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Sport governance – the ‘next frontier’ in professional sport

A new book by Deakin Business School (DBS) sport management expert Prof. David Shilbury explores the importance of sport governance.

As sport organisations continue to evolve into professional businesses, the issue of good governance becomes increasingly significant.

Professor David Shilbury, DBS’s Foundation Chair in Sport Management, is co-editor of the newly-released Routledge Handbook of Sport Governancea comprehensive guide that examines the issues that shape sport governance across the world.

Co-edited with Professor Lesley Ferkins, AUT, NZ, the research handbook is aimed at scholars and practitioners with a deep involvement in sport governance.

‘Sport governance has become an increasingly important area of academic focus within sport management, hence the need to capture current research in this domain, as well as identify future research directions,’ explains Prof. Shilbury.

In the context of an evolving industry he says it’s the ‘next frontier’ in terms of the professionalisation of sport.

‘There are some structural components of sport governance, in federated sport systems like Australia that could be refined in the future to provide much needed efficiencies and a competitive edge over other countries via streamlining sport governance systems and processes.’

Director of the Deakin Sport Network and the Centre for Sport Research, Prof. Shilbury is a widely-published and highly-recognised researcher in the field of sport governance, management and development.

He says that sport governance is the process of monitoring how governing bodies – such as international or national sport federations and professional sports – oversee performance and comply with regulations to ensure the best-possible organisational outcomes.

‘In other words, it is about what boards of directors do, or do not do, when governing their sports.’

While the day-to-day tasks of sport organisations are delegated to management and employees, board of directors must oversee organisational performance and the fulfilment of strategic goals.

‘Sport is unique in that those with a passion for a sport (or a specific sport or club) are often attracted to a role as a director on a board. But they must find ways to ensure their “sport fandom” does not interfere with objective rational and collective decision-making,’ says Prof. Shilbury.

The book identifies five key areas of sport governance and each theme covers a range of geographies and sport systems including chapters on how government (sport) policies influence organisational governance.

‘To achieve diversity of thought and an understanding of the progress of sport systems and structures in the professionalisation of sport, these chapters cover differing government policies in Europe, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Latin America,’ says Prof. Shilbury.

It also identifies current and future challenges in sport governance including the role and perception of leadership, the role of gender and diversity, social responsibilities, and the growing importance of sport integrity systems.

‘These future challenges all exist alongside the ongoing professionalisation of sport governance and recognition of the need for good governance by sport governing bodies, given their evolving background from an amateur culture,’ he says.

As sport continues to transition into business organisations with paid professionals, Prof. Shilbury believes that ongoing research into governance is crucial.

‘Much progress has been made in the management of sport organisations over the last 30 years, but ironically, the professionalisation of sport governance has lagged somewhat. But in the last 10-15 years this has started to change. Sport governance scholarship has contributed to an enhanced understanding of the issues confronted by sports in determining what constitutes good governance, and the type of skills, attributes and knowledge best required by directors to “govern” sport organisations.’

For more information on Deakin’s Sport Management courses