Sport for Business hosted a lively and forthright discussion on sporting governance on Friday with high-level contributions from The Institute of Directors, The Wheel, Mason, Hayes & Curren and 2 Into 3.

We probed the similarities and the differences between the sports sector and the charity sector, and looked at the similar path they appear to be following through a lessening of public trust, increased Government engagement and in the case of the charity sector much tighter regulation.

The news that Sport Ireland was Sport Ireland is taking over the Governance Code for Sport that has built over the last ten years in relation to the voluntary, community and charity sectors broke the previous evening and provided a timely backdrop to the discussion.

Deirdre Garvey was one of our panellists and she was a central figure in both writing the code and then on transitioning to the more regulated environment of the charity regulator for the other sectors.

With sport not being included in that transition, but having been a strong advocate of better governance it was a natural move for Sport Ireland to take on the role.

As the primary funding body of the majority of National governing bodies, it is in a strong position to wield a stick of withheld funding as well as the carrot of managing affairs in the way in which they should be.

Full compliance with the Code will be required by the end of 2021 in order to retain funding which ultimately comes from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport budget.

With Minister Shane Ross very much to the fore in holding the FAI to account, it has to be wondered whether the retention of a self-regulating mechanism will be seen as strong enough by Government over that extended period of time.

With recent scandals emerging from the Olympic Council and now the FAI, the argument of one being an outlier becomes weaker and if the body politic feels there is capital in upholding a stronger sense of control over public trust in and public funding of sport then regulation may be the more obvious path.

Our own survey of Sport for Business members echoed that view that tighter regulation was both coming and needed though the administration of that is an area where much thought still needs to be given.

The Charity Regulator has been challenged in terms of its ability to run efficient regulation across a large number of bodies with a relatively small team and the addition of sporting bodies to their responsibility would require substantial additional resource.

Placing Sport Ireland in the position of Funder and Referee poses a number of additional challenges and questions over whether they would either want the responsibility or be best positioned to impose it.

We are familiar with the role of a referee in sport at every level, and of the importance of their being an independent arbiter of the rules.

Ultimately it comes down to a willingness on the part of those in charge to accept and stand up for the three pillars of good governance, of accountability, transparency and probity.

Putting that into a system where those who fall short can be called to account but those who are doing the right thing are not tied up beyond their ability to comply with bureaucracy and their capacity to take on personal risk will be the challenge.

The larger a sporting body in receipt of public money and the public trust the better it’s capacity to accept whatever regulation is coming.  The bigger problems though will lie in the smaller sports and local clubs where the ability and willingness of volunteer to give yet more could be sorely tested.

We had six CEO’s from some of Ireland’s most popular sports mingling in the audience with others from the Business world that have experience and deep knowledge of the importance of good governance.

The reaction was a positive one to the discussion and the themes that came to the fore.  Everybody wants to be ahead of the game in this crucial area, the question though lies in how that can be done and whether the views of sport and Government are aligned.

The Report of the Sport Ireland and FAI Governance Review Group will be published on Friday, 21st June.  After that, we will consider what next steps in terms of sporting bodies compliance with Governance regulation might be of value.

Our thanks to Maura Quinn, CEO of the Institute of Directors, Deirdre Garvey, CEO of The Wheel, Niamh Callaghan a Partner at Mason, Hayes & Curran and Dennis O’Connor, Director of 2Into3, for their thoughts and contribution, and to the team at Mason, Hayes & Curren for being such good hosts.

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