UK: The Code For Sports Governance Is Both Helping And Hindering

Last Updated: 17 May 2018
Article by Richard Tacon and Geoff Walters

People are divide on whether the code improve practices or is an expensive burden

The past few years have been particularly challenging for the sport sector in the UK. A number of sports organisations have faced substantial media and government scrutiny, following allegations of doping and bullying and concerns over safeguarding and athlete welfare.

This scrutiny has led to important questions being asked about the state of sport governance and, in particular, the role that boards – and individual board members – of sport organisations play.

In December 2016, UK Sport and Sport England, the two non-departmental public bodies responsible for investing public funding in, respectively, elite sport in the UK and mass participation sport in England, launched the UK Code for Sports Governance.

This followed the pledge made in the government sport strategy in 2015 to develop such a code, a pledge that partly reflected the specific concerns outlined above and partly reflected the more general modernisation drive in the public and non-profit sectors.

"The research drew on in-depth survey responses from more than 100 board members across 56 organisations"

Although codes of governance are not new to the sector – UK Sport, Sport England and the Sport and Recreation Alliance have all developed various guidelines since 2004 – what is different about the new code is that it puts in place a mandatory requirement that all funded organisations comply in order to receive public funding.

The code also introduces three tiers of organisation, with the requirements for those organisations categorised as Tier Three more stringent than those categorised as Tier Two and Tier One.

It also includes the need to produce a governance action plan, overseen by UK Sport or Sport England, which has to set out how they have achieved the requirements, or what they need to do to comply.

Surveying the state

Six months on from the launch of the code, in June 2017, Moore Stephens, the accounting and advisory network, and Dr Richard Tacon and Dr Geoff Walters from the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre – a dedicated research centre in the Department of Management at Birkbeck, University of London – began joint research to evaluate the state of governance in the UK non-profit sport sector.

The research drew on in-depth survey responses from more than 100 board members across 56 organisations and was published in March 2018 as 'The State of Sports Governance'.

The report examined a number of important structural issues, such as board size, composition, remuneration and recruitment, as well as a range of important behavioural issues, such as strategic planning, decision-making, conflict resolution and board-management relationships.

Of particular interest, however, was how board members within the sector feel about the code: what they feel are its strengths, its weaknesses and its likely effects.

Impact on the sector

The research found that the vast majority of board members feel the code will have a definite impact on the board. 33% stated that it would require significant changes and 64% that it would require minor changes; only 3% felt that it would require no changes at all.

In fact, this has been manifested over the past year or so, with a number of boards of national governing bodies (NGBs) of sport finding it difficult to get the necessary governance changes voted through that would make them compliant with the code.

Improving practice

The survey then probed board members' views in more detail. Many felt that the code has improved, and will continue to improve, practice in the sector.

For example, one respondent commented: 'The code is a framework that will ensure consistency within sports governance. It is a simple and practical set of rules that make common sense when applied.'

In particular, this was felt to be important when dealing with volunteers. As one respondent commented: '[It] offers a good guide to what needs to be introduced and monitored, especially when dealing with volunteers and how such volunteers need to behave.'

"Without the potential financial penalties for non-compliance, it is highly unlikely that some of the requirements of the code would have been passed"

Interestingly, a number of board members felt that the code would be useful in 'opening up' discussion of governance – in a sense, forcing it onto the agenda.

As one respondent put it: 'For those NGBs who have challenges in evolving their governance, it will aid them significantly in dealing with membership and other stakeholders who have differing agendas inconsistent with those boards.'

Another stated: 'It has been the catalyst for modernising [our] governance structure. Without the potential financial penalties for non-compliance, it is highly unlikely that some of the requirements of the code would have been passed, particularly term limits for council membership.'

Beyond this, a number of board members highlighted the positive role the code might play in organisations' capacity to demonstrate good governance externally.

For example, one respondent said: 'The code will assist with our own credibility, both internally with all our stakeholders and externally with our partners, especially commercial partners, to have confidence that we are a well-administered and managed organisation, conscious of the systems we have in place, the work we undertake and the risks we manage.'

Time commitment

However, a number of respondents also highlighted drawbacks of the code. The most frequently discussed was the time commitment involved in demonstrating compliance, particularly for small organisations.

In addition, a number of respondents discussed the additional administrative costs it would entail. As one respondent put it: 'At an initial stage, it is taking a significant amount of time to respond to as an organisation and this is requiring individuals both paid and unpaid to be diverted from assigned tasks.

'This, if the excessively detailed paperwork required continues, will mean that staff and volunteers will have to be assigned to working on meeting the outcomes of the code as part of full time roles. In a small organisation, the appropriateness of this needs to be considered.'

A number also mentioned the difficulties caused by the very tight timescales imposed since the launch of the code.

One-size and tick-box

Beyond this, a number of respondents raised fundamental concerns about the nature of the code. A majority felt that it represented a 'one-size-fits-all' approach, which, even taking into consideration the various tiers of compliance, was inappropriate for some organisations.

As one respondent said: 'It is a 'one-size-fits-all' code that feels very driven by the need for change in the governance of one or two major sports and does not recognise the very varied landscape that sports organisations operate in.'

Another said: 'Certain aspects of the code simply do not apply to our organisation, but as compliance is 100% necessary, it results in actions being taken to "tick a box" that do not improve the organisation or even relate to what it does.' Another made a similar point: 'It could end up being a sledgehammer to crack a nut.'

"The code feels driven by the need for change in the governance of one or two major sports"

The concern around box-ticking emerged in a number of responses. As one respondent put it: 'Governance codes can introduce a "tick-box mentality" and there are aspects of [our] governance structure, which require modernisation, which the code does not address. It is a risk that in seeking to push through further governance reform, the fact that [we are] fully compliant may reduce the appetite to do that.'

Some also felt that, despite its stated aim to focus on culture and values, the implementation of the code would have the opposite effect: 'The code feels like a measuring tool.

'I am concerned that organisations spend their time ticking the box rather than addressing the culture and values of the organisations which, if highlighted as critical to the organisation's progress, can address the decision making required to embed the code into organisations.

'The embedding of the code in the normal workings of the organisation has to be the aim and to date I am unconvinced that this is being achieved due to the way the adherence to the code is being implemented.'

Deterring talent

Finally, a number worried about the effects the code would have on those willing and able to serve as board members.

The code imposes strict term limits and a number questioned this: 'The imposition of term limits on councillors will reduce the sustainability of the membership. The nine-year term will mean many members will leave at the same time.

'We will lose a large percentage in a single year and this will impact the effectiveness of the organisation, as those large numbers will need to be replaced and trained. It will weaken the membership and damage the organisation by removing significant levels of experience and expertise.

'This aspect was ill thought through and should be reviewed. The worst impact of this is that younger members, in their 30s, 40s and 50s will have to leave the organisation at a time when they have much to offer. This is a serious flaw.'

The jury is out

Overall the research flagged positive and negative aspects. For some it usefully forced governance onto the agenda and made real improvements possible.

But for others it has created difficulties and generated criticism over certain specific, inflexible requirements and the manner of its implementation.Is it a catalyst for change, then, or a sledgehammer to crack a nut? Or perhaps both?

Dr Richard Tacon is lecturer in management, and Dr Geoff Walters is senior lecturer in management; both at Birkbeck, University of London

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions