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A Code for Sports Governance

A look at the code of primary importance for sports organisations in England and those funded by Sport England or UK Sport.

A range of codes and other governance frameworks are available to aid you in governing your organisation and your sport. Some are voluntary, offering recommendations which cover good governance practice. However, for organisations supported by Sport England or UK Sport the Code for Sports Governance sets out requirements which need to be complied with in order to obtain public funding, which is often the lifeblood needed to operate and sustain many in the sector.

It is not just funded organisations which are looking to adopt the Code as their guiding document, nor those who are hopeful of gaining future funding. Many clubs, associations and other bodies have come to recognise the benefits of voluntarily implementing this robust but proportionate governance code to help them place their activities and strategic development on sound foundations.  

As with all codes, the key to the success of your organisation from a governance perspective will not be just knowing the document and its principles, but using its recommended practices and the tools provided on this website to identify the areas where your organisation requires improvement to become ‘fit for purpose’ and move beyond mere compliance.

A Code for Sports Governance

A Code for Sports Governance was launched in October 2016 and became mandatory for those who seek Government and National Lottery funding from April 2017. In 2020 it was announced that a review of the Code would be undertaken, incorporating sector research and a public consultation. Changes to the Code's requirements were announced in July 2021 and the full Code and accompanying commentary were published in December 2021.

The Code sets out the levels of transparency, accountability and financial integrity that will be required to obtain public funding.

Download a Code for Sports Governance

Principle 1 - Structure

'Organisations shall have a clear and appropriate governance structure, led by a Board which is collectively responsible for the long-term success of the organisation and exclusively vested with the power to lead it. The Board shall be properly constituted and shall operate effectively.'

SGA says

A sound structural framework lays the foundation for sustainable governance. Responsibility for decision making and strategic planning are key duties of the board, and the governance architecture of the organisation should be clearly established, identifying where authority and competence reside and setting terms of reference and channels of accountability for delegated matters. Appropriate structures will vary in detail between organisations, but many of the core practice recommendations will apply across a range of bodies.

Regardless of the structure adopted, the authority – and legal responsibility – for leading the organisation lies with the board. It is the board which directs the organisation and which determines what authority it delegates and to whom, based on the provisions set out in the governing document and applicable legislation.

For more on this principle, check out our tool below, which highlights the questions sports organisations should be asking themselves if they are hoping to meet the Tier 3 requirements of the Code.

Questions for sports bodies: Principle 1

Principle 2 - People

'Organisations shall recruit and engage people with diversity of background, thought, independence, skills and experience to take effective decisions that further the organisation’s goals and best serve their communities, stakeholders and wider UK society.'

SGA says

It can be argued that the most important factor in an organisation’s governance is the people that lead and work within it. A decision-making body composed of skilled and experienced individuals who bring a broad range of perspectives and different ways of thinking and approaching problems will contribute to more effective leadership, making the organisation more adaptable in meeting the challenges it faces. A more diverse board will also reflect and be more able to engage with the community which the organisation serves and will demonstrate that the organisation is one to which that community can relate. This can confer legitimacy on the organisation and promote confidence and inclusivity among all those involved in the sport.

The revised Code contains new obligations for funded organisations around diversity, requiring those in receipt of significant funding to produce a detailed, ambitious and published plan to increase the level of diversity and inclusion not only on their boards, but also on their senior leadership teams and across their wider organisational structures. 

When considering who the best people are to lead an organisation, it is important to have regard to the long-term strategic plan. Identifying where the organisation wants to go and what it wants to achieve should lead to an assessment of what skills are required on the board to realise those goals. This should prompt an honest appraisal of whether the current composition meets those needs and can be used to inform future recruitment processes.

There is a growing awareness that policies and processes form only part of an effective governance apparatus. It is just as important that the behaviour, values and culture which inform all of an organisation’s activities are embedded throughout the structure. Organisational culture is dealt with in Principle 4 of the Code (Standards and Conduct). However, people are key to this: it is they who implement policy and engage with participants, supporters, coaches, volunteers, the public and a whole range of other stakeholders. Having the right people in place at all levels will ensure that what an organisation does and what it professes to stand for are in alignment.


