Sports governance: How to be in the headlines for the right reasons

For Australia, sport is both a passion and big business resulting in a constant focus on the sector.

The headlines in recent times however have been less than ideal with culture, leadership, governance and performance coming under scrutiny.

Adding another layer of complexity is the hard stop to all sport in the wake of COVID-19.

But there are significant opportunities emerging for the sporting industry to reframe its governance, culture and operations.

These issues will be put under a spotlight at a Governance Institute of Australia webinar on 23 June with Rob Dalton, Acting Chief Executive Officer for Sports Australia leading a panel featuring Andrew Wellington, Chairman, Brisbane Lions Club; Jodie Fields, former captain of the Australian Women’s Cricket Team; and Glenn Vassallo, Managing Director, GRT Lawyers.

In advance of the webinar, and as NRL leads the way for Australian sport back onto the fields after the COVID-19 stop, we asked Jodie Fields, Andrew Wellington and Glenn Vassallo about the key challenges for sports governance.

“At this time the most important and overriding principle for governance leaders must be sustainability - how can we get that embedded into each sport through new business models on running, growing and scaling each sport,” Mr Vassallo said.

Panel speaker Jodie Fields who led the Australia Women’s Cricket Team to double World Cup wins in 2012 and 2013 agrees: “It is crucial for sport not to waste this crisis and adapt positively for the future.

“It has highlighted the importance of cash flow, having cash reserves available and the need to keep working on new ways to develop revenue streams for sports to keep their businesses viable.”

COVID-19 recovery an opportunity to improve business models

The sports governance panel will consider how the sector can recover from the challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact and implications for players, operations, workforce and all stakeholders.

Mr Vassallo said the pandemic has presented an opportunity for improvement.

“This is an opportunity to improve the underlying business model, to ensure financial sustainability and innovation so that we don’t go back to old ways. We have to look for the scalable aspects of each sport – in terms of engagement and financial stability.”

Brisbane Lions Chairman Andrew Wellington said the current crisis has presented an opportunity to make some difficult decisions.

“You very rarely get an opportunity like this where the status quo is already so heavily challenged that people understand change is necessary,” he said.

“Don't miss the opportunity to make those difficult decisions to drive change.”

Sport plays an integral role in re-connecting communities

“Sport is an integral part of re-connecting our communities,” Ms Fields said.

“It will be key for those in sport to act collaboratively across Australia, and globally from our government agencies such as Sport Australia to national and state sporting organisations right through to our local community leagues.

“It will be crucial for sports to share their ideas and opportunities with each other so we can pivot and move forward successfully.”

Ms Fields stressed the need for the efforts to include the grassroots level, and for sport administrators to work together to re-engage with kids, parents, volunteers and sport stakeholders helping to manage the sport within local communities.

“And at the highest levels of elite performance, it is crucial we choose the attitude to invest in our high performance systems and athletes, both female and male, so we can get them back on the field as soon as possible safely and provide a great product to re-engage with the fans and communities.”

Sports governance webinar: Frameworks for culture, leadership, ethics and accountability

A lack of good governance can become more evident when times get tough, Mr Wellington said.

“Embedding good governance is a combination of educating people on what good governance is, having good people in place (which involves helping people develop the skills they need) and finally having appropriate processes in place where good governance is rewarded and poor governance is called out.”

Governance Institute’s upcoming sports governance webinar panel will discuss how the sector can reframe governance principles to help ensure sport is kept in the headlines for the right reasons.

The panel will consider:

  • current challenges for sports governance
  • commercialisation of sport and the impact on culture
  • leadership, accountability, ethics and performance
  • driving performance, strategy and sector directions from grassroots to the national leagues
  • keeping stakeholder engagement at the core of responsible decision-making.

Join us for this timely national briefing on 23 June from AEST 11am to 12pm. 

Register for the event

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