In pursuit of faster, higher, stronger governance

Sports Governance

Anyone with even a passing interest in Australian sport will be aware of the ongoing bun-fight between the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) when it comes to how well – or poorly – national sporting bodies are doing in terms of governance.

And, more pertinently, what needs to be done about it.

It all started after the less than stellar performance of our athletes at the London 2012 Olympics when governance reform of the various sporting codes – in the shape of the first set of Mandatory Sports Governance Principles – was mooted and subsequently introduced.

Now, there’s a new push to institute a second wave of governance reform to streamline fundamental processes within and across Australian sports.

Tapping into sporting parlance, in the one corner and representing the ASC is John Wylie; gloved up opposite him and fighting on behalf of the various national codes is the long, and still, standing head of the AOC, John Coates.

It’s a rather complicated heavyweight bout between the two Johns but in simple terms, the protagonists are contesting the question of ‘interference’ in the autonomy of sporting bodies.

As the ASC Chairman, John Wylie argues that public supported sports organisations that receive above a certain amount of taxpaying funding and support each year need to be more accountable.

They need to follow a set of mandatory governance principles – and a good starting point is to have a diversity of skills on the boards of the sporting bodies. To many, that’s code for more business savvy ‘outsiders’ who, in John Wylie’s view, will help to improve governance.

Indeed, he is famously quoted as saying when the Mandatory Sports Governance Principles were introduced in 2013: “While good governance does not guarantee success, its absence almost certainly guarantees failure”.

John Coates takes a quite contrary view, contending that bringing people in for their business or corporate skills – as opposed to their sporting nous – achieves little or nothing.

He has even launched a public attack on the overall governmental sport program and its underlying corporate-inspired philosophy, stating that “the corporate model of having leaders of Olympic sports who are connected to the top end of town has failed” and citing Swimming Australia’s John Bertrand and Cycling Australia’s Malcolm Speed in defence of his position.

He infers, too, that this is nothing more than poorly disguised government interference in the autonomy of the various sports…something they’ve long held sacrosanct.

There’s merit in both positions and, to again delve into the sporting vernacular – this time the Olympic movement’s motto – if we’re to achieve a ‘faster, higher, stronger’ standard of excellence in governance, a degree of compromise is required.

There’s middle ground that both need to occupy.

Good governance of the various sporting bodies ultimately comes down to having boards comprising those who intimately know and love the sport they’re lending their services to sitting side-by-side with those with the diversity of skills required to make sure the boards of these sports get the fundamentals right.

And that’s to ensure compliance and to improve performance.

Until next time,
Kate.

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