August 5th 2020
Defining An Elephant

The recent High Court ruling between two opposing governing bodies, British Gymnastics and UK Gymnastics, has raised questions across sport generally as to what is and what is not classed as a governing body.

Despite Phil Smith’s assertion on behalf of Sport England, in the judgement last month that only Tae Kwon Do had multiple governing bodies, and setting aside the general mirth created by his statement from a Director of Sport England that had no idea or knowledge that there were multiple governing bodies in other sports such as darts or boxing, the High Court ruling seems to have thrown up more questions than answers.

Judge Melissa Clarke had an opportunity, which she completely missed, to define what organisation could be a governing body in the UK. Her ruling, which impacted upon her whole judgement, effectively said that only Sport England can define a governing body, so she ruled in favour of Sport England’s favoured option, British Gymnastics.

But Ms. Clark contradicted herself here, as she did throughout the judgement, by saying that she was not going to define what a governing body was, nor would she say if an organisation could or could not become a governing body in the future.

Indeed, when she handed down judgement she said that defining a national governing body “is like defining an elephant. You can’t do it”.

But in the judgement, she appeared to do exactly that. She said that British Gymnastics were a governing body, and UK Gymnastics were not, based solely on Sport England’s criteria. Sport England remember, instead of staying independent and out of the fray, decided to step right into it and proffered up Mr Smith as a witness to speak in favour of British Gymnastics.

Leaving aside the fact that Sport England can no longer claim independence in any sporting dispute in the future, what are we to make of Ms Clarke’s judgements?

Firstly, did she or did she not define a governing body, in the wider sense of the word?

Clearly, by reading the judgement, she didn’t. But who will define a national governing body, and how will they do they do so?

These are not easy answers, and in many respects it is easy to see why Ms Clark declined from trying to do just that, although the judgement she gave appeared, to all intents and purposes, as though she had certainly defined what a national governing body should be.

The truth lies somewhere in between, as it usually does.

A recognised national governing body is one that is recognised by another organisation, in this case Sport England, authorised by the Government. However, that does not mean that there cannot be other businesses or organisations calling themselves a governing body, especially if it introduces choice to the marketplace, and a significant number of people feel they are not getting what they want, or even have a sense that they are being bullied, as in the gymnastics world, by the governing body Sport England recognises.

The public wants a choice. This shade of Government we currently have will certainly be in favour of choice, especially at will mean greater participation and greater tax revenues, much needed right now.

At some point, that elephant is going to have to be defined. But we will need another Court to do it for us. In the meantime, the public will feel short-changed, and the instances of problems in the existing sporting governing body monopolies, will only intensify further.

Josh Fletcher

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