Australia’s leading players’ associations will meet on Friday to consider the key issues associated with the governance of Australian sport. Speakers will include Australian Sports Commission (ASC) CEO Simon Hollingsworth and Australian Athletes’ Alliance (AAA) Chairman Paul Marsh, also the head of the Australian Cricketers’ Association. In this column, AAA General Secretary Brendan Schwab looks at why sports governance is a key issue for professional athletes.
Australia’s elite athletes are deeply interested in the governance of their sport. They understand that only a well governed sport can grow, fairly balance the interests of all stakeholders and protect sport from major threats such as match fixing, prejudice and insolvency. They also understand that, ultimately, sport exists for the players and the fans.
Governance is also a hot topic in Australian sport. Australian Rugby Union, with the help of former Sports Minister Mark Arbib, is examining its governance. Cricket Australia has undergone a major review of its governance and is in the process of considering those recommendations. We have finally had the introduction of the ARL Commission, and we’ve had debate about the relationship between the A-League and the national federation.
How their sport is run and the strength of their voice in the process is an issue that all athletes feel passionately about for two major reasons.
The first is that the governance of sport vitally affects the wellbeing of sport and in turn the livelihoods of professional athletes.
The governance model of the AFL has seen that sport grow exponentially for the clubs, the players and of course at grassroots level. In addition, the growth in broadcast revenue has enabled the AFL to keep the costs of participation down which has been to the great advantage of that sport.
The second issue where governance is important is where it directly impacts on athletes on matters such as integrity. At the moment much of the football world is dealing with the challenge of match fixing, particularly in Europe with widespread issues in Germany, Eastern Europe and, this week, in Spain. I know from my experience in Asia that many of the ASEAN countries have been affected by match fixing and the ability of a sport to have an effective regulatory response to that depends on its governance.
Athletes have also been the victims of insolvency within sport and there are now a variety of models being implemented, such as UEFA’s move towards financial fair play. In Australian football we’ve had problems with players suffering insecure contracts due to the changes in ownership of A-League clubs. Doping is another challenge where integrity is dependent on the good governance of sport.
It is important that the governance of sport is constantly examined. Some of the issues challenging us include who owns the commercial rights and the revenues to a sport. They are often sold by the governing body but generated on the efforts of the clubs, players and national teams.
How does a sport balance the interests between the professional leve,l which generates the revenue,s with the amateur game and the need to build a strong grassroots participation base so there are talented players, and fans, coming through the system?
These are issues we will consider on Friday, along with the important relationship between sport and government which the CEO of the ASC, Simon Hollingsworth, will be speaking about.
There are many different philosophies in sports governance. Within football internationally there’s a very strong view about the separation of the professional leagues from the amateur game, but that’s not a view that’s firmly held in Australian sport at all.
I think if there’s a matter that concerns the players most it’s how to have their voices heard and their ideas best incorporated within the governance structure. The sports that have done that most effectively are those who have embraced collective bargaining, but there is clearly a disparity in the bargaining power of athletes within sports. Some sports have moved towards what they call “athletes commissions”, which in Australia involves appointed athletes seeking to speak on behalf of colleagues. Given that the impact of their decisions on athletes is so significant it’s very important that governing bodies address that question.
Even in those sports that have embraced collective bargaining, the players’ positions are only as strong as the latest CBA, and they expire from time to time.
The AFL, cricket and rugby union certainly take into account the views of the players, while at international level FIFA and world players’ union FIFPro are clearly the most advanced in listening to the views of the players. Overall I think there’s a long way to go. It’s particularly difficult for the Olympic sports and there is a significant lack of input from the athletes in some key sports organisations such as WADA, the world anti-doping agency. I do know that the next big issue for sport, which is integrity- match fixing and gambling – will only be addressed if athletes are at the table.
Friday is an educational conference rather than a policy-making forum and it’s instructive for the players that they are able to come together to listen to industry experts from a variety of sports. We will take our learnings from it into our ongoing relations as a players’ association movement with government and the various sports.
Key themes of Friday’s AAA conference
• Accountability for Decision-making:
Sports’ governing bodies make decisions worth huge amounts of money that affect the wellbeing of major stakeholders such as leagues and clubs as well as the grass roots. Speakers will examine accountability for key decisions from a number of perspectives:
• Impact of Governance on Athletes:
The governance of sport vitally affects the livelihoods of professional athletes. Key challenges include:
- Effective measures to protect the integrity of sport
- Equal opportunity and protection from racial and religious vilification
- Financial and sporting constraints, such as salary caps
- Fnancial performance, including the security of athletes’ contracts and “creditor” rules
More information, including schedule and registration forms, can be found here.