Lawyers in Sport Governance

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One of our solicitors, Jo Tisch, is a keen age group triathlete having represented New Zealand at the World Championships on a number of occasions.  With an interest in governance she sits on the Boards of Sport Bay of Plenty and Triathlon NZ Inc. She is the recipient of a Sport NZ Women in Governance Scholarship for the 2014 year.  We asked her what value she believes lawyers can add tothe sporting environment.

Sport and recreation plays an important role in New Zealand society.  Sport makes us feel good. It can transform people and inspire communities.  We know our sporting greats, our iconic teams - we know individuals who have turned their lives around by “getting off the couch”. Sport also has a commercial value for New Zealand and its regions that can be harnessed for the benefit of all.

One of the challenges for sporting organisations is to remain relevant in an environment where people are increasingly time-poor and less likely to commit to traditional club-based sport.  Another challenge is to be financially sustainable in times when funding streams are less accessible than they may have been in the past. There is also increased regulation sitting around sport including health and safety obligations and integrity issues (anti-doping, match-fixing and the like). 

To adapt and respond to the changing environment it is essential that sporting organisations at all levels – national, regional, and local – are operating with good governance structures. It is beholden on Boards (or committees) to have strategies in place that identify risk and opportunities, to hold to a vision for what the organisation wants to be, for what it wants to deliver.  In today’s environment this means that Board members need to be able to distinguish between the day to day operations of the organisation (management) and matters of strategy and policy (governance).  Often it is about separating the issues from the personalities, the relevant from the irrelevant, sifting information and perspectives, and having robust debates to arrive at key decisions. It’s a lot like being a lawyer really!

Jo is convinced that lawyers can add value to a Board room discussion but is adamant that you don’t need too many. Lawyers bring a particular set of skills and experience which can be useful but she is convinced that is the breadth of experience and perspectives around a Board table that can make a real difference.