A Code for Sports Governance – A Catalyst for Change?

Governance Officer, Hayley Foster examines the impact of the Code a year on from its introduction.   

A Code for Sports Governance has been in existence for a year and already we’ve noticed many positive changes. I’ll be sharing some of these changes with you, providing context around the upcoming compliance deadline and explaining why governance is for every organisation.  

UK Sport and Sport England launched the Code last year to outline the governance expectations they now place on organisations. The Principles of Good Governance for Sport and Recreation, which we published earlier this year, provides practical support and guidance on how to implement this. You don’t have to be funded to use either of these documents however, as they are both good practice.  

The 31 October deadline is focused on Tier 3 compliance, the top level of mandatory governance. Regardless of the deadline, however, all organisations should be adopting governance best practice. Well governed organisations make better decisions, use their resources more effectively and enhance their reputation and sustainability.   

For those organisations subject to Tier 3 of the Code, risks around non-compliance include potential relationship breakdown with Sport England and UK Sport, reputational damage and the risk of public funding being withdrawn.  

The Code and a wider understanding of the importance of governance has, however, been a catalyst for positive change. These four mini case studies outline stories of progress from across the sector:   

 The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) - Council term limits  

  • The LTA is the national governing body for tennis in Great Britain and its mission is to get more people playing tennis more often.  
  • The LTA Council carried out a review of its governance processes and procedures in 2016 and considered recommendations which it followed at its Annual General Meeting in May 2017. The outcome was that council term limits were reduced and they confirmed the primacy of the board as the decision-making body. The responsibility transfer means the board can focus on the LTA’s strategic direction whilst the Council focuses on representing membership organisations.   

Rugby Football Association (RFU) - Board restructuring  

  • The RFU is the national governing body for both amateur and professional rugby union in England and has more rugby union players and clubs than any other country.  
  • Upon reviewing Code requirements, the RFU formed an action plan for making changes to the board. These included the composition, confirming primacy of the board for a strengthened strategic direction, and the introduction of maximum term limits for council members. Whilst the plan has been approved by the Sports Councils, these proposals are to be formally presented to the RFU Council in October 2017. The RFU anticipate a positive response to these reforms.   

English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) - Independent board  

  • The ECB is the national governing body of cricket in England and Wales and is responsible for the management and development of every form of cricket for men and women. 
  • The ECB committed to a set of governance reforms in line with the Code earlier this year. The commitments included reducing the size of its board and generating new ideas through director term limits and appointment processes. Under the proposed changes, the executive board will also be made entirely independent, with the two county representatives and the world’s most active cricket club, (Marylebone Cricket Club) standing down.  The ECB has also initiated its own governance review in line with the Code to make sure that it is best in class for sports bodies. 

British Cycling (BC) - Board recruitment  

  • BC is the national governing body for cycling in Britain with a mission to deliver international sporting success and inspire people to cycle regularly.   
  • British Cycling’s National Council agreed to make the necessary changes to enable it to become compliant with the Code by October at an Extraordinary General Meeting in July 2017. This included an increase in the number of openly recruited independent board members and an independent chair. The reforms also included a limit for directors of three, three-year terms, with six of the eight current elected members of the board who have exceeded that maximum due to stand down in the autumn. After an uncertain year, BC are positive that these changes will help to secure funding for elite and grassroots participation.  

It is important to reiterate that the sanctions of non-compliance are serious. Table Tennis England, saw £9 million of funding frozen this year when their members rejected a proposal regarding board appointments. Whilst some members wanted a nominations committee made up of elected directors, the Code required a majority of independent non-executive directors. To avoid these outcomes, we encourage you to follow The Principles ‘Board Behaviours’ before making board decisions.  

If you are an organisation expected to comply to the upcoming 31 October deadline, don’t let it become the ‘D Day’ for achieving good governance. Use it instead as an ongoing learning tool in your daily practices. If the deadline doesn’t directly affect you, we would still recommend exploring the free and publicly available resources out there, and incorporating them into your practices. Good governance is for everyone.   

If you would like further information about the Code or signing up to The Principles for free you can email me, or call 020 7976 3900 and ask for a member of the governance team.