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Defining and identifying stakeholders in sports

The range of stakeholders will vary from organisation to organisation depending on size, complexity, activities and other factors. Understanding who their stakeholders are is an important step for sports bodies to plan for and execute effective engagement with them.

The Code for Sports Governance defines a stakeholder as ‘any person or group (internally or externally) which has an interest in the organisation or is affected by its actions’. The range of stakeholders will vary from organisation to organisation depending on size, complexity, activities and other factors. Understanding who their stakeholders are is an important step for sports bodies to plan for and execute effective engagement with them. It is important to remember that stakeholder engagement should be effective for both the stakeholder and the organisation.

It is worthwhile to spend board time on identifying the organisation’s stakeholders as it will not only help in creating a prioritised stakeholder engagement strategy but will also ensure greater efficiency in terms of time, people and resources dedicated to those relationships. Board members should not, however, routinely take over the role of engagement, except with those groups to whom they have direct accountability – e.g. at AGMs, funding body contacts, etc.

The board could lead a mapping exercise to identify key stakeholders and the issues or activities which have the most material impact on each category. Stakeholders should be identified in terms of their influence over the organisation and their interest in its activities.


Influence And Interest Diagram

The groups identified will vary from organisation to organisation, but typical key stakeholders may include:


Members are undoubtedly the principal concern for the majority of sports organisations. The rights and powers of members are usually set out in the constitutional documents. However, in modern governance, this group has to take a wider view of what constitutes success for the organisation, and its views should be taken into account.

Players and participants

Those operating on or around the field of play (sub-groups might include players, referees, officials and coaches) are the lifeblood of a sport. However, historically, players and other participants have been given little or no say in its governance. Recognition is finally emerging that there is no sport without them, and they should be listened to. This may be through a formal union, such as the Professional Footballers’ Association or another form of organisation where athletes come together for a shared cause (for example, Global Athlete), through the appointment of athlete directors on boards, or other mechanisms such as annual surveys, focus groups or athlete commissions (see also, the Code for Sports Governance, Requirement 3.3, Commentary).

Staff and volunteers

Essential to keeping the organisation, the sport and activities running, both staff and volunteers are a crucial stakeholder group. While some conversations with paid staff will be the same as those with volunteers, there will inevitably be some issues around employment that are more specific.

Staff/volunteer engagement exercises should be held routinely and can take a range of forms, from regular focused surveys on specific issues to annual exercises comprising surveys and focus groups administered by an external body.


Some organisations have councils that form part of the constitutional structure and which have powers or rights in relation to the governance of the organisation.

In modern sports governance, the board is the ultimate decision-making authority in an organisation, a position previously held by the council in a number of sports. Yet a council may retain an important representative, democratic and technical function. It may, for example, act as a consultative body on the rules of a sport or other developments, as the representative body for members, or it may elect directors to the board. In these ways, a council can be an important link between the board and the wider sport and its constituencies.

The governing document may provide for formal channels of engagement with the council, or this may be conducted more informally. It is important that communication is well-planned, two-way, effective and constructive.

Funding bodies

As the reliance on public funding continues, it goes without saying that the bodies responsible for this investment are vital stakeholders. This is even more so given that compliance with governance requirements is a condition of public funding.

Commercial partners

Sports organisations and their participants build relationships with commercial entities to attract revenue and other forms of funding. Such partners are becoming increasingly interested in good governance in the sector. Activism by commercial partners can be a highly influential driver for change, and good relations and dialogue with partners are essential.

Fans and supporters

These should be considered separately to the members of an organisation as they will often not be the same. Fans often far outnumber members.

The challenge (and benefit) with engaging fans in decision making is that there will often be a diverse range of opinions just within this one group. Fans often have the most emotional connection to the sport or the organisation, and this can be both a positive and negative attribute.

The community

Sport is often closely tied to local communities, and these can exert influence in a number of ways: they provide participants, spectators and volunteers; facilities are often community assets; schools and local charities provide opportunities for engagement and activity; local press may provide much-needed exposure; local businesses may present investment or partnership opportunities. On the other hand, an organisation may impact the community in other ways, such as through events or facility development causing traffic disruption, noise or other forms of nuisance. Engaging effectively with affected communities will help to mitigate negative impacts

These are just examples of possible important stakeholders. Others might include local, regional or national associations; international bodies; suppliers; regulators, or a range of interested parties not mentioned here.

Once stakeholders have been identified and prioritised according to their level of influence and interest, a plan can be developed that targets resources appropriately at communications and activity that engages, informs, nurtures and enhances priority relationships. The plan will specify:

  • which stakeholder groups need to be engaged with on an ongoing basis and which are affected by certain decisions
  • how frequently each stakeholder group is engaged
  • the methods by which their views are sought, how their input is obtained, and how and by what method they receive feedback on their contribution
  • the person or persons principally responsible for engaging with each group
  • how the contributions of each group are fed into the decision-making process
  • how frequently stakeholder mapping is reviewed