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Risk assessment for a sporting association


Broadleaf was engaged by a sporting association to facilitate a workshop to assess strategic, business and operational risks involved in its management and operation. The objective was to give Board members the opportunity to plan for and take appropriate actions to reduce the likelihood and consequences of adverse events. (The focus only on events with negative consequences reflected the immediate concerns of the Board, the association’s lack of familiarity with risk management and a highly restricted timeframe.)

The association operates with a headquarters in one Australian state and member regions throughout Australia. It organises National Championships annually, sets the strategic direction for the sport, and develops standards, rules and policies governing the operation and management of the organisation as a whole. It has a well-established constitution, business plan and competition rules. Members are managed through regional committees who administer the clubs based within their region.

At the time of our involvement, the sport was well established in parts of Australia but it was in danger of stagnating, with an aging current membership and only limited growth in younger age groups. In the period leading up to the workshop, incidents of non-compliance with rules and policies appeared to occur regularly and serious accidents occurred all too frequently. Such incidents had the potential to undermine the reputation of the association and impact upon its objective to expand the sport.

Risk assessment workshop


The workshop followed the process of ISO 31000, Risk management – Principles and guidelines (Figure 1). Participants were the members of the association’s national executive, and senior representatives from the member regions.

The first box in the centre row of the diagram in Figure 1, Establish the Context, was completed prior to the workshop. The risk assessment workshop focused on the middle three boxes in the diagram, risk identification, analysis and evaluation. The outcome from this was a list of key risks to the success of the association. Options for treating the high-priority risks, the fifth box in the diagram, were developed separately from the assessment workshop.

Figure 1: Risk management process, ISO 31000

The risk management process

Risk identification

In the workshop, risk identification was structured around the set of key elements in Table 1. Risks associated with each key element were brainstormed with workshop participants. Existing controls were noted, and the consequence and likelihood of each risk was assessed before moving on to the next key element.

Table 1: Key elements

Key element

Topics included


Membership administration; constitution and policies; OH&S; currency of policies, procedures and other documentation; correspondence; responsibilities, delegations and authorisations; knowledge and experience; strategic planning.

Interfaces and communication

Agreements with other sporting organisations, state-affiliated bodies or Government agencies; sponsorship; meetings; marketing; geographic location; formal meetings and conferences; web presence; developing relationships.

Individual activities

Corporate requirements, activities and support including IT; Directors’ training and development.

Membership growth

Development planning; strategic planning.

Finance and marketing

Budget and allocations; Government funding; sponsorship; insurance coverage and currency; publicity and promotion; expenditure monitoring and control.

Public relations and reputation

Attracting new members; advertising; incidents that give rise to adverse publicity; issues that may impact upon reputation; agendas of sub-groups within the association.

Regulatory environment

Statutory reporting; reporting to members; financial reporting; auditing requirements.


Major event management (program, technical, officials and competitors); venues and competition facilities; travel and accommodation; compliance with rules and safety requirements; pre-race scrutiny.

Coaching, officials, training and development

Training and coaching regimes; training venues; development of fitness and skills of participants; education and awareness of members to the levels of skills and fitness required for participation; safety education and awareness issues.


Currency of technology; benchmarking progress against other countries and sports; equipment design, construction and maintenance; quality assurance.


Facilities; equipment; officials and competitors; major events.

Natural events

Fire, earthquake, storm, flood.

Risk analysis and evaluation

The priority of each risk was developed from an assessment of the consequences of the risk and the likelihood of those consequences occurring. The consequence and likelihood assessments were combined to determine the overall severity of each risk identified.

The consequence scales used to describe the impact of a risk were based on the main measures or criteria by which the success of the association is judged. Subject to the likelihood of it arising, a risk is important only to the extent that it affects this success. The criteria in Table 2 were developed in the context step as measures of the association’s success.

Table 2: Criteria for success


Notes, components


Strategic direction, public awareness and interest, market share, sporting success


Safety for participants, coaches, officials, spectators, volunteers

Financial viability

Direct costs, revenues, budget certainty, sponsorship (private and Government)


Compliance with the law, regulations, standards of behaviour, duty of care, rules

Image and reputation

Public image and reputation with stakeholders, regulators, sponsors and media

Where a risk might impact on several criteria, the criterion for which it had the highest consequence was used to determine the rating. This generated a conservative view of the overall consequence. As a result, the risk priority was at a sufficiently high level to ensure nothing important was inadvertently allocated a low priority rating that might have led to it being set aside and receiving no further attention.

Workshop outcomes

During the workshop 49 risks were identified. Of these, 2 were assessed as extreme and 12 as high. Given the nature of the sport, it was not unusual to have some risks at the higher end of the risk priority spectrum. It reflected major concerns with the operational aspects of the association’s business and the effectiveness of the communication of, and adherence to, competition regulations and rules. The other area of concern related to the experience and skill levels of many members.

A selection of significant risks is shown in Table 3.

Table 3: Selected high-priority risks

Key element

Risk number

Risk description

Interfaces and communication


Filtering of information through the vertical association structure limits effective communication and interpretation with members

Interfaces and communication


Remote locations of some member communities leads to insufficient qualified coaches and inadequate training of members in those areas



Lack of compliance with association rules leads to an accident, resulting in injury or death of the participants



Inadequate scrutineering (due to lack of resources or poorly trained officials) prior to competition events leads to unsafe equipment being used which in turn leads to injury or loss of life



Lack of consistent application of rules and regulations leads to increased workloads on competition organisers, and risk of injuries or litigation



Insufficient numbers of properly accredited coaches available to participants leads to increased risk of injury to members



Lack of consistency in the education and training of coaching course presenters leads to inappropriate coaching and injury to members

Risk treatment

Treatment strategies to either change the consequences of a risk or change the likelihood of it occurring were identified separately from the risk assessment workshop.

The assessment workshop highlighted major areas of frustration encountered by the association in its pursuit of a safe competitive and training environment, while at the same time these deficiencies limited its ability to promote a safe and enjoyable environment for prospective new members. Treatment strategies centred on the need to implement:

  • Improved safety measures
  • More effective communication
  • More effective education and awareness programs
  • More effective pre-race scrutineering
  • Random audits
  • More consistent delivery of coaching courses
  • Strategies to increase the number of qualified coaches.

Responsibilities for implementing the selected risk treatments were allocated to individual members of the association’s Executive Committee. Milestones and key review dates were identified against each significant risk, to enable the President to review the progress of implementation of the agreed treatment actions.

Monitoring and review

A Risk Management Plan (RMP) was developed to provide a framework to identify and manage risks for those involved in operating and maintaining the association’s processes and systems. It described the way to develop and maintain the initial risk register and, through this, to manage the risks to the successful operation and development of the association.

The RMP fulfilled an important role within the association by providing a central focus for the management of risks. It helped to coordinate risk management activities, including referring new risks to the Executive Committee for consideration prior to the commitment of resources to their treatment.

The action plans for treating the high-priority risks were documented in the RMP.


The association had not conducted any formal risk assessment prior to this workshop. An important motivation for asking us to facilitate the workshop and associated activities was to provide a measure of protection for the Board: a number of incidents and ‘near misses’ had prompted an awareness of the potential liability they faced if a bad accident occurred.

While safety-related matters were addressed in detail in the workshop, the broader focus of the key elements encouraged a much wider appreciation of strategic matters that were very important for the continuing viability of the association, and both the Board and the regional representatives developed an understanding of the power and value of the process for strategic planning.

Risk management became a core component of the association’s management approach.

National sporting association
Not for profit
Sport and recreation
Services included:
Risk assessment and risk treatment
Risk assessment