On Monday, Sports Shorts commented on the launch, by UK Sport and Sport England, of a new Code for Sports Governance (“Code”). As we noted in Monday’s post, much of the initial press coverage focused predominantly on the Code’s gender diversity provision (see, for example, here, here, and here), with the BBC even labelling it the “gender diversity code”.
In the intervening days, this theme has continued, most notably with the Chairman of Kick It Out (an organisation promoting equality and inclusion in football) and the Chairman of the Gay Football Supporters’ Network expressing their dismay, in an interview with the Telegraph, that the Code appeared in their view to prioritise women over other minorities.
These authors, and Sports Shorts generally, feel strongly about the importance of promoting women in sport (see our posts here and here). However, they have been surprised by the extent of the media’s focus on this singular issue in the context of the Code.
So why has the focus fallen on women (and diversity in general) in this way?
Perhaps it can be explained, in part, by the inclusion in the Code of a quantifiable 30% target for women (or men, if they are the under-represented gender) on boards, thus presenting a more tangible benchmark than some of the other Code requirements. Yet, even this 30% figure is framed as a “target” as opposed to a hard quota, albeit that national governing bodies (NGBs) will be required to publish information on their work to foster diversity and UK Sport and Sport England have warned, in the Code’s commentary, that “in order to drive real change… [we] expect this commitment and the actions taken to be meaningful”.
To be frank, these authors do not consider the 30% target for women surprising or radical – the Code is not the first to recommend 30% as the ‘idealised’ percentage for women on boards (see, for example, the 30% Club and the Women in Sport Foundation). What is surprising, however, is that in 2016 such a target is still necessary, still seen as ambitious, and still capable of creating extensive media coverage. Taking a step back and putting this into context: the Code’s numerous mandatory requirements demand that NGBs meet the ‘gold standard’ in a variety of sport governance areas to avoid the type of scandals exhibited at FIFA and IAAF (that rocked and risked their respective sports), but the most newsworthy item was that NGBs must aim to have three female board members out of a possible maximum of 12.
Increasing the number of female board members and diversity generally is undoubtedly of vital importance but it should not dwarf the overarching aim of the Code: good governance in sport generally.
In the run up to April 2017, NGBs (as well as Sport England and UK Sport) will have a raft of considerations and issues to deal with in addition to gender balance and diversity generally. They will be expected to meet the full range of good governance principles embodied in the Code’s requirements, including in relation to financial transparency, accountability, independent leadership, and integrity.
Put simply, this is not just a “gender diversity code” and, in the run-up to the next funding cycle, NGBs and other bodies in receipt of public funding must ensure that they are not distracted from the full range of the new requirements.
The Code is about gender diversity. But it is also about diversity generally. It is about transparency and accountability. And, fundamentally, it is about setting the standard for good sports governance on a global stage. If we are to achieve this, we will need to widen the dialogue and continue to focus on the full range of vital good governance principles embodied within the Code.