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There is a “closed shop” culture of sport and that is impeding new external talent

Posted: Mon, 01 Apr 2019 10:33

There is a “closed shop” culture of sport and that is impeding new external talent

"Really?", "but sport is different, just different", "we want people who have done this role before in sport, but you have an impressive CV".

After fifteen years as a management consultant delivering significant commercial and operational business change projects within people based, brand conscious and accountable environments and being Chief Operating Officer to a former Prime Minister; I'm one of the many candidates seeking to enter the sports industry, and the above comments have been said to me more times than I can count in my search for a new role…. Why? And more so what needs to change?

Research points to a pitiful representation of women in sports leadership positions, but in my experience, it's wider than just gender, there is a "closed shop" culture of sport and that is impeding new external talent. Sport is a global, people asset, solutions and performance based business, where the public define your success; sport operates in a multi stakeholder environment with high media scrutiny and with a continuous shifting of the sands in terms of rules, attitudes and information. Sport is a commercial business and highly political, the transferable experience, practices and skills gained from other professional services industries should be better acknowledged, recognised and sought in sport leadership; rather than just simply and casually put down as less relevant to sport.

Executive search firms and recruiters need to stop thinking of the sports leadership talent pool as an island, sport is evolving and at a rapid pace. Of course, it's easier to draw up a shortlist of people you know or identify those in the same role at another organisation, but what is the added value of a search for new talent with that approach and mind-set? Bias to talent in the sector starts with the executive search and recruitment firms, a better understanding of prospective candidates and their transferable skills and value is needed, also the challenging of their client's mandate and setting out fully the benefits case of new external industry talent.

Over the next few years, more talent should and must break past the current bias and obstacles. Granted, the pace of change in talent may not match the pace of change in sport. Those that do break through the external industry barrier into sports leadership, are the change makers and they must be the standard bearers for bringing in further new talent, and demonstrating the value in external experience and thinking.

Given the impending end of the season, changes in ownership of clubs and teams, ongoing preparations for the 2020 Olympics, the further significant commercial investments into sport, and the changing of the guard in some of the most senior and high profile leadership roles in UK sport; now is the time to debate talent, and further champion the need for new external talent within sports leadership.

Judith McMinn

April 2019

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Tags: Sport, Policy, Legacy, Featured, sport england, development, Sport and Development, UkSport

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