By Greg Blood
Who would be a sport administrator – paid or volunteer these days? Sport administration has never been so complex and demanding. Recently I participated in a future of sport in Australia research project and my main thesis was that it may be difficult to attract and retain qualified and experienced sports administrators in the future. This may impact on the ability of sports organisations moving forward in a strategic and successful way.
I have tracked national sports organisations CEO’s and Presidents/Chairs over the last twenty years and there appears to be a high turnover in recent years. In the last year, I have spoken to several people that have stepped away from national boards or thinking of taking this action. Issues that have led to this outcome include impact of COVID on organisation’s revenue, National Redress Scheme, historical sport integrity issues, liability issues, professional athlete demands and behaviour, societal issues such as transgender athletes and increasing time commitments.
Netball Australia’s recently highlighted financial problems is an example of what is facing many sports organisations. COVID greatly impacted on most organisations revenue base through reduced participation, lack of crowds, reduced broadcast rights and costs of managing player hubs. Netball Australia has been under pressure in recent years to pay higher salaries to players due to the threat from AFLW and Cricket Australia’s women’s cricket – both these organisations have a large revenue base and can pay a higher salary. In fact, Netball Australia is reported to have given 92.85 per cent of its broadcast deal to players.
Australian Sports Foundation survey found that Australia’s 70,000 community sport clubs lost money during 2020 and 2021. It found 83 per cent of survey respondents stated their revenue was down by an average of $18,500.
Several national sports organisations are now investigating different operational models or ways of increasing revenue. Rugby Australia was reported to looking at private equity after revealing a $27 million loss for 2020 and Netball Australia looking at the possibility of gambling revenue.
Most national sports organisations rely heavily on financial contributions from the Australian Government through Sport Australia. But with the new Albanese Government facing serious post COVID budgetary issues, it is likely that it will be constrained in increasing its funding to national sports organisations. With this likelihood, sports organisations and their boards will have to spend more time on financial management and planning to keep their organisations financially viable.
Player associations now play a significant role in the sport sector for professional sports. These include – AFL Players’ Association, Australian Cricketers’ Association, Rugby League Players’ Association, Rugby Union Players’ Association, Professional Footballers Australia, Australia Swimmer’s Association, Australian Basketball Players Association, Australian Netball Players’ Association and Australian Hockey Players’ Association. They are strong advocates for athletes in their collective bargaining agreements in terms of salaries, broadcast rights distribution, contracts, doping, disciplinary procedures etc. The determination of these agreements can be complex and time consuming for sport administrators as there is the need to balance the requirements of the whole sport and the athlete.
Athlete misbehaviour is frequently reported in these media these days. In the days before mobile cameras and social media, misbehaviour most likely would have been hidden from the public. Sports organisations particularly professional now need to devote ever increasing resources to managing the outcomes of athlete misbehaviour – another issue that hampers organisations moving forward.
National Redress Scheme
National sports organisations have been required to sign up for the National Redress Scheme – without signing up they would be denied Australian Government funding such as Sport Australia annual grants. But the AOC has noted that some national sports organisations’ financial viability might be exposed by participation in the scheme. As they may be liable for to $150,000 for each successful claim under the scheme. So current national sport organisation boards and CEO’s financial planning can be significantly disrupted by managing historical abuse payments.
Sport integrity Issues
Many national and state sports organisations are having to deal with current and past integrity issues – some dating back 30 years that may be outside the National Redress Scheme. Addressing these issues today are necessary for sports organisations to move on but they can restrict limited current staff and financial resources for future development programs and projects.
Importantly Sport Integrity Australia has in recent years taken over the role of managing a sports’ integrity issues – this is a good outcome as it should bring independence, reporting processes and hopefully expertise these issues. But sports organisations are still required to devote resources to any investigation undertaken. Current and recent inquiries cover –
- Swimming Australia by Sport Integrity Australia
- Football Australia by Sport Integrity Australia
- Western Australian Institute of Sport Gymnastics Program by Sport Integrity Australia
- Hockey Australia by Sport Integrity Australia
- Gymnastics Australia by Australian Human Rights Commission
Besides, Sport Integrity Australia undertaking investigations, many sexual abuse incidents are now ending up in the courts. Recent examples include:
- Cricket Australia and Cricket ACT taken to court by a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by former ACT elite junior cricket coach
- Cricket Australia sued by former Australian under-19 cricketer over sexual abuse allegations
- AFL Western Bulldogs sued for damages for child sexual abuse survivor
It is likely that more court cases will occur – this will increase legal and compensations costs for sports organisations. Managing integrity issues is now a critical task of sports organisations.
During the recent Federal Election, the issue of transgender athletes playing sport was widely discussed. Sport Australia has assisted in navigating Australian sports organisations through this issue that is complex and has strong proponents and opponents. But FINA’s recent decision on transgender participation in swimming means that Swimming Australia needs to examine its policy in terms on FINA’s decision and Australian human rights legislation. Another complex issue for sports organisations to manage.
There are now so many ways sports organisations can broadcast their content. These options pose issues for organisations. Are broadcast agreements primarily about revenue or wide public access linked to participation and sponsorship outcomes? Free to air television or streaming through YouTube and Facebook has the ability to reach a large audience but revenue may be less due to no or limited broadcast rights payments. This year Swimming Australia’s national championships were streamed through Amazon Prime’s subscription service – it would be good to know how much income was received as many Australians would not have paid to watch this event?
The issue for many consumers of streaming sport broadcasts is how many services can they afford to pay for ?
2032 Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics
Sports organisations involved in developing and preparing athletes for 2032 Brisbane Olympics and Paralympics will be under pressure to deliver outcomes that match the 2000 Sydney Games –
- Australian Olympic Team – 58 medals including 16 gold and 4th on medal table
- Australian Paralympic Team – 149 medals including 63 gold and 1st on medal table
John Coates often commented before the 2000 Sydney Games that a major way of determining success of the Games was a successful team. There is constant pressure for national sports organisations to deliver effective and successful high performance programs. For example, Triathlon Australia came under fire after poor results at the Tokyo Olympics and this led to an Australian Institute of Sport review of its high performance program. The strong interest in the review led to 100 submissions.
Sport administrators will be under pressure to meet the expectations of ‘medal’ success in the lead up to 2032 Games, but this may be hampered by decreased or stable Australian and State Government funding due to budgetary pressures from the COVID pandemic.
Hosting International Sporting Events
National sports organisations with Australian and State Governments support have successfully won bids to host major competitions –
2022 -FIBA Basketball Women’s World Cup, ICC Cricket Men’s T20 World Cup, UCI Cycling Road World Championships, FINA World Short Course Swimming Championships
2023 -World Athletics Cross Country Championships, FIFA Football Women’s World Cup
2025 – ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships
2026 – Commonwealth Games, UCI BMX World Championships
207 – Netball World Cup, Rugby Men’s World Cup
2028 -Golf Presidents Cup
These events with the likelihood of additional events in the lead up to the 2032 Brisbane Olympic and Paralympics are likely to place additional resource demands on national sports organisations. It is important that these events are financially well managed as in the past several national sports organisations have needed to be bailed out after hosting international events. Another major issue to be managed by sports organisations.
Equestrian Australia entered voluntary administration on 2020 due to board and CEO instability (five chairs and four CEOs over five years), governance matters, impact of COVID on events and event safety standards. This is an example where sports organisations can end up if the many complex issues that boards and CEO’s deal with are not managed effectively. Some matters were in the control of the organisation and others not. In addition, boards and CEO’s now have to be prepared to manage historical issues related to integrity – this has organisational integrity and financial costs.
Interestingly, there is the expectation these days that there is the frequent turnover of Presidents/Chairs and board members. Does this turnover lead to the lack of corporate knowledge and fragmented long-term planning? On the other hand, longevity can lead to cover ups of bad decisions, inappropriate practices or stagnation. Sports organisations need to find the right balance to operate effectively.
Sport Integrity Australia’s role in managing sport integrity cases should help in the future and Sport Australia might need to provide increased management assistance to national sports organisations to ensure that Australian Government funds are managed in the most effective way. It is often stated that ‘sport should run sport’ but in Australia ‘governments support sport to run sport’. The AFL, NRL and Cricket Australia may disagree with this statement, but their sports utilise Australian, State and local government funded major stadiums and local sports fields/stadiums for participation and in recent years high performance centres for the training of professional athletes.
This article has provided insights why sports organisations may find it difficult to attract board members and CEO’s willing to manage complex historical and current issues. In particular, many current and prospective board members have time-consuming work and other commitments that may preclude them from effectively dealing with these complex issues whilst on a board.