Good Governance in Grassroots Sport Vester Voldgade 100, 2, DK-1552 Copenhagen, Denmark +45 29 48 55 51 /


Institute for Sport Studies Denmark

Contact person

  • Henrik Brandt
  • Soren Bang


1. What is the meaning of Grassroots sport for you?

First of all, we believe that a relatively broad definition of grassroots sport is recommendable in an increasingly diverse sports sector where sports federations, commercial players, ad hoc projects and individuals are organising sports activities targeting the public.


We suggest a broadening of the definition presented in the recent 'Study on the funding of grassroots sports in the EU' ( - page 312, see also note below).


The definition only mentions national sports federations as organisers of grassroots sport, but it should be extended to cover more non-elite sports activities and projects aimed at the general public. An extended and modified definition of grassroots sport for the project could therefore sound like:


“In this project, grassroots sport covers all sport disciplines practiced by non-professionals and organised on a national or local level through organisations working primarily on a non-profit basis. In the above definition of grassroots sport, non-professionals are individuals who neither spend the bulk of their time practicing sport, nor take the bulk of their revenue from the practice of sport. Yet, the practice of grassroots sport does include amateur competitions.”


One could argue that activities offered by commercial players like commercial fitness centres or self-organised sport activities (for example, running on your own) could – or should – also be labelled grassroots sports. But for pragmatic reasons we think it would be helpful in this project to keep the focus on grassroots sport exclusively in a sports organisational context.




2. How do you define Good governance as general concept? How do you define Good Governance when referred to the Grassroots sport?

We are in line with your definitions in the draft. They are rightly focussed on how organisations are directed and managed, and not on their different policies on issues like health or environment– which is not to say that these political topics are insignificant. But good governance is about how we play the game, not which games we are playing.


Apart from that, we would like to mention four challenges/dilemmas which we think should be considered when it comes to GG in grassroots sport organisations:


  1. Different levels of organisational capacity: While general principles like democracy and transparency can be promoted on all levels in sport, the concrete initiatives regarding regulations, procedures and education should match the different organisational levels. We cannot expect the same formalised approach to good governance in small clubs as in a national federation.
  2. 2. Different levels of external obligations: The same graduation is relevant when it comes to the level of external obligations an organisation has to the surrounding society. More formal relationships or obligations, i.e. through public funding or partnerships, require a more formal approach to good governance.
  3. Protection of business interests: The increasing commercialisation of grassroots sport is a challenge when it comes to non-profit organisations working in a commercial market (i.e. by opening fitness centres). Working in a competitive market, organisations will sometimes face the need to play with less open cards or take swift actions protecting their legitimate business interests. This can potentially work against a more idealistic approach to transparency and democracy in a good governance scheme.
  4. Protection of political interests: Similarly, the tendency to demonstrate ‘value for money’ and importance towards the political system can restrict the interest in exposing problems that question the brand of the organisation and its activities. This is, of course, primarily a challenge for organisations which are heavily dependent on public financial support.


The first two challenges indicate the need for a set of flexible recommendations that recognises the different types of sports organisations and their different capacities in the field of good governance.


The third calls for awareness about the dilemmas that activities on a commercial market often raise, including the possible need for having different good governance standards adapted to different parts of the organisation.


The fourth challenge calls for communication policies that recognise the importance of giving room for internal criticism and provide channels for discussions with focus on the ‘bottom-up’ dialogue – i.e. by accepting or even promoting self-critical journalism/comments in own media. It also raises discussions on what information should be available for the public – like minutes, accounts, meeting agendas, etc.


3. What are your organisations' priorities and main principles in good governance in grassroots sport?

We read this question as directed to organisations that are directly involved in grassroots sport activities.



4. What kind of skills and experiences should »board members – political leaders in sport« have to meet the requirements and principles of Good Governance?

Most importantly, board members need to have an understanding of some basic principles about transparency, democracy, etc., as described in your draft. This should be combined with a ‘toolbox’ of possible organisational regulations and procedures.


We still find it a bit early to define the exact content of such a ‘toolbox’. At this stage, we will instead stress a few basic insights that we believe should be present in boards of all sport organisations:


  1. An understanding that working for a ‘good cause’ does not guarantee good governance in itself. There is always a need for policies to avoid conflicts of interest, lack of democracy and transparency, outright corruption, etc.
  2. An understanding that good governance should apply to all levels of an organisation – not just the board itself.
  3. A will to learn from examples of ‘bad governance’ and share these experiences with others within the organisation or even outside.



*) The report’s definition of grassroots sport is: “Grass root sport covers all sport disciplines practiced by non-professionals and organised on a national level through national sports federations. In the above definition of “grassroots sports”, “non-professionals” are individuals who neither spent the bulk of their time practicing sport, nor take the bulk of their revenue from the practice of sport. Yet, the practice of grassroots sports does include amateur competitions.”