Better Governance in Sport Organizations

By Milena M. Parent, PhD, University of Ottawa, MEMOS English Director

Is it good governance or better governance? Good governance implies good vs. bad, positive vs. negative, whereas better governance implies organizations can always improve their governance practices. And all organizations, inside and outside sport, can improve their governance practices! No organization is perfect.

But what is better governance? What should you consider when looking to improve your organization’s governance practices?

Based on a systematic review of governance principles in sport, governance principles can be structure-based, process-based, outcome-based, or context-based. The three most popular principles are transparency, accountability, and democracy (stakeholder participation and democratic processes). For an overview of governance principles in sport, see this governance trend report on better governance.

Better governance in a sport organization (and all organizations, for that matter) starts at the top with the organization’s board. Board members have a fiduciary duty to that organization. So the right people need to be around the boardroom table.

But what are good board composition practices in sport?

You should consider providing role clarity for board members, having an elected skills-based board, increasing diversity of all forms (gender, race/ethnicity, LGBTQ2+ status, disability status, age, etc.), building independence by including several independent board members, having board members of various tenure lengths (new-term, medium-term and longer-term board tenures), and minimize board size. For more, see this governance trend report on board composition.

You may know who should be around your boardroom table. Do you also know that you need to prepare them for their job as a board member?

For board members to be effective from the start, they need to be properly onboarded. But who oversees the onboarding of new board members? And what should the onboarding process look like?

There are three main steps to board onboarding:

  1. Board member recruitment, application, and selection
  2. New member orientation
  3. Onboarding evaluation

For details of each step, see this governance trend report on board onboarding.

Finally, conflicts of interest in sport organizations are a systemic problem. Conflicts of interest by sport managers, and especially by board members of sport organizations at all levels, can be real conflicts. But they can also be perceived or potential conflicts of interest. All are important to consider in better governance processes.

What is the difference?

Real conflicts of interest are when a board member has a personal/private connection to a given issue. Potential conflicts of interest are when a board member has a personal/private interest or relationship with an identified future commitment by the sport organization, like a consultant to be hired or a supplier to be chosen. Perceived conflicts of interest are when well-informed individuals, whether inside or outside the board or organization, would reasonably believe there may be a conflict of interest – even if there isn’t a real conflict of interest.

If you think there could be a conflict of interest, you need to address it. How can you reduce or mitigate conflicts of interest in your sport organization? For answers, see this governance trend report on board conflicts of interest.

These better governance trend reports are part of a new series on governance and leadership by Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC). Stay tuned for more trend reports in the coming months!