For more on this principle, check out our tool below, which highlights the questions sports organisations should be asking themselves if they are hoping to meet the Tier 3 requirements of the Code.

Questions for sports bodies: Principle 2

People Plans

An integral part of Principle 2 is a well-formulated People Plan which will help you to understand and develop the diversity, skills, behaviours and culture within your organisation. This should cover both employees and those who act in a voluntary capacity.

Sport England and UK Sport have issued guidance to help organisations to:

  • develop a People Plan
  • review and discuss their People Plan at least annually
  • share the findings of the discussion with their members and people

A Code For Sports Governance Guidance Note - Requirement 3.4 People Plans

You can also find out more about People Plans and Workforce Governance, including how these work in practice, from the session at our 2022 Annual Conference.


Principle 3 - Communication

'Organisations shall be transparent and accountable, engaging effectively with stakeholders and nurturing internal democracy.'

SGA says

In common with organisations in other sectors, sports bodies need to have regard to a range of stakeholders. Effective and consistent two-way communication with all those who have an interest in their activities or are affected by their actions – participants, supporters, staff, volunteers, customers, suppliers or the public, to name a few – forms a crucial part of a robust governance framework. Transparency is essential to making an organisation accountable and promotes confidence among stakeholders. Frequent and constructive dialogue can also help the leaders of sports bodies to understand current trends, concerns and experiences and become more adaptable to developments in the sporting and non-sporting landscapes. In ensuring that it is responsive to those who work in or engage with it, an organisation can benefit its strategic direction, long-term health and relationships with those who make it function at all levels.

Effective communication with stakeholders also serves an important purpose in the democratic life of an organisation. This is particularly true in those bodies which maintain a membership structure or where a board operates above a council or other representative forum, but for all organisations timely and ongoing dialogue with those who have a legitimate interest furthers inclusion and can enhance decision making by enabling consideration of a range of views and perspectives.

While it is important to be as open as possible, it is acknowledged that a balance needs to be struck between providing sufficient information about activities and engaging with stakeholders on the one hand, and on the other ensuring that the burden on organisations, particularly smaller ones, is not disproportionately onerous, nor that the stakeholders are overwhelmed with information.

Though an organisation may seek the opinions of a variety of stakeholders, ultimate responsibility for decisions made lies with the board who must ensure that these reflect what is in the interests of the organisation. As part of the engagement process, the board will need to manage expectations of stakeholders by being frank and open with them and offering a feedback mechanism in order to retain confidence and cooperation even when a decision does not have the outcome which a particular group may have sought.

Organisations should not view increased communication simply as a compliance issue, nor as concerning only governance and financial information. It is also an opportunity for them to share with stakeholders their successes, exciting developments and their vision for the future. The interest of these factors to those who interact with the organisation should not be underestimated.


For more on this principle, check out our tool below, which highlights the questions sports organisations should be asking themselves if they are hoping to meet the Tier 3 requirements of the Code. Even more information is available in our section on Stakeholder engagement.

Questions for sports bodies: Principle 3

Principle 4 - Standards and conduct

'Organisations shall uphold high standards of integrity, promote an ethical and inclusive culture, and engage in regular and effective evaluation to drive continuous improvement.'

SGA says

The Code for Sports Governance is an aspirational document. Though compliance with the agreements put in place with Sport England or UK Sport will be a requirement for funded bodies, the Code is also intended to drive up standards of governance in the sector more generally. This may be achieved by organisations seeking to exceed minimum expectations, or by the proportionate adoption of good governance practices regardless of receipt of public money. In either case, the objective is a constant improvement in the way in which organisations are run.

Such improvement can be made to the governance framework which an organisation has in place. It can also be made in the ways in which those with oversight responsibilities work to achieve the strategic objectives. Ensuring that the sport’s leadership possess the necessary skills and experience and work together constructively and effectively will maximise the opportunities to reach the organisation’s potential and to place it on a strong, sustainable footing.

An interesting addition to the revised Code was the requirement to 'cascade' good governance, ensuring not only that it is observed at the top of an organisation, but throughout its structure.

