Australian Olympic Committee president John Coates has moved to take the spotlight off the so-called underperformance of our athletes at the London Games (that is, against expectations we’d end the games with a top five finish in the medal tally) and place it instead on the “attitude and ownership” at the management level of some, unnamed, sports.
“There is something there but I don’t know what it is,” Coates said at a post-games press conference overnight. “I want to know what it is.”
Part of the problem may be the lack of diversity on the boards of our National Sporting Organisations. When it comes to sport, just like in business, diversity should reflect the communities they represent. That’s not the case at most of Australia’s 64 National Sporting Organisations, where just 23.4% of board seats are held by women.
And according to the research by Women on Boards, the sports that receive the most funding from the Australian Sports Commission are often guilty of having the smallest proportion of women on their boards.
In sport, according to a number of women who sit on sports boards contacted by Women’s Agenda, board diversity is about finding individuals who can make decisions that best represent their sport’s community of competitors, coaches, supporters and spectators. At an Olympic level, it’s particularly about ensuring such decision-making recognises the different needs of male and female athletes.
There is plenty of research available to the corporate world backing the business case for diversity on boards, including the recent findings by Credit Suisse Research that organisations with women on their boards have consistently performed better over the last six years than those without women.
While board diversity won’t create athletic talent where it doesn’t exist, it could aid the performance of an overall team by better meeting the behind-the-scenes needs of the sport.
“We do need to recognise that sport is about business, it’s about entertainment, there are some very strategic issues in sport, particularly around the convergence of media and strategic communications,” says Gillian McPhee, a board director at Basketball Australia.
McPhee says it’s a diverse mix of skills and leadership that really matter on sports boards, and women play a part in ensuring that’s possible. “Some new talents and new perspectives need to be brought onto sports boards, with good strategy and execution of strategy I think what we’ll find is that the quality of the performance of the sport will improve.”
Sports lawyer and Canoeing Australia board member Catherine Ordway agrees a mix of skills is essential for effective decision-making: “When you see things from a range of different perspectives, you can come up with solutions that are more innovative, more real world, and with better strategic and future planning,” she says.
Meanwhile, adds Mcfee, improving diversity on sports boards also helps with participation. “Often it is women and others in the family who are making the early decisions around sporting preferences of kids. They’re the ones doing the driving! They can actually influence participation greatly at the community level.”
So what can be done to get more women on sports boards?
As Claire from Women on Boards writes today on Women’s Agenda, the Australian Olympic Commission should set a 40% target for getting more women on the boards of national sporting organisations – a figure that would ensure gender representation reflects funding levels and sporting outcomes.
That would be a good start. But as we’ll explore on Women’s Agenda this week, there are plenty of other options for getting more women on sports boards – and, perhaps, for boosting that gold medal tally in Rio.
What do you think? Will diversity on the boards of Australia’s National Sporting Organisations ultimately help the performance of athletes? Have your say below.