Risk Assessments. The Maldives. Tom Sawyer. What links these apparently unrelated things?
Answer: they were all referred at one point or another during the opening workshop of the Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football project, which was held at partner FC United of Manchester’s home stadium, Broadhurst Park. As that suggests, the 48 hours touched on a wide range of topics, with all the various participants bringing their own perspectives and experiences to the table. As well as the project partners, the event was also attended by like-minded organisations and clubs: Israfans, Norsk Supporterallianse, Supporters Direct, SD Scotland and Wrexham FC.
Heading into the event, partners were aiming to answer a series of key questions. These, along with six workshop headings, formed the basis of the agenda. Each workshop was facilitated by a project partner, with the priority being the agreement of best practice and ideas that partners could take away and implement within their own organisations; or which could be investigated further by SD Europe on behalf of the partnership.
What are the key indicators of good governance at sporting organisations?
How can members be better engaged in governance structures?
What are the extents and limits of transparency?
How can governance be affected by growth of an organisation?
What’s the best way to monitor and evaluate governance?
Before the formal business began, FC United General Manager Andy Walsh welcomed all the participants to Broadhurst Park, with a brief history of the club and the pioneering Community Shares project that funded the construction of the community facility. Recounting the inspirational journey FC United have been on in eleven years provided the perfect kick-off to the workshop.
The remainder of the agenda was given over to the project partners, with the six workshop themes having been selected during the project’s initial needs analysis phase. For the first session, on Developing Good Governance, our guest speaker and noted campaigner for improved sports governance Sylvia Schenk contributed valuable context and thought-provoking insight into the practical challenges that can arise on a daily basis at sports organisations. Volunteer charters, risk assessments and above all a willingness to address challenges right from the top were all ideas raised and debated by partners, with Sylvia providing her experienced perspective.
The importance of Member Engagement in governance structures and processes was the focus of the second session, which was led by Supporters in Campo – the national organisation for democratic supporters’ groups and member-run clubs in Italy. Partners were introduced to their consensus-driven approach, which prioritises the election of the best possible member representatives to the organisation’s board. They also highlighted the importance of having a vision that all members endorse and ‘buy into’, which in turns fosters a culture of active participation at general assemblies and beyond. There was a particularly lively discussion around the pros and cons of online voting, which is used by one Supporters in Campo member, Fondazione Taras. The consensus was that whilst democratic values should reflect changing technologies, promoting attendance at the general assembly remains essential.
One of the reasons for this is the promotion of Transparency, which was the focus of the session led by Cork City FC, a member-run club from the Republic of Ireland. Transparent practices provide a vital opportunity for the scrutiny of board activities by members, and help to create a culture of interaction and openness. However, there are limits to what can and should be shared. Facilitated ably by CCFC, this session saw partners attempt to define Transparency, who should practice it, what the benefits are, and how best to ensure these standards are met on a day to day basis by staff, volunteers, members, and others.
Of course, pinpointing who should practice Transparency requires a comprehensive understanding of exactly who your target audiences are – something that applies equally to member-run clubs and national supporters’ organisations. The workshop’s fourth session therefore focused on Knowledge of Members, with Schalke 04 leading the debate. Topics examined included the definition of membership demographics, understanding what makes people (want to) participate, promoting the General Assembly and making attendance as attractive as possible, and ensuring member services are both relevant and reaching their targets.
One of the benefits created by better knowledge of members is often growth, across various areas of the organisation including membership numbers. This often creates governance-related challenges, and it is vital that organisations are set up to address these. The final session of day one was led by FASFE, the national organisation for democratic supporters’ groups and member-run clubs in Spain. Having been founded with a small initial membership and experienced rapid growth (in terms of numbers and diversity of members), explaining their emphasis on flexibility and utilisation of new means of communication, whilst also not neglecting the importance of regular in-person meetings formed the core of their presentation. We also heard from FASFE members Recreativo Supporters’ Trust, only a year old and currently in the midst of a campaign to save Spain’s oldest football club. Their clear commitment to maintaining their democratic values despite significant pressure to respond to daily developments and an expanding network was a heartening way to close the day. To find out more about the Líberos del Decano campaign, visit their website.
After more informal discussions that stretched over dinner and well into the evening, day two kicked off with some practical exercises focused on the evaluation of governance by partners. Taking the previous day’s workshops as themes, partners were split into four groups and asked to define key outcomes, indicators of success and the evidence needed to draw an informed conclusion about their own governance. The idea of the format was threefold: firstly, it encouraged partners to evaluate their own organisations and come up with possible improvements to return home with; it suggested areas that merited further examination and discussion on the upcoming project exchange visits; and it set the ball rolling in terms of overall project evaluation.
This evaluation process was the focus of the final session, which was led by Substance. Partners were not only asked to provide snap feedback on the event, but also to hone in on lessons, conclusions, and actions they would be taking back to their organisations and wider networks – thus hopefully ensuring that the project’s learnings will be widely distributed beyond the core partnership. Sharing these conclusions also sounded a positive note on which to round off an intense but extremely stimulating workshop for all concerned. Next up: an event examining Financial Sustainability, hosted by Malmö FF.
Keep an eye on the SD Europe website in the coming days for more material from the Governance workshop!
About the ‘Clubs and Supporters for Better Governance in Football’ project
This is a two-year project, coordinated by SD Europe, and co-funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union and UEFA. The project will help promote EU principles on good governance in sport. It will do this through a training, education and exchange programme involving member-run football clubs and national supporters’ organisations; covering the full range of the football pyramid and aimed at promoting co-operation between like-minded organisations.
The partners and contributing organisations (in Italics) are as follows:
The project addresses three core topics, which are of importance to all the partners: good governance, financial sustainability, and member/volunteer engagement and democratic participation.
Partners will attend a total of three in-person sessions, plus opening and closing events. These will be supplemented by a series of one-to-one exchanges. The project will also include a research and evaluation element, in order to assist the ongoing measurement of good governance in sport; and the development of an online training resource, which will provide long-term impact beyond the lifetime of the project.
The project will be supported by an advisory board, made up of:
Jonas Baer-Hoffmann (Head of Public Affairs, FIFPro Division Europe)
Ivo Belet MEP (Member of the European Parliament)
Sean Hamil (Director, Birkbeck Sport Business Centre, Department of Management, Birkbeck College, University of London)
Dr Joachim Lammert (Universität Leipzig, Sportwissenschaftliche Fakultät, FG Sportmanagement)
Pedro Velázquez (EU sports governance expert)
This is the second EC-funded project to be coordinated by SD Europe, following the successful Improving Football Governance through Supporter Involvement and Community Ownership preparatory action in the field of sport, which also involved three other members of this collaborative partnership.
About SD Europe
SD Europe is an organisation that assists democratic supporters’ groups in achieving formal structured involvement in their clubs and associations, and developing member ownership of football clubs. Established in 2007 with support from UEFA, SD Europe also advises clubs on their ownership and governance structure and works with football governing bodies, leagues, UEFA, and European institutions. Currently, it is active in over 20 European countries and is responsible for the implementation of the Supporter Liaison Officer requirement (Art. 35, UEFA Club Licensing and Financial Fair Play Regulations). For more information, contact us.