Sport Canada Introduces Governance Principles for Sport Organizations

Published September 9, 2011

Along with some other governance experts, I have been working with Sport Canada for some time on creating a prescriptive set of "good governance principles" for the Canadian sport community.

This is a topic dear to my heart, and I have spent over a decade trying to impress upon sport leaders the importance of improving governance practices in our sector (Conflict of Interest - The Sport Organization''s Achilles Heel is one of my 'rants').  In Canada we have world-leading coaching development programs (NCCP), we are establishing world class athlete development programs (LTAD) - but what are we doing to improve the development and performance of sport organizations? Very little. This initiative by Sport Canada is a great first step.

Sport Canada will officially launch the principles on December 1st, but they  already available here (in English). Five principles of effective governance have been established, along with several attributes for each. Sport Canada wisely acknowledges that flexibility is important, given that  sport organizations have differing memberships, mandates and internal challenges. Notwithstanding these differences however, Sport Canada is expecting that each sport organization will pledge an active commitment to the pursuit of these principles.

The five principles are presented as the spokes of a wheel, with the hub of the wheel representing an overarching principle that is at the core of good governance. This core piece is the expectation that sport leaders and board directors will model the highest standards of ethical behaviour at all times. In Sport Canada's opinion, the Board of Directors will be looked to for vision and leadership, and has the responsibility to imprint upon the organization a culture of integrity and fair play.

The five principles flowing from the core element of high standards of ethical behaviour are as follows:

  • Commitment to mission and guided by a strategic plan - attributes included in this principle are a commitment to living organizational values, and incorporating risk assessment into decision-making.
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities - attributes included in this principle are written terms of reference and role descriptions,  a committee structure aligned with strategic priorities, productive working relationships between volunteers and staff, and an avoidance of conflict of interest.
  • Effective financial control (as a major funder, Sport Canada has understandable interests here) - attributes included in this principle are proper financial monitoring and recording functions, arms-length financial review through an audit committee (or equivalent) and compliance with the NFP Act.
  • Focused on human resources - attributes included in this principle are a commitment to board training, board diversity and succession planning through robust nominating systems.
  • Transparent and accountable for outcomes and results - attributes included in this principle are transparency, engagement with members and stakeholders, and effective communications.

Sport Canada expects that all funded sport organizations will assess their own governance practices to identify whether they are operating in a manner consistent with these principles. Those organizations that are not will be expected to develop an action plan to do so.

(this post was updated on November 24th to include the governance principles document released by Sport Canada)

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