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Tailored support to help the sports sector bounce back after Covid-19

Greg Rubins, Partner at BDO, introduces a series of blogs exploring the support services available to Sport England and UK Sport funded organisations in these challenging times.

Date: 16th Jun 2020

Author: Greg Rubins, BDO

Greg Rubins introduces the first in a series of blogs from BDO aimed at exploring the valuable resources being made available to funded organisations under an initiative with Sport England and UK Sport.

This is clearly a difficult time for sports organisations tackling the challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak. But by building on its governance foundations, using all the support available and planning for the future, the sports sector can look to more positive times ahead.

At BDO, a specialist team has long provided support on governance and financial management to the publicly funded sports sector. In a significant recent assignment, Sport England and UK Sport appointed us in November 2018 to review their funded partners against the Code for Sports Governance.

The first full year of this review covered 2019/20, involving visits to around 30 organisations, mainly national governing bodies (NGBs). Because the Code was new, the review focused on adding value and understanding the culture of the funded partners – a different approach to that taken previously. It included workshops with the NGBs, attending Board meetings and conversations with senior people in each organisation to try to ‘get under the skin’ of how they operate.

This comprehensive programme found that most organisations met the standards set out by the Code and nearly all had the basic governance and financial processes expected. That is a good position for the sector to build on, fuelled by the enthusiasm and commitment of those working within it.

Understandably, the review also found some issues that need to be addressed. Some related to small organisations that struggled to meet the requirements in areas such as procurement and conflicts of interest. However, in the main, the organisations with most issues were those that did not have strong governance in place. This was for a variety of reasons, including turnover of key staff and non-executives, a clear disconnect between executives and non-executives, and a culture that did not accept when there were weaknesses nor seek to address them.

To achieve excellence, the sports sector needs to move beyond process and embrace the spirit as well as the letter of the Code.

A new focus on support rather than review

When the Covid-19 outbreak began, Sport England and UK Sport recognised quickly that the review programme was an unnecessary distraction for funded partners dealing with a crisis situation. The 2020/21 programme has therefore been paused. Instead, BDO has been asked to put together a support package for funded partners, to help them through this period. The package includes:

  • A dedicated microsite on the BDO website that provides guidance on the government support available, such as the furlough scheme, and other issues for organisations to consider, like ensuring data protection when working from home
  • A helpdesk for funded partners to call with queries on the government support available
  • Provision of consulting advice to funded partners on matters related to Covid-19, including areas such as financial and tax planning, data security and preventing fraud.

In the coming weeks and months, your management and Boards will come under increased strain as they face the many challenges associated with Covid-19 and its aftermath. Your organisation will need to focus on the short-term requirements for keeping financially stable, engage more frequently with stakeholders and support remote decision making.

Alongside the many challenges, there are also opportunities to reassess the status quo in terms of your financial arrangements and reflect upon your sporting communities and how any future activities may benefit them. It’s important to look ahead and plan for the longer term too.

Underpinning all such analysis and planning is good, reliable data. Being able to access quality financial and stakeholder information quickly will significantly improve your ability to manage the challenges ahead and emerge as strongly as possible.    

Future blogs will consider some key current issues on tax, IT, fraud and financial management, as well as providing guidance on how organisations should assess the risks around returning to work and playing sport. This is clearly a difficult time for the sector, but the support is there for those who want to use it.

Greg Rubins is a Partner in BDO's Public Sector Assurance practice. Full details of the support package introduced in this blog can be found here.