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Good governance in sport

In 2013, the Swedish Research Council for Sport Science was given the task by the government of identifying what characterized good ethics in sport. The purpose of the analysis was primarily to address legal and financial issues, as well as questions of management and leadership.

As part of this analysis, a questionnaire was designed to examine issues of finance and ethics in local sports associations. The questionnaire was sent out and a total of 5,480 club treasurers responded.

The study showed that Swedish sport at club level is still remarkably small-scale and with a strong voluntary element. The majority of Sweden’s sports associations have fewer than 200 members, run sports activities for children and young people, and rely on membership fees as their most important source of revenue. There are larger and more commercially-run clubs but they are in a minority. Most associations are run entirely by volunteers and only three out of ten have paid employees.

In the questionnaire, the treasurers were asked questions concerning the frequency of rule violations in financial matters within sports associations. Slightly more than half of those asked estimated that in sports clubs it is quite or very common that clubs break financial rules unconsciously due to factors such as ignorance, carelessness or lack of time.

Furthermore, approximately a quarter of the treasurers claimed that it is common that clubs consciously break financial rules in order to favour themselves. Finally, a small group of treasurers (six per cent) considered that it was quite or very common that members of clubs consciously break financial rules in order to gain personal advantage.

A general conclusion from the findings is that information and training in financial matters within sports clubs are important tools in preventing financial irregularities, which result from ignorance or carelessness. However, the results also showed that there are clubs supporting the view that financial irregularities can be allowed if they favour the club’s non-profit aims.

The sports movement in Sweden must take measures to counteract this unethical attitude.  Naturally, breaking rules to gain personal financial advantage must always be stopped. Such behaviour tarnishes the reputation of voluntary clubs and risks seriously damaging both organized sport and the wider community.