Volunteers are the backbone of play, active recreation and sport. They help lead our organisations and are often heavily involved in other areas of the community.
As a result, the potential for conflicts of interest are not unusual in the community club/organisation setting and are sometimes impossible to avoid.
For example, parents coach their children’s team and then attend evening committee meetings, referees can be local business owners, an official might be a club sponsor, or a supervisor may be the city Mayor. Each of these people is in a position where potential conflicts of interest may arise. So, how can organisations manage these possible conflicts without preventing their volunteers from participating in official functions?
What does ‘conflict of interest’ mean?
The term ‘conflict of interest’ refers to a situation in which an individual has competing interests or loyalties. When it comes to clubs or organisations, you could think of it as a ‘conflict of roles or responsibilities’.
Failing to deal with a conflict of interest may not be illegal, but it is almost certainly unethical, and can cause real damage to the club or organisation and the reputations of the individuals involved. Examples may include:
- A coach selects his daughter for a team even though she doesn’t meet the official selection criteria.
- The club president is tasked with finding a new office for the club and chooses space in a building he owns.
- A committee member’s son is given a job within the organisation despite the position not being advertised.
Perceived conflict of interest
A conflict of interest may exist even if the person involved has not acted improperly. This is called a perceived or potential conflict of interest and can be just as damaging to the club or organisation as the examples listed above. Examples may include:
- The club president also sits on the local council. The two organisations are about to become involved in a dispute about the relocation of the club’s home grounds.
- One of the people on the committee recommends his sister’s business for a consulting contract with the organisation.
- An organisation member is asked to mediate in a dispute between two parties, one of whom is a close work colleague.
How to avoid conflicts of interest
The best strategy to avoid any conflicts of interest is to avoid situations that may lead to them occurring. This is easier said than done. The key is declaring any potential or actual conflicts of interest which may arise from your private or professional interests up front, so appropriate action can be taken to remove that conflict. The other option is to retain your position but remove yourself from discussions and/or decisions where a conflict may exist.
In essence, it is up to each person to make decisions that are unbiased and ethical and to behave with integrity at all times when undertaking their responsibilities at their club or organisation.
How can organisations manage conflicts of interest?
Every club or organisation should include guidelines for managing potential conflicts of interest in their Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interest Policy. The document should outline examples of the types of conflicts of interest that may occur in the club or organisation and include:
- strategies designed to avoid conflicts of interest
- policies outlining the responsibility of all club/organisation administrators and officials to disclose any real, perceived or potential conflicts of interest
- the actions to be taken when a conflict of interest is identified.