ACT News

More women on sports boards would reduce corruption, doping, says researcher

More women on sporting boards is likely to lead to less corruption, doping and match-fixing, sports researcher Catherine Ordway says – but not, she argues, because women are more ethical.

Ms Ordway speaks on Wednesday at a public seminar on women in sport, alongside Senator Katy Gallagher, track cyclist Rebecca Wiasak and Capital Football chief executive Heather Reid.

Catherine Ordway: It's not because women are more ethical, but because they help boards become more diverse.
Catherine Ordway: It's not because women are more ethical, but because they help boards become more diverse. Photo: Melissa Adams

She supports the push to have more women on the top sporting boards – with the Australian Sports Commission running a name-and-shame style system where it names boards with fewer than 20 per cent women on their boards.

Its latest report names archery (17 per cent), boxing (14 per cent) and the Australian paralympic committee (10 per cent) as having fewer than 20 per cent women in January 2015.

The sports commission's target is for women to make up 40 per cent of board members of the top 15 sports boards, and Ms Ordway said the target was likely to make a difference not only to the number of medals won by Australians but also to integrity - meaning less doping, match-fixing and corruption.

It was not because woman were "more moral or nurturing" but because diversity on boards tended to break up "group think" – the more diverse a board in the gender, culture and backgrounds of its members, the broader the mix of ideas and creativity, she said. It was also more likely that people would ask "the tough questions". But there was limited value in simply appointing women from the same backgrounds as the men – instead, boards should look for diversity.


"If you have 10 people sitting on board together for the last 20 years who went to the same school, played the same sport ... it leads to a very high risk of group think and people just going with the flow and not asking the tough questions," she said. 

Corporate boards also performed better with more female members, becoming more innovative and creative, with higher share prices and less risk of bankruptcy – and the likely reason was because of a broader outlook and different viewpoints on key appointments.

Ms Ordway said while Australia was a world leader on anti-doping measures and one of the few countries that had criminalised match-fixing, there were still risks. 

"If you're in denial about it then that's when the issues can arise. The reason why Australia doesn't have a massive problem is that Australia has been on the front foot," she said. "We talk about it and we're not burying our heads in the sand saying it's never going to happen to us."

But Australia was vulnerable to match-fixing because of the proximity of Asia and the perception of Australian sport as clean, which made it "interesting to gamble on", leading to vulnerability to corruption.

Ms Ordway is completing a PhD at the University of Canberra on sports leadership and integrity and the likely effects of the 40 per cent policy, and lectures in sport at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

  • Details of Wednesday's seminar, Women in Sport: Blowing the Whistle on Gender Equity, 12.30pm-1.30pm in the city