report on sport governance in the UK, drawing on research with over 100 board members from 56 sport organisations.

The State of Sports Governance, co-authored by Moore Stephens and Birkbeck Sport Business Centre Directors Dr Geoff Walters and Dr Richard Tacon, was launched on 6 March at the London offices of Moore Stephens. The launch event, attended by more than 50 individuals working in the sport sector, involved speeches by Dr Walters and Dr Tacon, a keynote address by Annamarie Phelps CBE, outgoing Chair of British Rowing and Chair of the recent Cycling Independent Review Panel, and a Q&A session.

The report comes at a significant time for the sport sector. Throughout 2017 and 2018, a number of sport organisations have faced media scrutiny over alleged doping and bullying, with major concerns over safeguarding and athlete welfare. This has led to important questions being asked about the state of sport governance in the UK. Meanwhile, following the new Government sport strategy in 2015, UK Sport and Sport England developed and launched the new UK Code for Sports Governance in December 2016. The Code requires that all funded organisations comply with 58 specific requirements in order to receive public funding – a shift away from the traditional ‘comply-or-explain’ approach seen in other codes and a development that has seen many sport organisations preoccupied with governance issues.

The State of Sports Governance provides insight into key areas of sport governance in the UK. It reveals that many boards are complying with specific Code requirements around board size and gender diversity. However, it also demonstrates the relative lack of diversity on sport boards: on average, only 4% of board members are from BAME backgrounds and only 3% identify as disabled. Importantly, the research drew directly on the views of board members currently involved, focusing on how they feel their boards are performing, what is working well and what challenges they face. 33% felt that the Code would require significant changes to governance practices and a further 63% felt it would require at least minor changes. Less than 40% of board members have received training in key risk areas, including culture and behaviours, while only 55% agreed that the boards have a culture of ownership and responsibility, set by the board and communicated across the organisation.

The findings of this report contribute to ongoing discussions on the role of the board in leading and improving the performance of sport organisations. The report also demonstrates that the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre is at the forefront of research into board governance in the sport sector in the UK and that it continues to contribute to debate and to policy within the sector.

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