Sport NI chiefs quit after critical report

Sport NI chair Brian Henning and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin at a Sport NI press launch in December last year
Sport NI chair Brian Henning and Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin at a Sport NI press launch in December last year

The chair and vice chair of Sport NI have resigned in the wake of a critical report that flagged up “major issues of concern” around the organisation’s leadership and direction.

Brian Henning and Ian McAvoy stood down after discussing the findings of the Stormont-commissioned investigation with Sports Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.

The report found that a third of Sport NI staff claimed to have been the victim of bullying, harassment, victimisation or discrimination in the workplace.

At present, roughly 130 staff work at Sport NI.

The high-profile departures mark the latest twist in a troubled period for the publicly funded body that promotes sporting activities in Northern Ireland.

Chief executive Antoinette McKeown is currently suspended from work pending the outcome of separate grievance proceedings.

Sport NI hit the headlines for the wrong reasons last year when a number of employees blew the whistle on alleged poor treatment and bad practice

That triggered a probe into the claims by Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure officials and the appointment of an interim executive leadership team.

The team was put in place shortly after the resignation of nine Sport NI board members.

The team subsequently commissioned a comprehensive staff survey as a means of examining the whistle-blower claims.

The findings, which have now been presented to Ms Ni Chuilin, make for grim reading for Sport NI.

Concerns flagged by staff included an absence of clear leadership and direction from the board and senior management team.

Nearly a third of employees said they had been subjected to bullying, harassment, victimisation or discrimination.

The report found that the management of grievance processes was poor and highlighted evidence that Sport NI’s Dignity At Work policy had not always been adhered to.

Ms Ni Chuilin said: “The report identifies a number of challenges and I am clear that we need to live up to our promises to staff that we will take action.

“I have discussed these findings with Brian Henning and Ian McAvoy. They both feel that the time is right for them to step down from their positions as chair and vice chair respectively to make way for a new leadership team at board level to implement the recommendations.

“I thank them for the commitment and passion to the furtherance of sport and for their hard work and dedication during their time as board members.”

The report did note some positives, with a degree of improvement in leadership in recent months and plus points around teams, relationships with colleagues, line managers, motivation and equality.

The minister has appointed an interim chair and vice chair and launched a public appointments process to find permanent replacements.

She has also written to staff and plans to meet them next week.

“There remain a range of challenges ahead for Sport NI,” she said.

“They have, however, many committed, hardworking and resilient staff and that gives me confidence looking forward.

“My department will continue to offer them every support.”

Mr Henning confirmed he had stepped down.

“Since my appointment in December 2012 I have acted with total commitment, integrity and passion for the good of Sport NI and for sport generally in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I regarded it as a great honour and privilege to lead Sport NI through both positive and more challenging times and feel that the organisation is well positioned for me now to pass on the baton.

“I would like to wish my successor and Sport NI every success in the future.”