September 2016

Conflict of Interest 

What to do when interests collide at your club?

Mum and dad volunteers are the backbone of grassroots sport in Australia. They lead our sporting clubs and are usually heavily involved in other areas of the community. As a result, the potential for conflicts of interest are common in the club setting and are sometimes impossible to avoid. 

For example: parents coach their daughter’s team and then attend evening committee meetings; referees can be local business owners; an official might be a club sponsor; or the Club President could also be the Town Mayor. Each of these people is in a position where potential conflicts of interest may arise. So, how can clubs manage these possible conflicts without preventing their volunteers from participating in official functions?

What does ‘conflict of interest’ mean?

The term ‘conflict of interest’ refers to a situation in which an individual has competing interests or loyalties. When it comes to sporting clubs, you could think of it as a ‘conflict of roles or responsibilities’.

Failing to deal with a conflict of interest may not be illegal, but it is almost certainly unethical, and can cause real damage to the club and the reputations of the individuals involved. Examples may include:

  • A coach selects his daughter for a team even though she doesn’t meet the official selection criteria.
  • The Club President is tasked with finding a new office for the club and chooses space in a building he owns.
  • A Board Member’s son is given a job within the organisation despite the position not being advertised.

Perceived conflict of interest

A conflict of interest may exist even if the person involved has not acted improperly. This is called a perceived or potential conflict of interest and can be just as damaging to the club as the examples listed above. Examples may include

  • The Club President also sits on the local council. The two organisations are about to become involved in a dispute about the relocation of the club’s home grounds.
  • One of the people on the Board recommends his sister’s business for a consulting contract with the club.
  • A club member is asked to mediate in a dispute between two parties, one of whom is a close work colleague.

How to avoid conflicts of interest

The best strategy to avoid any conflicts of interest is to avoid situations that may lead to them occurring. This is easier said than done. The key is declaring any potential or actual conflicts of interest which may arise from your private or professional interests up front, so appropriate action can be taken to remove that conflict. The other option is to retain your position, but remove yourself from discussions and/or decisions where a conflict may exist.

In essence, it is up to each person to make decisions that are unbiased and ethical and to behave with integrity at all times when undertaking their responsibilities at their club.

How can clubs manage conflicts of interest?

Every club should include guidelines for managing potential conflicts of interest in their Code of Conduct or Code of Behaviour. The document should outline examples of the types of conflicts of interest that may occur in sporting clubs and include:

  • strategies designed to avoid conflicts of interest (e.g. the establishment of a team selection panel with no vested interest in the outcome, thereby resolving a parent coach of that responsibility).
  • policies outlining the responsibility of all club administrators and officials to disclose any real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest
  • the actions to be taken when a conflict of interest is identified.