There seems to be no common international understanding of what comprises “sport governance”, and that’s a big problem.
An issue can’t be dealt with unless it’s defined and understood. This is painfully obvious in the current discussion about governance in sport, highlighted by the ASADA investigation into the Essendon Football Club debacle concerning sport doping. But the problem certainly isn’t confined to football, and it may be more complex than just blaming players for wanting to “juice up” their performance, as we will see.
Ask twenty people what sport governance is and you’ll probably get twenty variations on the answer. Michael Pedersen, an internationally recognized expert and leader in good governance, transparency, ethics and integrity, may have broken it down the best I’ve seen, stating that “the absence of a common understanding poses a great risk to the sporting industry, as it makes it almost impossible for sport leaders to adequately consider all relevant risks and opportunities when taking strategic decisions about future governance”.
In this article we discuss the similarities of sport and business in terms of governance and compliance, and the need for standardised auditing
What is Sport Governance?
Pederson strongly advises sport leaders to start any strategic discussion about future governance by first developing a joint understanding among all key stakeholders of what they are actually talking about.
Pederson further describes sports governance as having both horizontal and vertical aspects when it comes to sports. The horizontal covers different areas – think governance over the organization operationally and politically as one aspect, and a match as another. The vertical covers depth – preventative, detective, and sanction, or more simply, preventing problems, finding problems, and dealing with problems.
ASADA sees things differently than the AFL’s doping tribunal, fans are just tired of the whole thing and want to move on, and the players are caught in the middle of everything. That’s a gross oversimplification, but it gets the idea across. There’s no clear path for things to work down, and no clear set of rules or punishments for breaking them. Everything is foggy.
From a fan’s perspective, poor governance in sport is nothing more than an inconvenience or something to talk about at the bar. It’s certainly true that there are plenty of individuals in sports that are guilty of doping to enhance their performance – look no further than Lance Armstrong. But in cases like Essendon it seems that players could be the victims instead of the perpetrators.
As has been pointed out, players aren’t going to question their trainers when they’re given a drink during training or a match, or have the drink tested before consuming it. That means they could be drugged unknowingly rather than purposefully doping. Situations like this make the need for standardized governance very important.
Good governance first requires establishing the ground rules and making them clear. All sport is affected by this failure, not just the AFL. After the rules are set, regular systems and auditing have to be in place to ensure compliance at every level. That’s what makes good governance: preventative measures (firmly established rules), detective measures (regular and standardised auditing for compliance), and sanctions (fair but forceful enforcement for violations). If any of these three levels are weak or nonexistent, the entire system is weakened or useless.
Just a Job
Although sport is glamorised and put on a level of celebrity, it’s really the universal situation of employer, employee, and customer just like any business. The players, or employees, should have the same level of expectation for a safe work environment as an office worker. The employer, or clubs and leagues, should have an expectation of compliance with their rules. And the customers just want a good match without external drama.
In the cycle and system of governance, the auditing component can be the lynchpin that holds it together and helps to shape it. Rules must be set, and sanctions enforced, but the regular, ongoing audits help to shape adjustments and refinements to both those ends. This is the same as any business as well. Good auditing will ultimately create better rules and firmer sanctions.