UK: Level Playing Field - August 29, 2019

Last Updated: 28 August 2019
Article by Kevin Carpenter

The way sport is governed has been put under the spotlight as stakeholders become increasingly vocal due to repeated failures

ICSA’s first venture into the area of sports governance came in 2016, when in January the Advanced Certificate in Sport Governance and Administration was launched. At this time the sector was only coming to truly realise the scale of the challenge ahead because repeated failures at all levels of sport globally, some of them extremely high profile, meant the broad range of stakeholders were becoming increasingly vocal.

This was not of surprise to me however as I had been working in the area of sports law since 2011. However, what had really opened my eyes to the realities of trying to govern sport, was my appointment in January 2014 as a non-executive director and company secretary for a small national governing body. I then knew how far behind the sector was when it came to employing even the most basic good governance practices which were widely accepted in the modern world. Sport was far from the Corinthian values of times past, and no longer just the pursuit of on-field success. Rather, at all levels of the sporting pyramid organisations involved in the sector had to be successful off the field as well and accept good business practices as a result.

Sport Autonomy

The reasons for shortcomings in sports governance were succinctly put in 2014 by the authors of the Final Report for the FIFA Governance Reform Project, who said that inappropriate conduct was usually down to a combination of three factors: personal greed, a breakdown in systems and controls, and a lack of ethical and moral culture within an organisation.

There are many well-documented examples of all three of these factors, with one of the more troubling in recent years where sports organisations (including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and international federations) have been targeted by hackers, who have stolen athletes’ private and personal medical data and leaked it to the public. Data protection regimes across the world are becoming more stringent, led by the European Union with the General Data Protection Regulation, so should sports organisations exhibit similar failings in the future and breach such regimes they are likely to face not only a further erosion of trust but also sizeable punitive fines.

A desire to move away from the traditional concept of the autonomy of sport, and general loss of faith in those organisations governing the sector, is no better exemplified than by the multiple and on-going threats from athletes to join so-called ‘breakaway competitions’ to realise their full earning potential in what is often a short career. Attempts by the Olympic movement federations to prevent this, principally by seeking to bar such athletes from the Olympic Games, have been successfully challenged at the highest levels of politics and the law. Most prominently, the EU Commission decided that the International Skating Union’s (ISU) rules imposing severe penalties on athletes participating in speed skating competitions not authorised by the ISU were in breach of EU competition law.

A landmark development in sports governance in the UK came in October 2016 with the publication of the Code for Sports Governance by UK Sport and Sport England. The achievements made by those governing bodies either receiving, or striving for, funding from those two quasi-public bodies was quite remarkable in a short period of time, given that by December 2017 55 of the 58 national bodies for sport involved in the compliance process were confirmed to have met all the necessary requirements of the new Code.

However, the issue then becomes how are all the documentary and policy changes made to comply with the Code implemented to be effective and sustainable in the modern sporting environment? Attempting to address this question drove many of the additions to the ICSA Study Text: Sports Governance [February 2018] to create the newly published ICSA Sports Governance Handbook [June 2019].

Soft Skills

A unique challenge to the current and future governance of sport has been a multitude of duty of care concerns, in particular those concerning safeguarding and participant welfare.

For governing bodies, such issues may mean an entire change in the strategic priorities of the organisation because such grievances and allegations, even if historic, have to be dealt with fairly, effectively and promptly.

For instance, and as a warning to sports boards, the total cost of the Independent Review into the Climate and Culture of the World Class Programme in British Cycling was around £90,000.
Failings in respect of the duty of care owed by governing bodies to participants is indicative of a culture in the sector which is not fit-for-purpose in modern society. Culture is undoubtedly one of the most difficult areas in which to effect change as it involves the use of ‘soft skills’.

These cannot be learned easily from a book and are only truly developed by working within an organisation and understanding the dynamics between the individuals involved.

That is not to say that there are not principles of culture that can be agreed, adopted and implemented by the board of a sports organisation. Which is why it was felt it was necessary to specifically include this in a new expanded chapter ‘Integrity, Ethics and Culture’ in the Handbook, with reference to ICSA’s Organisational Culture in Sport report [May 2018].

Indeed, UK Sport Chair Dame Katherine Grainger said this in November 2017, “Getting our culture right is simply the right thing to do. This isn’t about putting welfare before performance because there isn’t a choice between the two.

I genuinely believe that a better culture will lead to a stronger system and that in turn will help improve performances”.

Speaking Up

A key driver of change in any sector are its stakeholders. To have a stakeholder inclusive approach to decision making, a sports organisation must make the ‘stakeholder voice’ a meaningful part of the process. This is a significant challenge because of the conflicts inherent in the purposes of many governing bodies, which will include one or more of the following: growing the sport in question at the grassroots level, regulating the sport, achieving commercial success and ultimately making the sport sustainable for generations to come. Often the most powerful group of stakeholders in a sport organisation are the members.

However all too often other influential stakeholder groups are overlooked and not given the respect they deserve, principally the players and other participants in the sport (e.g. referees, coaches, physios, staff in the community etc). Other significant stakeholder groups in sport are commercial partners, funding bodies, supporters and local communities. When it comes to funding, since the introduction of lottery funding for sport in 1997, many UK sports have become overly, and in some cases exclusively, reliant on public investment. However, there has to be a rapid realisation that such funding is not going to be in great abundance going forward due to the general economic outlook for the country, and that as a result governing bodies must look for alternative sources of income to become sustainable. Diversifying the funding of an organisation through alternative income streams can include hiring out facilities, crowdfunding campaigns, innovative commercial partnerships and accessing social finances. Whilst these offer new opportunities, they also present challenges to sports bodies. Those who can provide such income will not want to provide it to organisations who do not have robust, effective and sustainable governance.

The modern sporting environment presents a myriad of both historic and current governance challenges, and whilst much good policy work has been done, the implementation of these changes by sports organisations will be vital to their effectiveness. All stakeholder groups will be watching the months and years to come in the sports sector with interest. 

Kevin Carpenter is Principal at Captivate Legal & Sports Solutions

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

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

Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
In association with
Related Topics
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please 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 (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

To Use 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.


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.


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