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Governance in profile - Kevin Carpenter

Kevin Carpenter, sports lawyer, Head of Integrity at the International Table Tennis Federation and INED (chair) at Sports Officials UK, gives us an insight into his route into the governance profession and the sports sector.

Date: 11th Apr 2023

Author: Kevin Carpenter, Sports Officials UK

Role: Independent Non-Executive Director (chair)
Organisation: Sports Officials UK


How long have you been in your current role/involved in sports governance?

In various guises I have been involved in sports governance for over a decade.


What does ‘governance’ mean to you?

For me, governance is the process by which decisions are made and implemented. This can be a decision to take a particular action or, often more difficult, not do something. Underpinning good and effective governance practices is trust.

What drew you to a career in sports governance? (attraction of the sector, attraction of a governance role, what is it about that role that you enjoy?)

It was a natural progression for me from starting with a narrow specialism in tackling match-fixing issues to applying the same expertise and values to organisational governance in sport.


What was your route into your role/the sector?

I trained as a corporate lawyer but alongside that got introduced to the discipline of sports law, and soon started to research and write about integrity and governance issues in the sector. With my publications being noticed, I was then instructed by sports clients to advise and represent them on legal and governance issues.


What has been your career highlight?

In respect of governance, it would have to be laying the groundwork with the rest of the board for the British Volleyball Federation (BVF) to be granted public funding from UK Sport in March 2021. I was Non-Executive Director & Company Secretary from January 2014 to June 2019 in an incredibly tough time post-London 2012, where keeping the organisation a going concern was achievement. At the same time, as a board we always had the long-term goal to obtain funding again, and although I’d moved on from the organisation by the time it was awarded, there was still a great sense of satisfaction and achievement on a personal level.


Can you provide an example of a governance success in your organisation?

Being an entirely volunteer board, Sport Officials UK (SOUK) has faced numerous governance challenges to keep the organisation functioning and relevant for a stakeholder and participant group in sport who are chronically under-represented and appreciated. Success is therefore relative and with SOUK we have managed to maintain a level of governance to enable the organisation to be partner in two European Union Erasmus+ research projects.


What changes have you seen in [attitudes/approaches] to sports governance?

The pace of development in the attitudes and approaches to sports governance in a decade or so ago from when I started working in the area is remarkable when I reflect on it. Although effective and consistent implementation may still be lacking across the sector in some areas, the importance and understanding of what is required has reached a level of maturity, not just in the UK but also internationally. That gives me confidence the next generation of sports managers and administrators will run sports organisations in a way which sees them looked up to in broader society, rather than being ridiculed, as has been the case too often in the past with more scandals than I care to remember.


What support have you received that has really helped you in your career? (training, qualifications, colleagues, mentors, resources)

I really wish I’d had a formal mentor in my sports governance journey but I’ve been fortunate to work with many people I respect and from whom I have learned a significant amount along the way. Although my sports governance journey developed more organically, I would strongly advocate for the benefits of undertaking training and qualifications in sports governance to be as well informed as possible before delving into a sports organisation in what is undoubtedly a unique sector.


What are the biggest governance challenges facing the sports sector right now? How are you/your organisation preparing for those?

I think there are two areas: diversification of income to be less reliant on public funding and making your organisation and its governance representative of the participants it serves.

The former I am less knowledgeable on as SOUK does not get any public funding (frustratingly, it is not a participant group deemed eligible). However, we are moving a from an NGB membership model to be a research and policy organisation to raise awareness of issues impact match officials across all NGBs, attracting funds from other sources not just in the UK.

As for the second area of diversity and inclusion, it is proven that more diverse and representative organisations perform better in every respect. One of SOUK’s great strengths in recent years has been to have leading female figures in officiating on our board, as well as researching female officials, but as we redefine and reposition the organisation we need to broaden our engagement to engender NGB and individuals’ trust in SOUK’s current and future work.


What is the key development that you think is upcoming in sports governance?

There are an increasing number of issues coming within the remit of “governance”, but for me the key area all organisations must have at the top of their agendas is safe sport. This encompasses safeguarding, harassment, abuse and all manner of other ways in which participants (not just players) do not feel safe taking part in their chosen sport. Be honest about the organisation’s current issues and ability to deal with them. The organisation cannot be seen to be a bystander or enabler of people in the sport who undermine people’s trust in it in the worst possible ways. There are plenty of expert people and organisations out there who can provide the specialist assistance needed to be acting in accordance with good practice.


What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in governance/sports governance?

Get on to a board (or committee or working group) as soon as you can as that is where you will learn the soft skills very difficult to teach via any form of sports governance training or education.


Kevin Carpenter is a sports lawyer with an international reputation as regards governance, integrity and regulatory issues in sport. He is co-author of CGIUKI's Sports Governance Handbook and a contributing author for the SGA knowledge base.