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The Code for Sports Governance – new culture means opportunities for independent directors

Liz McMahon
Expert interview: Liz McMahon
Sport and physical activity boards have historically been perceived as closed to all who were not athletes or sport administrators or those “in the network”.  But thanks to the recently implemented Code for Sports Governance, this is no longer the case. Initiated by DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media  and Sport) and developed by UK Sport and Sport England, the new code defines how in the future boards should be composed, how they should function and offers best practice for risk management and governance.  In the past, governance has been sport specific: there has been no general guidance.

Based on the principles of good governance from the private sector and government boards, the code defines the five principles of good governance:  structure, people, communication, standards & conduct and principals & processes. As stated in the report: “Many of the principles set out in this Code are widely accepted as being elements of good practice in corporate governance”. Interestingly, many of the principals are taken from governance and compliance standards in the financial services industry. It is hoped that all funded bodies will comply and future grant funding will be tied to action on the mandatory aspects of the code. This is an important step for the sector.  Initial feedback from both in and outside the sector suggests that many have embraced the concept that good governance positively affects organizational culture.

Good governance is key to integrity, openness and ethical credibility.  And this will lead to a different board structure: set limits to terms, more diversity and openness to bring in those outside the sector to offer fresh, independent thinking.  And importantly, more rigor to  the process of non-executive selection. And, to those looking for non-executive board positions, this means new and wide-spread opportunity.


Liz McMahon has served on a number of sports boards, including Sport & Recreation Alliance, London  2017 World Athletics and Para Athletics Championships, the London Legacy Development Corporation  and she Chairs the Sport Safeguarding Partnership.  She headed up International Marketing for the  London 202 Olympic & Paralympic Games bid and was Director – Marketing Services at the International  Olympic Committee.  She has also held senior executive positions at Citigroup and J.P. Morgan.

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