Sport in our communities Contents

4Sports governance

National Governing Bodies

50.Within the complex sports structure in the UK, sitting below the Government and the non-departmental bodies such as Sport England and UK Sport, are the national governing bodies (NGBs). These organisations have responsibility for overseeing rules, clubs, coaching and competitions within their sports, and also decide “how to spend income generated by membership fees, TV rights, Lottery grants and investment from Government and the four UK Sports Councils”.96 The NGBs have had a role to play in supporting their sports through the Covid-19 pandemic but they have also faced their own struggles. For example, UK Athletics told us that it had to undertake two restructures and make some “staffing cuts”, both in terms of back office and front-line delivery staff.97 Swim England told us that it had to reduce its workforce by 30% and furlough all staff for at least one day a week for a period from November 2020 due to its reduced income.98

51.However, some NGBs appear to have performed better than others, and the feedback we have received has been genuinely mixed. Some clubs acknowledged that, as the months went on, NGBs got better at interpreting Government advice and disseminating information to their clubs but other experiences were fairly negative overall.99 For example, one outdoor athletics club told us about how it received constantly changing information from its NGB, often right at the last minute, and another outdoor sports club told us that it had received “about two emails” from its NGB and, when it did hear from them, it was to “take money” from the club.100 Some clubs were also concerned that money provided to NGBs during the pandemic from central funding was not effectively trickled down to the grassroots.101 A similar concern was also raised about the amount of levels that information had to go through before it was communicated to the grassroots, thus increasing the possibility of information getting missed or lost in translation.102

52.The evidence submitted to our inquiry about the performance of National Governing Bodies during the pandemic has been genuinely mixed. Lessons must be learned from the way funding and information was disseminated down to the grassroots during the Covid-19 pandemic. We recommend that Sport England conduct an audit of how National Governing Bodies communicate with their grassroots clubs and develop best practice guidance for all NGBs.

Diversity in sports governance

53.In 2016, UK Sport and Sport England launched their joint Code for Sports Governance (the Code) which set out the “levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity that are required from those who ask for government and National Lottery funding”.103 Whilst the Code sets a target for 30% of each gender on a board, it just says that organisations must “demonstrate a strong and public commitment to progressing towards [ … ] greater diversity generally on its Board, including, but not limited to, Black, Asian, minority ethnic (BAME) diversity, and disability”.104

54.According to Sport England in 2018, just 5% of board members across Sport England- and UK Sport-funded bodies were BAME, and just 5% declared or considered themselves to have a disability. This put the diversity of board membership way behind the demographics of the wider population: at the same point in time, 13% of the population were BAME and 22% were Disabled.105

55.A wide range of submissions raised this issue of a lack of diversity within sports governance with us, and some called for greater regulation of governance models.106 The University of Edinburgh told us that “there is a significant, robust and growing body of evidence to suggest that sports governance models need further regulation in terms of diversity”,107 and Dr Richard Tacon and Dr Geoff Walters of Birkbeck, University of London told us that “there has for a long time been a lack of diversity and inclusion in the sport sector”.108 Dr Adam Cox and Christina Philippou from the University of Portsmouth also told us:

The current sport governance models are not fit for purpose as governing bodies have fractured responsibilities across clubs and leagues (even within sports), are lacking in regulation and diversity, and need to be reviewed. Providing financial support for distribution by these bodies should come with accountability conditions attached to the funds.109

56.Sport England has, in recent years, made increasing the diversity across sports governance a focus and told us that, since 2019, it has been working with UK Sport and an executive search firm to:

identify and develop a network of senior, experienced candidates from a range of backgrounds, including Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, disabled and LGBT+ to help organisations develop more diverse boards.

So far there are 172 individuals (65% Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) in the network and 33 appointments made to sports boards.110

57.In July 2020, it was announced that Sport England and UK Sport would undertake a formal review of the Code. In July 2021, initial changes were announced and the full revised version is due to be published in September 2021.111 In their most recent announcement, the organisations reported that board diversity numbers had increased to 7.89% BAME and 13% with a declared disability.112 Sport England and UK Sport also announced that “each relevant partner, including national governing bodies, will be required to agree a diversity and inclusion plan” which will be published annually to “deliver greater transparency about progress”.113

58.The lack of diversity in the upper echelons of sports governance is striking. We acknowledge the work being undertaken by Sport England and UK Sport to address the issue, including the recently completed review of the Code for Sports Governance, but we are concerned that governing bodies are still experiencing such a lack of diversity seven years after the original Code was first launched. We recommend that Sport England and Sport UK should be required to publish, at least annually, information about the diversity of candidates for all advertised roles in their organisations and the boards that make those appointments.

96 Street Games, ‘The National Governing Bodies’, accessed 29 June 2021

97 Q410

98 Swim England (COM0119)

99 Annex 1

100 Annex 1

101 Annex 1

102 Annex 1

103 Sport England, ‘A Code for Sports Governance’, accessed 19 June 2021

104 Sport England, A Code for Sports Governance (2016), p 26

106 For example: Dr Adam Cox and Christina Philippou (COM0008); Dr Richard Tacon and Dr Geoff Walters (COM0022); The Football Collective (COM0029); University of Edinburgh (COM0051); Mayor of London (COM0114)

107 University of Edinburgh (COM0051)

108 Dr Richard Tacon and Dr Geoff Walters (COM0022)

109 Dr Adam Cox and Christina Philippou (COM0008)

110 Sport England (COM0053)

111 Sport England, ‘A Code for Sports Governance’, accessed 5 July 2021

112 Sport England, ‘Changes made to strengthen Code for Sports Governance’, accessed 5 July 2021

113 Sport England, ‘Changes made to strengthen Code for Sports Governance’, accessed 5 July 2021

Published: 29 July 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement