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Sport: Governance — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:58 pm on 4th December 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Baroness Evans of Bowes Park Conservative 3:58 pm, 4th December 2014

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Moynihan for initiating the debate. I would also like to welcome my noble friend Lady Brady, whose contribution showed the wealth of expertise she will bring to this House.

Like my noble friend Lord Horam, I have not held a senior position in the sporting world or participated at an international level. I speak only as a Norwich City season ticket holder, a candidate for MCC membership and a general sporting enthusiast. Fantastic memories of the London Olympics and Paralympics still burn brightly for me, but equally vivid and, unfortunately, less happy recent memories include last winter’s Ashes whitewash and Norwich City’s relegation from the Premiership. Such are the ups and downs of being a sports fan.

As has already been said, the British public’s passion for sport is well known, but it would be a grave mistake for sport governing bodies—be they at international, national or club level—to take for granted their loyalty and commitment. In particular, there is much to do to continue to encourage the next generation of fans. Sport is increasingly competing for young people’s free time with other popular alternatives. Many of these are online and are often much cheaper than regularly going to cricket or football matches, for instance. The latest BBC Price of Football survey has shown just how much ticket prices have risen in the past 12 months alone.

There are also signs that young people are less likely to watch live sport regularly. Last year, the Premier League found that the average age of a supporter was 41 and that only a fifth of those attending matches were aged between 18 and 24. There is little that is more exciting than watching live sport, and there are real issues to be tackled to ensure that future generations of fans are not lost.

In order to be able to respond effectively to those and the many other challenges they face, sports need to be governed properly. They need structures that are accountable, responsive and transparent. They need a culture that welcomes the expertise of all those who have a stake in the sport, and a vision for the future that recognises that their viability relies on the involvement and support of future generations.

Yet too many international sports bodies are having their competence and leadership in these areas called into question. As the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, said, these are big businesses and, like our biggest companies, they need to be accountable. Along with those who pay for the pleasure of watching sport and those who participate, sponsors have a role in pressing for change. The tremendous work of LOCOG and of the British Olympic Association and British Paralympic Association during that incredible summer of 2012 is a testament to what effective leadership and good governance can achieve.

The vast majority of sports men and women in this country do not compete at the highest level, but this does not make their commitment to their sport any less. They, in turn, rely on the dedication of volunteers who mark pitches, collect subs and sit on committees, as the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, highlighted. Many of the amateur football, rugby, cricket, tennis and athletics clubs that are a central part of so many Britons’ lives are extremely well run. We are entitled to expect a similar level of competence and integrity from the institutions that run sport at the elite level.

In conclusion, the sporting world faces significant challenges. Those in charge must ensure that their governance structures are fit for purpose, that they maintain the highest standards of ethics and integrity, and that they are clearly accountable for their actions. This is not rocket science—in fact, it is written in all the codes of conduct and good governance guides—but it has to be put into practice. If sports bodies fail to do this, it will not be government regulation that they need to be concerned about; rather, it will be the loss of thousands and thousands of would-be fans.