This Sporting Life

If current players influence the players of the future, and the top coaches of the past and today influence many coaching and planning to coach, who influences sports administrators?

This may seem a strange question, but personally I am greatly concerned.

Is it our Politicians who are the role models? If so they are not giving us a great example to follow. Case in point the Victorian Corrections Minister using his taxpayer-funded chauffeur-driven car to ferry his pet dogs 120 kilometres between his Melbourne home and his country house. Then there is the former Federal Treasurer who is now Australia’s Ambassador for the United States of America and is paid $370,000 a year on top of his $90,000 a year lifetime pension for his time in Federal politics, claiming from the Australian taxpayer the fee for a babysitter when he goes out. Apart from his salary Joe Hockey gets a house in a very nice part of Washington for free, and a housekeeper being paid reportedly $48,000 per year.

Closer to home we had the Premier of Western Australia, Colin Barnett unable to see the conflict of interest in him appointing himself the State’s Tourism Minister and his son Sam Barnett, who plans to set up a “glamping” resort on a large piece of beachfront land he bought for $140,000 last year, near Port Gregory in the Western Australia’s Mid West.

Soon after the land purchase which has been questioned separately, the Premier – who was not then Tourism Minister – announced $20 million in funding to boost the Mid West region, including a new skywalk for the nearby national park. To make matters worse Sam Barnett’s company, Pearllargo, is registered to the Barnett family home. Yet the Premier denies any link between the two events, and still has his job.

So when our Politicians “bend” the rules or in some cases actually break them and still keep their jobs, because honour and integrity are out-dated words, is it any wonder that those running our various sports see nothing wrong in their actions, and also refuse to step aside?

We all know that Football’s World body FIFA has been riddled with corruption. The former President of FIFA Joao Havelange it was revealed in 2012 took more than $41million in bribes with his then son-in-law Ricardo Teixeira. Teixeira was appointed President of the Brazilian Football Federation in 1989, and this was certainly thanks to the influence of his father-in-law. Around the world we shake our heads at such nepotism, yet Australia did exactly the same in 2015. The then President of the FFA, Frank Lowy stepped aside but shoe-horned his son, Steven Lowy, into the vacant position, yet no one batted an eye.

What is even more of a concern is when as a member of the public you raise a concern, you receive a phone call from a staff member at a Government Department telling you to ‘drop it.’ You write to the Minister and you receive a letter telling you that you have had a meeting with someone – which never happened – and that they understand the matter has been resolved.

To make matters worse I have personally been told that I ‘must learn when to turn a blind eye.’

It is very hard to turn a blind eye when you hear comments from people who have played the game, and coached the game, who now attempt to gain, or hold, an official position and say “the game owes me.” The game, whatever game, owes nobody anything. The sheer enjoyment you have playing, coaching, watching should be reward enough. The friendships made and the experiences shared should be enough. As individuals we make a choice whether we play, coach, referee or volunteer, therefore we have no right to demand anything back from sport.

It is very hard to turn a blind eye when the very thing that is set up to protect everyone involved in sport, a sport’s constitution is being broken, and nothing is being done about it. There is a reason that nearly all sporting organisations have a set term for their Chairperson and Board personnel, there is reason the board should rotate every two, three or four years. It is in the long term interests the sport. Sure, the current incumbents may be good people who do a good job, but the people who replace them may not be, and so it is important that these rules are adhered to for the day when that occurs. Yet the clubs, the players, the members, seem so oblivious to such breaches, and those on the Boards prey on that ignorance and lack of information.

The Department of Sport and Recreation, who say that their role is to ensure governance of sport in Western Australia is by the book, appear to be not remotely interested in whether various sports are playing by the constitutional rules. It would appear that as long as on the surface all looks good they will accept that to be the case, and hand over the annual funding no questions asked.

Yet even when a Board fails, as in the case of Cycling three years ago, those who let the organisation get into a position where it had to be closed down were not held accountable. As a Board member in such a situation, if the company goes broke and there are debts, you as Board members are legally liable for those debts.

In the case of Cycling, it was all rather embarrassing as their annual report stated “In July 2013, with the departure of the former CEO, the Board became aware that during 2012/13 it had not been kept fully informed of the true financial position of the WACF(Western Australian Cycling Federation).” That is the job of the Board to stay on top of the CEO and the organisation. They are there to ensure that the business is being run properly.

Sadly many Board members are there to add another attractive role to their Linked-in profile or Resume. One person, who shall remain nameless, from a Government department, told this writer that he had been advised by his boss that it would help his progression within the civil service if he was on the board of an organisation. So was he really looking to be on a Board for his own benefits not because he had something to offer to the sport concerned.

A recent situation that has come to light with one sporting organisation has seen one Board Member’s company have a client donate money to the organisation for a feasibility study. Then, incredibly that Board member’s company has been given the tender to carry out not only the feasibility study, but the work as a result of that study. To make matters worse in this process he has invited someone from the client’s company to be a part of the feasibility working party! How can he and fellow Board members not see the glaring conflict of interest?

The sad thing is it is not just one sport where Constitution rules – which are supposed to be legally binding – are being broken. What is even sadder is when you try to raise the issue with the powers who should care and be monitoring that everything is run properly, no one wants to know. So where is this going to leave some sports in the next five, ten or fifteen years?

Will we see another sport find itself in the same position that Cycling did three years ago? If so will the Board be held accountable? It is important to remember that resigning from a Board will not remove any liability which occurred while being a director. Board Members are still responsible for actions which occurred during their tenure.

It was interesting to read recently an article in which it was claimed that CEO’s were being paid too much. On reading the article it built an argument around this because modern day boards are interfering too much with the running of the organisation. They are the ones trying to come up with Strategic Plans rather than entrusting that to the CEO to whom they are paying a usually very good salary. So many a CEO is copping flak in the sporting stratosphere, but it may in fact be an interfering Board that is the problem.

One thing is clear there are problems in a number of sports, and the whole sporting landscape needs to be looked at properly, and guidelines put in place as to how each sport needs to be run, and the penalties should they breach their constitutions. If this does not happen and too many people do, as suggested, turn a blind eye, the Government is going to have to find funds to bail out some sports, and that will be to the detriment of those that are run properly.

Sadly it all comes down to role models, and people becoming accountable for their actions. If they will not do the honourable thing, which is resign, then those above them need to remove them.

As one document on the role of a Board Member, or Company director states, “directors have a legal obligation to ensure that a company is operated in a proper, legal, good-corporate-citizen style. If a company’s products blow up in the face of a consumer, or if a company fails to remit taxes or pay bills, it is the directors that are held liable and they may be personally sued.”

It was the sixth President of the United States of America, Benjamin Franklin, who said “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!” It is an apt way of explaining the situation.

This Sporting Life

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