Following the events leading up to, during and since the 2011 VAL AGM on 7 August I felt it appropriate to address you all on some key issues arising from this process that I believe go to the fabric of this great sport.
Before I do so I believe it is important to remember that none of us “run” or “own” this sport. As Andrew McManus said in his President’s Report presented at the AGM, we are all mere custodians.
As Directors of the VAL, myself and my 9 colleagues, under the current VAL model, represent the clubs. But, in contrast to some suggestions at the AGM, it does not end there.
In what capacity do we represent the clubs? It can only be as custodians of this sport. There were some questions at the AGM as to what that actually means. To those who seek an answer, I refer you to the Purposes of Association contained in the VAL Constitution. There are 6 purposes of the VAL, ranging from (to paraphrase) managing the finances, to ensuring athletic meetings are conducted in accordance with our rules (and dealing with any breaches), to working with other sports. These are all custodial activities, and they are the key parameters you would expect of our organisation. To me though, the purpose of the VAL that resonates the most is:
“To promote a greater community awareness of professional foot running and its contribution to the community generally.”
Ultimately this represents the core of why our sport exists today. It tells us why we as a Board of Directors represent the member Clubs. It is to present a sport that is an active, viable and sustainable part of the communities in which we, our families and our friends, our forebears and future generations, live and hopefully prosper.
There are many interests, responsibilities and stakeholders to consider in this ongoing and fluent exercise of running the VAL, including Clubs, Officials, Volunteers, Athletes, Trainers, Sponsors, Government, other Sporting Clubs (with whom we often share facilities) and organisations, family, friends, spectators, suppliers and local communities. The only way to effectively and efficiently manage such a diverse environment is to have a representative body that displays key characteristics including integrity, leadership, innovation, and teamwork whilst ensuring that it has in place strong processes, appropriate protocols and thorough planning.
To do all of these things and ensure any organisation moves forward rather than standing still or regressing, you must adhere to core values, be sound operationally today but, overall, be visionary and look to secure a sustainable place in the future for the organisation, and in our case the sport.
Why is all this important you might ask? Well, good question.
If what I have seen in the past few days and weeks is any guide, this organisation after the results of the AGM now looks more like one that is regressing rather than one that is progressing.
The AGM raised for me some serious questions around integrity, not only in the process and structure of our organisation, but also in the conduct of certain individuals. The results of the recent election have been influenced quite significantly by a campaign of miss-information, untruths, and downright hypocrisy.
The lobbying of clubs leading up to the election focussed on allegations of:
(a) disunity at Board level (and as such a desire to change the Board to unify it); and
(b) decisions being made without proper consultation.
I also understand that concerns have been expressed about some candidates/directors attending insufficient athletic meetings during the season.
Let me address the question of attending athletic meetings. I agree that it is incumbent on all directors to try and attend as many race meetings as they are able. Equally though it is important to recognise that this will not mean all meetings, because each individual will have different demands, be they work, family or other commitments. A lack of presence at meetings does not necessarily detract from the individual’s contribution, provided they stay sufficiently connected to the sport to make a contribution at Board level and add to the strategic direction of the sport. In many respects there is a strong argument, one applied by many successful sporting organisations around the world (including our own AFL), that a degree of distance between daily activities of an organisation and its Board is important in bringing in additional views, ensuring robust reviews of existing practices and creating a platform for continuous improvement. It is quite difficult to achieve this if all of the Board members are officiating, training or competing on a weekly basis. In such cases, the danger is that a Board can quickly revert to operational mode and lose strategic direction.
Now, turning to the questions of Board unity and a perceived lack of consultation. When I was informed that these were the “campaign highlights” for certain candidates at the recent election I must say I was astounded, appalled, and disillusioned that these issues could be supported with any degree of credibility.
Surely the clubs want elected representatives who are prepared to share their views and engage in constructive discussion. Yes, granted, sometimes discussion can be robust and the Board will not always be in consensus, but that is democratic process working at its best. Yet, whilst in my time on the Board an environment has always been present at Board meetings where everyone was given the opportunity to share their views, not once has a member of the Board in my time expressed a concern about a lack of unity or a lack of consultation.
To leave such concerns to an “election campaign” seriously detracts from my ability as a Board member to trust that some of my fellow board members will have the integrity to be open, honest and constructive in their dealings on the Board. My concern was further heightened when the only discussion on these perceived issues was undertaken behind closed doors rather than directly addressing them in an open way to everyone in the lead up to the recent election. In addition, whilst the “campaign” apparently talked of bringing unity to the Board and removing factions, the actions in securing vote support were themselves factional by their very nature. Going forward, all of these factors make it very difficult to trust that all my fellow Board members will be open and honest in Board room discussions. Without that trust, I feel that any value I can add to the Board table and the sport is seriously diminished.
What was perhaps more disappointing is that the “campaigning” was simply accepted as gospel by those voting and that no attempt was made to validate these statements and to canvass the views of other Board members who have been present at Board meetings in the past 2 years.
I make the statements because I firmly believe there needs to be an open and honest debate on practices within our sport that are preventing it from achieving its full potential. I believe it is time we, collectively as a sport, rid ourselves of these deep and sometimes divisive factions and look to the future as one where we promote integrity, loyalty, vision and merit as key values.
I, like all of you, wish to see this sport prosper. We have an opportunity today. We have been growing entries and improving financially in the past 2 to 3 years, whilst participation outside the VAL (such as AV) declines. I ask you all to seize this opportunity – it may not present itself again.
At last night’s August meeting of the new VAL Board I sought to address the above issues in an open and constructive manner. I did so by asking all Board members to address a series of questions that were circulated to them in advance and sought to understand each individual’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the transmission of information in the lead up to the election, to understand why any concerns were not raised at Board meetings and, perhaps most concerning, whether any direct attempts were made to influence the AGM voting in a block / factional manner. These issues are important as they sought to address the integrity of each of us as individuals.
However, following the discussion that attempted to address these issues last night I have no confidence at all that the Board in its current form, and with its present external influences, will be able to continue to operate in a manner that is open, constructive, consultative and forward looking.
As a result, I do not feel with all good conscience that I can continue to take my place as a representative of the clubs on the Board of the VAL when I have serious integrity concerns about the recent election process and the ongoing operation of the Board. To be an effective Board member and offer value to an organisation you need to be able to trust people and process and to believe that you are working constructively in an environment of mutual trust, respect and integrity. I no longer believe that to be the case here.
This evening I have therefore tendered my resignation as a director of the VAL (effective immediately) to the new President Mathew Boyes. I wish Mathew, Mark Howard as CEO and the VAL continued success in taking the sport forward and equally I wish you all the very best of success with your individual meetings, this season and beyond.
In closing I would like to offer two small first steps that I believe the clubs can assist in taking to learn from recent events. The first is that I ask each member club to revisit the process by which they promote and assess Board candidates and continue to put forward individuals with a vision for unity and growth, not factionalism and self interest. I also suggest you ensure you as clubs understand the basis on which your delegates are voting at AGM’s and agree the sound reasons for doing so.
Secondly, I recommend that the external review of the VAL Constitution be complete, thorough and all encompassing. That is, the VAL should brief our lawyers to fully consider the most appropriate organisational structure for an organisation of our kind today, including membership, representation, number of directors, sourcing of directors, etc. The review should not have any pre-conceived view on the outcome and the outcome needs to be supported by all. Collectively we need to challenge what we have today and assess alternatives to see if they can better the sport.
There is clearly more we can do, but these are two aspects I believe will help ensure the sport is on the right track.
Yours in running
Last edited by Admin on Thu Aug 25, 2011 9:18 am; edited 2 times in total