Wed, Mar 24, 2021

How Gender Equality Initiatives in Sports Can Contribute to a More Professional Environment

By the end of 2020, all member associations of the Olympic Movement should have a female representation of at least 30% in their governing bodies. This resolution was stipulated by the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) Executive Board in 2016. It was one more step the IOC took in its 20-year history of advocating for women in sports. In 1996, the IOC amended the Olympic Charter to include a reference to the committee’s role in promoting women in sports at all levels and within all structures.

Since then, there have been many improvements. In 2020, the number of female IOC members increased by 50% in comparison with 2013 to now comprise 37.5% of the board. The number of women in IOC commissions has doubled; they now make up 47.8% of the members. Additionally, female athletes represent 48.8% of the participants who qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games—an all-time high, even with the event’s postponement due to COVID-19.  

However, as we examine other sports organizations, the number of women in executive positions is still painstakingly low. According to The Sustainability Report, as of March 2019, of the 206 National Olympic Committees, only 13 were led by women; of the 33 recognized International Sports Federations, only two had a female president, while only 10 employed women as general secretary. 

The benefits of women’s representation in the executive management for all types of organizations—outside the realm of sports—has been widely documented. In 2019, the International Labor Organization (ILO) published a report on Women in Business and Management, in which they surveyed nearly 13,000 enterprises across the globe. According to the ILO research, 57% of companies around the world reported that gender diversity initiatives improved their business outcomes. Among the indicators used to measure this improvement were increased profitability and productivity, enhanced ability to attract and retain talent, greater creativity and innovation and a better reputation.

In recent years, the sports industry has witnessed an effort from clubs and associations to increase their levels of governance and transparency. These efforts come as a response to two connected movements. On the one hand, most sports entities had faced years of irresponsible administration, often accompanied by fraud, corruption, and, not uncommonly, terrible financial results. On the other hand, investors, sponsors, vendors, other related third parties, and even teams’ supporters are now pressuring for more professional management.

We have seen the evidence of this tide shift as, these past few years, Kroll has been recurrently engaged by sports clubs, associations, and federations. Often, our work with these organizations involves the investigation of potential fraud in past administrations, which has been identified as the main reason for financial chaos at sports entities. In other projects, we have assisted sports entities in identifying risks in ongoing or future negotiations or engagements, thus avoiding financial or reputational losses. Finally, our work also involves helping sports organizations enhance their governance and control structures. 

Even though these are undeniable steps into a more transparent management, sports organizations can still widely benefit from gender diversity efforts to increase their level of professionalism. As the ILO report shows, female representation in executive management is not just a matter of equality. It is a matter of productivity, efficiency and good governance.

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