The SGA offers fantastic content on cascading good governance, including:

High profile stories in sectors across the economy (and sport has been in no way immune) have highlighted the damage which can be done, both to victims of poor choices, actions or behaviour, and to the reputation of the organisation concerned. Such conduct also represents a risk to public investment (where relevant), to the trust of stakeholders more widely and to the sport’s legitimacy. Seeking to embed a positive, healthy organisational culture where values are clearly stated and lived can help to protect against adverse conduct, both by individuals and by the collective. It should be seen as an essential component of the governance framework.


For more on this principle, check out our tool below, which highlights the questions sports organisations should be asking themselves if they are hoping to meet the Tier 3 requirements of the Code.

Questions for sports bodies: Principle 4

Principle 5 - Policies and processes

'Organisations shall comply with all applicable laws and regulations; consider the social and environmental impact of their decisions; undertake responsible financial strategic planning; and have appropriate controls and risk management procedures'

SGA says

Board members have obligations to ensure that their organisation is compliant with the relevant legislation and regulation and also that it is run effectively and sustainably. In fulfilling these obligations, they must be satisfied that they possess a sufficient understanding of the legal environment in which the organisation operates to be able to identify potential problems and to address known issues. This potentially covers a range of considerations, from company and charity law to health and safety, data protection and safeguarding, as well as issues specific to sports, such as integrity matters.

Board members must also ensure that the organisation has in place adequate controls of finance and processes for the identification and management of risk. It is their responsibility to agree an appropriate strategy – generally for four or five years – against which progress can be measured and the achievement of which is sustainable and prudent, underpinned by the policies in place.

When considering an organisation’s governance, it is an increasingly popular view that policies and processes go only so far, and that the culture of the organisation and the people who comprise are equally important. This is true. However, the processes which are in place provide a vital structure for those people to work within. The two factors together offer the best conditions for the achievement of the organisation’s purpose in an effective, responsible an sustainable manner. Coupled with transparency, this can provide stakeholders with an optimal level of trust in that organisation.


Each of these principles is supported by a set of requirements and then detailed commentary to aid implementation of the Code.

Tiered approach

The Code will apply differently to your organisation depending on its size and/or the amount of funding received, and you will be placed into one of three tiers as follows.

This is the minimum level of mandatory governance requirements in the Code. All organisations seeking funding will need to meet at least the basic governance requirements of Tier 1. Your organisation will be categorised as Tier 1 if it is granted on a one-off basis (for example, for a specific project which has a finite life) and the total amount of funding is less than or equal to £250,000.

Investments will be placed into Tier 2 where Sport England and/or UK Sport require organisations to go further than the requirements in Tier 1, but not as far as full compliance with Tier 3. The exact Tier 2 requirements to be met, and the timeline for compliance, will depend on the nature of the investment and the circumstances of the organisation. Investments falling into Tier 2 are likely to be in the region of £250,000–£1 million.

This tier represents the top level of mandatory governance requirements in this Code. The requirements in this tier seek to ensure high governance standards because of the significant public investment. Such requirements will have to be made within defined timeframes. An investment will be categorised as Tier 3 if it is intended to be granted over a period of years and the total amount of funding is greater than £1 million.

This tiered approach has been taken by Sport England and UK Sport to achieve proportionality with the regulation and avoid unnecessary administrative, and consequently financial, burdens.

If you are having difficulty applying and implementing the Code despite the guidance, Sport England and UK Sport should provide support to achieve the standards.

SGA Code Requirements Networking Group

If you are responsible for or involved in your organisation's Code assessment process, the SGA has set up a private group on the Huddle where you can discuss approaches to the process, share with others your experiences and ask questions of those at a similar stage or those who are perhaps further down the line. You can also share examples or template documents that you have found useful in meeting the Code's requirements.

Many of the questions you may have about Code assessment will be shared by others, and this group allows you to join a community of those engaged in the same process.

Join the Code Requirements Networking Group

The group is private so that only admitted members can see your posts. The Sports Councils are not members of the group, but any issues which might require clarification can be raised with them by the SGA moderator. Posters will not be identified.