Posted on: 3/22/2023

How Must Sports Bodies and Their Chairs Adapt to Thrive?


Many sports bodies trace their origins to a time when the focus was on amateur and grassroots participation. The organisation and financial structures were relatively simple, and leadership was part-time and relied on unpaid volunteers. The elite athletes were largely amateur, and there were few external pressures from media, corporate sponsors, or political interests.

This was broadly the state of the sports landscape when SRI was founded in 2001, with a single office in London. Since then, SRI has grown to be a global firm advising a wide range of Olympic Federations, major sports events, and leading professional leagues and teams. SRI’s development is a function of client demand and that has been driven by the following factors:

  • Elite sport’s shift from amateur to professional
  • Demands and expectation from corporate sponsors
  • Active involvement from central government and public purse investment
  • Growth of media investment and breadth of broadcast alternatives
  • Digital transformation
  • Increasing power and influence of social media
  • Technology innovation
  • Changes in spectator consumption patterns
  • Challenge of meeting diversity targets
  • Increase in press and media coverage/interference/scrutiny
  • Player welfare and player behaviour
  • Integrity threats from drug abuse, illegal and corrupt gambling, and coaching malpractice
  • Private equity investment

The impact of these factors, and this list is not exhaustive, has dramatically changed the pressures and workload for today’s Chairs. Consequently, changes have taken place in organisational structures. Sports bodies recognized the need for a completely new range of executive talent and expertise, new economic models, and, in many cases, different governance.

Many Chairs still operating under traditional terms of office have been able to address these challenges.. But many others have found it too difficult to raise the issue of their personal time commitment and remuneration and have been reluctant to do so. This is unsurprising in a situation where the authority to change the traditional structure rests with unpaid volunteer board members, many of whom do not appreciate what is now required in the Chair position and hark back to the Corinthian ethos of selfless volunteering.

External workforce and economic factors have also impacted the supply of individuals prepared to commit to a heavy time requirement on an unpaid basis. Capped pension pots and increasing retirement age has meant that the early retiree with a final salary index linked pension who is prepared to devote the autumn of their careers very rarely exist in today’s market.

Those sports bodies which do not accept the current situation and are determined to maintain the tradition of unpaid volunteers face the reality of having to fish in a very small, undiverse talent pool and with a slim chance of success.

Sports bodies must adapt to the new reality of their more complicated structures and challenges. Recognising the workload and the required time commitment and offering appropriate remuneration is the best way to get leaders who have the talent and experience to achieve great things for their organizations.


Mike Squires