Sports Governance

Lucy Tallentire from the School of Business, Economics and Informatics interviews Rowland Jack, founder of I Trust Sport, ahead of his lecture at the Birkbeck Sport Business Centre on 9 January 2017. Rowland tweets at @itrustsport

As a sports governance consultancy, I Trust Sport has a unique opportunity to influence international sports governance. What drove you to set up the consultancy?

squash-793063_640I chose the name of the company because I believe sport has a lot to offer individuals and society. I have been fortunate enough to work in the sports industry for a long time, including six editions of the Olympic Games, summer and winter. In previous roles focusing on communications and policy, I became increasingly concerned that serious issues of governance were not being addressed effectively and were holding sport back. At one extreme it is obviously the criminal activity that tends to attract media attention, but most of what I perceived was towards the other end of the scale – structural failings or inefficiencies which prevent sports bodies and dedicated people working to their potential.

In 2011 I began research and I set up I Trust Sport a few months after London 2012.

For those without prior knowledge of the problems faced by the squash community, why did the World Squash Federation (WSF) seek an independent governance review?

Squash has lobbied hard in recent years to join the Olympic programme, unfortunately without success. It was believed – I think justifiably – that being part of the Olympic Games would transform the sport by bringing increased visibility and funding. This setback was one reason for significant differences of opinion among senior figures within the World Squash Federation, the Professional Squash Association and elsewhere about the future direction of the sport. In June 2016 the former president of the World Squash Federation was coming to the end of his term and committed to conducting an independent review. I Trust Sport was called in, along with Vero Communications, and asked to report ahead of elections in November.

I should stress that the majority of the challenges facing squash which I will cover in the lecture on 9 January are common to a number of sports: a strained relationship between the international federation and the professional league; a lack of consultation which leads to stakeholders feeling marginalised; and limited resources. It would be unfair to characterise squash as uniquely problematic – these are difficult issues to address. In my view, the World Squash Federation deserves credit for inviting scrutiny from an outside party.

What influence do you hope your recommendations to the World Squash Federation have for squash as an international sport?

I am not a squash player myself but I recognise that squash is a great sport. It blends skill, stamina and tactics in a gladiatorial setting.

Ultimately, I hope that squash can flourish both as a competitive and a recreational sport, and that more people can enjoy playing, watching and being involved in other ways.

For that to happen it is important that the World Squash Federation and the Professional Squash Association collaborate more effectively, working towards common goals. I think that is the top priority.

There are a number of fairly technical points in the report, which I believe can improve the functioning of the World Squash Federation. I’ll talk about some of these on 9 January. It’s up to the new Executive Board to decide how to proceed.

Running an international sports body, particularly when money is tight, is a complicated task. Improving governance is an ongoing process and few sports federations, if any, can claim to be operating as well as they would like. I would argue that quite a few of the findings of the research on squash are applicable to other sports too.

What gives me confidence about squash is that the sport itself has so much going for it. It is already strong in many parts of the world, including in some fast-growing markets, and there are plenty of capable, enthusiastic people who are committed to its success.

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