Now, more than ever, we need a revo­lu­tion in sport gov­er­nance

 Code on di­ver­sity has many fine words but is do­ing lit­tle re­ally to change the cul­ture at the top

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Laura McAl­lis­ter was chair of Sport Wales 2010-16, is a for­mer board mem­ber of UK Sport, cur­rent board mem­ber of the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion of Wales Trust and Pro­fes­sor of Pub­lic Pol­icy and Gov­er­nance at Cardiff Univer­sity. Laura McAl­lis­ter

If we are be­ing hon­est, most of us who have worked in sport at a se­nior level agree that its gov­er­nance needs a rad­i­cal over­haul. Our prob­lem is a pretty ob­vi­ous one: sport is still largely gov­erned by a nar­row and un­rep­re­sen­ta­tive group, mostly male, mostly white and mostly older.

As a re­sult, sport’s pri­or­i­ties have be­come hor­ri­bly skewed, and too many chances missed for se­ri­ous moderni­sa­tion to get away from the sadly con­ser­va­tive and stale na­ture of much of sports gov­er­nance.

Pressed to do more on di­ver­sity, UK Sport and Sport Eng­land have de­vel­oped a gov­er­nance code which says all the right things but, for me, is too tar­get fo­cused and lacks the recog­ni­tion that, for change to be ef­fec­tive, it re­quires com­mit­ment to fun­da­men­tal cul­tural change. More­over, without the en­force­ment of proper fi­nan­cial penal­ties, any code is built on sand.

Some ar­gue that ap­point­ing more di­verse board mem­bers is to­kenis­tic, and it can be, but I think it is more nu­anced and com­plex than that. Of course, if we imag­ine that the bat­tle is won when we ap­point a cou­ple of women or peo­ple from dif­fer­ent eth­nic back­grounds, then we are clearly id­iots who should not be run­ning a raf­fle.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tion brings lim­ited value un­less there are board mem­bers of dif­fer­ent gen­der, age, skin colour, re­li­gion, na­tion­al­ity, dis­abil­ity and class. So, it is not just about women on boards but women who can speak up and of­fer a dis­tinc­tive women’s take on sport. The same ap­plies for “BAME”, too of­ten used as a ca­sual, ho­moge­nous catch-all for 7.6mil­lion very dif­fer­ent cit­i­zens with a range of ex­pe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives.

For what feels like an age, I have been bang­ing on about the busi­ness case for im­prov­ing sports gov­er­nance – as ev­i­denced by the McKin­sey re­port, a se­ries of ground­break­ing data sets which inar­guably prove that di­verse boards lead to bet­ter prof­itabil­ity in busi­ness. Its data shows that the most gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tive com­pa­nies were 25 per cent more likely to have above-av­er­age prof­itabil­ity, while the case for eth­nic di­ver­sity is more com­pelling still, with 36 per cent of com­pa­nies more likely to be fi­nan­cially prof­itable.

Gov­er­nance is of­ten seen as the “bor­ing” bit of sport, but it is also the most fun­da­men­tal. Di­verse gov­er­nance is no panacea, but it is all about power and in­flu­ence. Boards are where crit­i­cal de­ci­sions are made, re­sources are al­lo­cated and where cur­rently, women, BAME and dis­abled peo­ple are mostly ab­sent.

So, what can be done? A de­cent start would be to stop talk­ing about di­ver­si­fy­ing sports gov­er­nance and get on with it. There are no ex­cuses that we have not heard be­fore. In­for­mal re­la­tion­ships rule, un­der­pinned mainly by white-to-white, male-to-male net­works.

For me, the ar­gu­ments against pos­i­tive ac­tion look flim­sier by the day and it is sadly com­i­cal to see sport try­ing to de­fend its re­cruit­ment, ap­point­ments, and pro­mo­tions as be­ing mer­i­to­cratic.

Sport’s pri­or­i­ties have be­come hor­ri­bly skewed, with chances to mod­ernise missed

They are built by those al­ready in power (un­con­sciously, or some­times de­lib­er­ately) to nor­malise the sta­tus quo. This marginalis­es peo­ple who are dif­fer­ent – women and black as an ex­am­ple – judg­ing them as lack­ing “ex­pe­ri­ence”, “grav­i­tas” or “pro­file”, or without “a proven track record”, a way of deny­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to new blood.

This year has rocked sport – from Covid-19 to Black Lives Mat­ter and a se­ries of shock­ing abuse scan­dals – 2020 should force us to imag­ine a fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent gov­er­nance model.

Whether that means adapt­ing the US’s Ti­tle IX or the Rooney Rule, or en­forc­ing quo­tas for sex and race, we need to ex­pect faster ac­tion on mod­ernising sports gov­er­nance to make it prop­erly fit for pur­pose. That process is now look­ing long over­due.

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