In recent years, governments, sport organisations and independent agencies have developed an increasing number of suggested governance principles and guidelines designed to counter failures in governance. However, whilst there is often an implicit assumption made by policy makers, whereby adherence to these principles is related to improved organisational performance, there is little evidence on their impact on sport organisations’ governance practices and performances. Having sport organisations adopt a wide variety of governance principles without understanding the potential impacts can be ineffective and inefficient. This paper seeks to address this issue by providing a systematic review on sport governance and exploring the relationship between governance principles and performance.
The initial search strategy for publications used the terms Governance AND Sport* Organisation OR Governing Body OR Federation OR Association OR Event. This produced a list of 2155 studies, which were assessed through a pre-selected inclusion and exclusion criteria. Exclusion criterion included purely theoretical works, non-sport articles, and works that only discuss governance principles without discussing impact on performance. Using the PRISMA protocol, sources went through a quality assessment process that included identification, screening and eligibility before finally being included in the review. From the initial 2155 studies review, only 19 met the inclusion criteria.
There is a wide range of governance principles considered by the 19 studies related to membership, the nature and extent of inter-organisational linkages, regulatory structures, decision making issues, shared leadership, and strategic focus of the board. Overall, the studies highlight how board composition, independence, ownership dispersion, and shared board-CEO leadership and collaboration positively affects an organisations’ financial performance. However, there are concerns that in the pursuit of good governance, volunteer members are being put under too much pressure and expected to operate like for-profit organisations. This impacts on volunteer capacity to devote time and effort to non-profit sport organisations and puts greater emphasis on commercial value. Whilst the link between board structure and organisational performance is empirically found, the link between other governance principles and performance is lacking. This arguably stems from a lack of an agreed set of governance principles across the international sport community, which limits the ability of sport organisations to improve their governance.
This systematic review highlights the importance of evidence-based decision making for assisting policy makers and funding agencies. The small number of studies included in the review demonstrates the lack of robust empirical evidence addressing the relationship between good governance and organisational performance. Despite the need for cohesive guidelines across the international sport community, there are questions over how likely the development of an agreed set of governance principles are due to the multitude of stakeholders involved, as well as the different legal and cultural contexts between national sport systems. With regards to community sport in Scotland, non-profit sport bodies and organisations might benefit from considering some of the concerns raised in this review, particularly the pressures put on volunteers. Good governance and organisational performance are multidimensional concepts, and it is important to balance an organisations’ financial and strategic vision with positive community practices.