Self preservation vs good sport governance

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‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’

This quote by George Bernard Shaw remained top of my mind during various events this past week.

At the first Commonwealth Sport Summit held in Edmonton, Canada on Thursday—the day before the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) Extra Ordinary General Assembly—I had an opportunity to present on the topic ‘Good Governance in Today’s Sport Organisations’.

The invitation was one I gladly accepted.

I was fully aware that there would be those who would agree with the message within the content and those who would taken issue with aspects of the presentation, given that the Commonwealth Games Federation is going full speed ahead with its Transformation 2022 vision—a vision that has as one of its pillars governance reform. There was no credible excuse to sweep under the carpet certain obvious concerns with the world of sport facing a relentless barrage of criticism and negative headlines. There was no way out. What needed to be said had to be said.

Unless sport organisations, and in particular Commonwealth Games Associations and National Olympic Committees engage in honest and uncomfortable governance reform, the damage to the credibility and image of world sport will be irreversible.

Governance reform must be meaningful, no window dressing. There is no way the necessary progress can or will be made if the intentions of the Olympic and Commonwealth sport movement are to continue to think the same way and offer up the same tried and tested habits and conduct.

Governance reform must not be sabotaged by politics, political games and brinksmanship. If Olympic and Commonwealth sport organisations want to retain their autonomy and privelege of self regulation, they must take ownership of the process of meaningful governance reform and change the way they think about sport governance as the expectations of stakeholders in contemporary sport are significantly different.

Change and transformation can be achieved by sport leaders being open minded and honest about their deficiencies. Excuses are offered as the traditional thinkers close ranks and play hard ball. It’s a high stakes poker game. The end game is to put cosmetics on the status quo. There are those who are hell bent on sacrificing needed governance reform while at the same time advocating for governance reform.

Behind the false smiles, handshakes and well spoken words are individuals and cliques who don't want change or to change their thinking. While they indulge in their head games and obfuscation, sport, young people, youth and athletes and the credibility of sport are not the real priority. Self preservation is. Governance reform is the number one priority for the global Olympic and Commonwealth sport movement.

Discussions need to focus on finding a way to implement universal principles of good governance while at the same time acknowledging the social capital function of non profit member based sports federations, governing bodies and associations. The first step though, is agreeing that good governance and sport governance reform are more important than self preservation and self interest.

That will require a change in thinking. Therein is the real problem, according to George Bernard Shaw.

• Brian Lewis is president of the T&T Olympic Committee (TTOC). The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the TTOC.

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