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Size and diversity in sports governance

In this collaborative project, researchers from Melbourne and Sonipat analysed the composition of sport boards in nine countries, including India and Australia. 


Strong governance is pivotal to the success of sporting organisations. So, what makes an effective board? Previous research shows diversity and smaller board sizes are two key aspects of board composition. Despite this awareness, we don’t know how many sporting boards around the world align with best practice.

In this project, researchers from Deakin University, Melbourne and O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat analysed the composition of national sport federation (NSF) boards in nine countries, including India and Australia.  Specifically, researchers looked at the number of directors on the board, their occupation and gender.

Collaborative process

The principal researchers, Dr Joshua McLeod from Deakin and Prof Shaun Star from Jindal, led a team of researchers from India and Australia to collect and analyse data on the boards of national sport federations (NSF) across several countries. In addition, researchers from China, Brazil and Russia were recruited to assist with data collection from their respective jurisdiction, due to language and accessibility constraints. The research team collected publicly available information on NSF boards, allowing the research team to code for board size, gender diversity and occupational background.


The study provided new insights into sporting board makeup across the globe. Key takeaways:

  • Board size: Australia (8), Brazil (9), Malaysia (11), South Africa (8) and the UK (11) had a board size within the recommended 5-12 range. China (17), India (19), Russia (16) and the USA (14) had much larger boards.
  • Gender diversity: Women made up more than 30% of NSF boards in the Western countries sampled (Australia 33%, South Africa 31%, UK 37%, USA 35%). Countries with a predominantly non-Western culture had much lower female representation on their boards (China 12.5%, Brazil 15%, India 8%, Malaysia 16%, Russia 20%).
  • Occupational diversity: There was a mix of professions in sporting boards across countries. The proportion of board members from a sport, business and government background differs significantly. Russia (62%) and the USA (50%) have the highest proportion of members with a sport background, while China (25%) and Australia (33%) have the lowest proportion. Indian sport boards have a relatively significant number of politicians (16%).

This research can be used to support sport governance policy processes. Stakeholders involved in policy conservations can draw on the evidence, such as those advocating for greater women representation.