Sport governing bodies will have to sign up to ‘diversity action plans’ but not boardroom targets

Sports bodies will be forced to sign up to “detailed and ambitious” diversity action plans under a revamped Code for Sports Governance – but they have been controversially spared minimum targets for getting more ethnic minorities on their boards.

They will also be required to appoint a director to lead on welfare and safety under updated rules governing organisations in receipt of taxpayers’ money, which will finally be unveiled on Friday, a year after the Government ordered a review of the existing code.

Plans for that review were announced less than 24 hours after Telegraph Sport investigation laid bare the shocking dearth of black people in positions of real power within the sector, revealing just three per cent of board members of the largest national governing bodies (NGBs) were black.

That saw the Government come under pressure to ensure at least one in five directors of sports bodies was from an ethnic minority. The sports minister, Nigel Huddleston, warned that anything below a 20 per cent threshold would not be acceptable to black and minority ethnic (Bame) communities.

But the revised code stops short of that, despite continuing to force NGBs which receive public money to ensure at least 30 per cent of their directors are female.

Instead, they must agree a top-to-bottom Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan (Diap) with UK Sport and Sport England which they must publish and adhere to or risk being stripped of funding.

The latter’s chief executive, Tim Hollingsworth told Telegraph Sport additional boardroom targets had been considered but that it would have meant having them for a multitude of different groups representing a variety of protected characteristics.

“It would become, at that level, quite token, actually,” he said, arguing the Diaps represented a more “sophisticated approach”.

“The approach is to take a step back from that instead and say to each individual organisation, ‘These are the areas that matter. What is your approach going to be? How are you going to affect that change?”

Hollingsworth was confident those to have called for ethnicity quotas, which included the charity Sporting Equals, would be won over by the changes to the code.

He also cited data that showed that since the original code came into force five years ago, of the 4,000 organisations in receipt of Government and Lottery funding from UK Sport and Sport England, the average proportion of Bame and disabled directors on the boards of those bodies had risen, respectively, from four per cent to 13 per cent and from three per cent to 13 per cent.

And he was hopeful the code would inspire the likes of Premier League football clubs – which are not bound by it – to address the shocking lack of diversity within their own boardrooms.

The Telegraph Sport investigation last year found that no top-flight club and virtually no English Football League team had a black owner, chairman or chief executive.

That was after Raheem Sterling calling out the lack of black leaders in the game in the wake of the murder in the United States of George Floyd.

Hollingsworth said: “I hope, even if there isn’t that direct ability to influence that, indirectly we’ll be creating a cultural sense in sport of what matters and that will be, certainly, something that we’d look to try to make part of all of this.”

In an acknowledgment of the scandals to engulf sport since the original code was published, the revamped version imposes a requirement for NGBs to appoint a director to lead on welfare and safety.

Hollingsworth added in a statement: “Today marks a milestone in the evolution of our sector, the way it is run and how we ensure fairness and inclusion for all.

“We are incredibly proud of the impact the Code for Sports Governance has had since 2016, and the way it has been adopted as a vehicle for meaningful and positive change.

“The changes announced today build on this momentum. We are confident that the new requirements – and the focus in particular on the impact of ambitious Diversity and Inclusion Action Plans – will be welcomed and embraced. It is a further step towards greater diversity of background, experience and understanding of sport and activity environments having a seat at the table at the very top of sporting organisations.”

Sally Munday, UK Sport chief executive, said: “The review undertaken into the Code for Sports Governance is an important part of UK Sport’s and Sport England’s commitment to ensuring the organisations we invest in are well governed. A huge driver for us is in supporting thriving organisations that reflect the diversity of the country we represent.   

“The review is a clear demonstration of the amount of positive change that can be made to drive good governance in sport, and that diversity of thought around board tables leads to better run organisations. The review has presented some clear next steps and we look forward to working with our partners and stakeholders to keep pushing up the standards of how high-performance sport is led and managed and to ensure our high-performance community is truly inclusive.”  

Huddleston added: “I firmly believe that sport should lead the way in good governance, diversity and inclusion. The launch of the Code for Sports Governance in 2016 marked a step change in governance standards across the sector. These changes announced today are the next phase in making sport stronger for the future.

“I’d like to thank UK Sport, Sport England and everyone that took part in the review for the important role they have played in setting new standards going forward. I look forward to continuing to work towards our shared goal of a robust, diverse and fair sports sector.”