Governance in profile - Angela Sanderson
Outstanding Governance Contribution Award winner 2023, Angela Sanderson tells us about her career, route into the profession and her work at World Netball.
Date: 6th Dec 2023
Author: Angela Sanderson, Head of Governance & Finance, World Netball
Role: Head of Finance & Governance
Organisation: World Netball
How long have you been in your current role/involved in sports governance?
Having joined World Netball (WN) at the end of 2013 as Financial Accountant it wasn’t long until I was thoroughly immersed in all things sports governance. By 2015 WN had established a governance committee to which I provided operational support and guidance and then following both internal and external reviews of our governance processes in 2016 and 2017, I led (and continue to lead) the programme of governance reforms at WN.
What does ‘governance’ mean to you?
Governance to me means doing the right thing irrespective of personal and external influences. From a sporting perspective I like to think of governance as helping to ensure a level playing field for participants.
What drew you to a career in sports governance?
Following a long career in the UK public sector, I wanted to try something entirely different whilst not wasting the qualifications (ACMA) and experience that I had worked so hard for. As an enthusiastic player and massive fan of netball the opportunity to join World Netball seemed sort of destined and a bit too good to be true!
What has been your career highlight?
I am so lucky to have has so many highlights in my ten years with World Netball. As a small executive team, we often need to get involved in other aspects of the organisation and this can lead to odd but thrilling situations, from meeting some of the best and most recognisable athletes in the world to being invited to the House of Lords for a discussion on sports integrity. If I absolutely had to choose my career highlight, it was that I had the privilege to watch England Netball progress to their first World Cup Final in summer 2023, it still gives me goosebumps when I think about it.
Can you provide an example of a governance success in your organisation?
When, back in 2017 WN undertook an external review of its governance, the picture was actually quite reassuring. However, there were particular areas that stood out as requiring significant room for improvement. One of these areas was the makeup of the Board in terms of independence and gender balance. Being a female dominated membership-led organisation with all Board members elected by the membership, those of us leading the governance reforms knew it would be a test of our resilience and skills of diplomacy to persuade our membership that reform was necessary. However, in 2019 WN Congress voted through the first in a series of changes to its constitution that over the next four years would replace two elected roles (out of nine) with independently appointed roles and introduce an additional independent athlete director role – with two of the independently appointed roles being taken up by men. Whilst the WN Board not quite achieved gender balance just yet, 0% to 20% in less than four years is fantastic progress. Similarly, from 0% to 30% independent in less than four years is a great achievement.
What changes have you seen in attitudes or approaches to sports governance?
There is without question still some way to go for sports governance. However, I believe that with some notable exceptions most of us involved in sport are convinced that without great governance our sports will struggle to survive in the future. No parent wants their child taking part in a sport that is blighted with stories of exploitation, abuse, match fixing and doping.
What support have you received that has really helped you in your career?
I have no doubt that my accountancy qualification and years spent in the public sector gave me a great grounding for a career in governance and as I described earlier, I have been really fortunate to work in a sport that I love and that I want to see uphold the highest standards in everything that it does. I have undertaken governance training provided by the Sports Governance Academy that has been invaluable, attended events hosted by WADA and the Sports Betting Integrity Forum and worked with colleagues at UNICEF in safeguarding, all of which have added a different dimension to my understanding of sports governance. In addition, I have been surrounded by an amazing group of sports professionals who have inspired, mentored, supported and challenged me in equal measure. I have had the pleasure in working with two amazingly inspirational presidents in Molly Rhone and Dame Liz Nicholl DBE, wonderful Board and governance committee members and the other half of the governance double act: my fabulous CEO, Clare Briegal.
What are the biggest governance challenges facing the sports sector right now? How are you or your organisation preparing for those?
In my view the big governance challenges facing the sports sector right now are around the constant innovations in digitisation that make the fight against corruption and safeguarding so much more difficult and the fight against climate change and how we develop policies that protect the environment and hold to account those that don’t.
What is the key development that you think is upcoming in sports governance?
The climate change emergency has shone a spotlight on the environmental impact of sports and increasingly sporting organisations are beginning to question their own impact and how it may be reduced. I can envisage governance professionals increasingly becoming responsible for monitoring and reporting environmental impacts against agreed metrics and for investigating areas for improvement.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in governance or sports governance?
My advice would be to read up on some of the big governance failures and consider what could have been done to avoid them. I would then encourage someone looking for a career in governance to get themselves some great formal training. Finally find a role where you really care about the impact of great governance, this can mean that you need that extra bit of resilience however the satisfaction from a job well done will be so much greater.
Angela Sanderson was announced as the inaugural winner of the Outstanding Governance Contribution Award at this year's Future-Fit Governance conference.