Welcome to Ogier Leman' s Sports Law Passle Series, authored by our sports law specialists from the Dispute Resolution department of our firm. Stay tuned for more thought leadership on this exciting and fast-moving topic by connecting with us on LinkedIn.
"Good governance" is a term all sports fans have become accustomed to in recent years. There is a general sense in society of the sporting organisations who adhere to good governance practices. There is a stronger societal sense of sporting organisations that have (historically) not adhered to such practices.
The word "historical" is key. The fact is, in today's world, no sporting organisation can afford to not have solid governance foundations in place. The consequences of lack of action in this area are too high.
But what does "good governance", in a sporting context, even mean? Sport Ireland provides a solid definition:
"Good governance means that policies and procedures are in place to ensure the organisation is run well. Good governance is not all about rules and regulations. It is an attitude of mind. It is about the ethical culture of the organisation and the behaviour of the people on the governing body. An organisation with good governance should demonstrate transparency, responsibility, accountability and participation with their stakeholders."
In a practical sense, this begins with written legal documents: a well-drafted constitution and bye-laws written in a clear and concise manner with no room for dual interpretation; clear methods of dispute resolution, ideally through sports specific ADR mechanisms; a grievance procedure, as well as a disciplinary procedure; and comprehensive policies governing crucial areas such as safeguarding and player welfare.
Some sports are ahead of the curve and are at the stage of striving for ethical targets within the area of "corporate social responsibility". This will likely become an increasingly popular topic of conversation in coming years.
But first, the foundations. This cannot be emphasised enough.
Modern commercial opportunities cannot and should not be availed of without the necessary governance structures in place. Sponsorship relationships are based on trust and transparency.
I enjoyed a brief stint last year as Chief Executive Officer of a League of Ireland football club ("enjoyed" being generous and the job title even more so – the club ultimately refusing to ever actually produce a written contract of employment). In my view, a CEO oversees strategic action implementation, stakeholder management, communications and commercial development and other tasks specific to that organisation. But the CEO cannot take action in these areas without sufficient governance foundations in place. The club wanted me to seek "big money" as the first step. I refused to do so until the organisation was incorporated and the inner workings fully transparent. The Committee and I were on different pages. I resigned after two months.
Governance first and foremost. Then watch the organisation grow.
Ruth Fahy is an Associate in our Dispute Resolution department. Larry Fenelon SC is Partner and Head of Dispute Resolution.