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  • Writer's pictureMEI Management

HFS 2023 Recap - Day 1 Panels

Risky Business - Why is running sport getting more difficult?

Sarah Lewis began the panel by explaining that sports have always been complex. There have always

been risks and rewards in the world of sports, but emerging media has almost worsened the impact of the

risks at hand. Sports communication used to be about press releases and event recaps; now as we enter a

digital age of sport, every angle must be considered. Sports organizations must now create a risk audit

annually to determine the major risks involved with its sporting events to ensure that everything goes

smoothly in the case of a crisis.


Social media is a great tool for research and connecting with audiences. Yet, social media ensures that any

mistake or crisis that happens is seen by millions in a moment's notice. Crisis communications and

working with one's legal team is vital to ensure that any crisis that could potentially occur has a strategic

plan for how to handle it. This crisis plan is both in the media and online, and in actuality.

Shelby Mull, IIHF’s Marketing and Communications Director, explained that social media has created an

environment that allows for crises to blow up in ways never before. Mull elaborated that the media will

always pick apart the actions of a federation, but do not understand what is going on behind the scenes,

and never will. A federation cannot focus on pleasing everyone, but instead federations must focus its

communications on the audience and continue to be dedicated to its vision and mission.

The crises that have occurred in the world of sport have actually created growth within organizations.

Detailed risk assessments have created new rules and regulations within sports organizations, from the

determination of a bid to hosting an event. Organizations are also choosing to establish risk committees

whose sole purpose is to determine risks that may happen, and create an effective and efficient risk

management plan for every committee within the organization.

“Risk is at the heart of everything we do at our events,” explained Karena Vleck when asked about how

risk management has involved itself into the sports world.

Sarah Lewis explains that when creating an event, the discussions are no longer about putting on a great

event, but rather the organizers going through each step and determining any possible risks and

determining how to manage those risks. At national events, it is important that the organizers and the host

cities work together to determine risks and create a crisis management plan. An organization must involve

its employees directly into the host city because once an organization is past the point of no return, every

risk that occurs must be handled immediately.

Beyond just working with the host city, Johnny Gray explained that sustainability has begun to limit

potential host cities, and that “risk will begin to dictate where an event will occur.” Technology has also

imposed new risks for organizations. With a heavy reliance on IT for broadcasting, media and almost

every aspect of a sporting event, an organization can no longer delegate IT plans to a host city and must

safeguard technology. That way, in the event of an IT emergency or issue, the risk can be handled

efficiently and swiftly. In order for an organization and a host city to be successful in its events, auditing

and implementing risk management plans has become an integral part of their communications and event



The Rise of Women's Sport

In the opening panel of the afternoon session, this all-female panel shared their unique perspectives on the

growth and trajectory of women in sport. The panel collectively highlighted the two key dimensions in

which women seek increased representation in sport: as athletes and as leaders.

Janis spoke to the role of media coverage in household representation of women’s athletes, noting that

women receive only 5% of sports media coverage. When someone turns on their television to watch

sports and it is always men on the screen, a message is conveyed that there is a lack of talent and demand

within women’s sports. Until women’s athletes are household names the way that men’s athletes are, there

is still work to be done.

Judeika and Mwambwa spoke instead on the importance of women as stakeholders in sports and the

disproportionate lack of opportunities for women in the corporate sports world. Few opportunities exist

for women seeking to advance careers in sport, from coaching positions to federation board seats.

Mwambwa analogized success in women’s sports to seatbelts in cars; everyone expects seatbelts in cars,

to the extent that their absence is abnormal. Likewise, a complete normalization and integration of women

in sports will serve to symbolize their true success.

The panelists were then asked where the responsibility falls to drive the change needed in women’s sport.

Although they agreed that there is not a sole party responsible, various stakeholders were highlighted as

key realms for growing and promoting women’s sport. Mwambwa spoke to the importance of government

buy-in and appropriate distribution of resources. Despite countless bodies of research pointing to the

benefits of activity and sport, “we are not hearing a corresponding commitment of resources that shows

that we are taking sport seriously; not just from governments, but from the corporate sector as well.”

Change can occur without official policy changes, but other stakeholders will follow steps taken by the

government. Janis emphasized the importance of intentional language, saying “we need to stop talking

about women’s sports like it’s a charity.” Increased media coverage is important, but should come from a

legitimate belief in women’s sports as a worthwhile investment, not from a place of guilt or forced


Ultimately, all the panelists concluded that critical and rapid growth is occurring within women’s sports.

Despite ongoing inequalities, the tide is clearly turning, with Mwambwa, Janis and Judeika propelling the



The Hosts & Federations Summit is an event dedicated to leaders in the sports industry who want to connect with other influential decision-makers and influencers directly. Learn more >


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