Newton’s Third Law and Sports’ Governance

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

According to Newton, whenever two objects interact, they exert forces upon each other. So what does this have to do with sport and sustainable success.

Governing Bodies, Leagues and Franchises around the world have the difficult task of finding the strategic and operational balance to achieve sustainable growth and success. Some have got it right and others have got it horribly wrong.

The key to this is Newton’s Third Law and the realisation that every decision you make impacts other parts of the game – push or pull, positively or negatively.

Stirling Mortlock, ex Wallaby Captain and Founding Director of XV Capital breaks this down simply, “There are 3 primary verticals that any professional sporting organisation needs to balance, being their commercial, community and high-performance strategies. If you over commit focus and resources to one, it will be to the detriment of the others. I’ve now sat within all verticals as a professional player, as a commercial advisor and as treasurer of the Rugby Club Foundation focused on the community game. It is very clear that decisions get made without assessing the implications on each vertical”

The last 25 yrs of rugby in Australia has been a great example of this. The game’s strategic focus has floated predominantly between commercial and high performance to the detriment of the community game. Quotes like “Wallaby gold creates rivers of gold” were bandied about but at some stage the source of the river was ignored, and water stopped flowing. The community that underpinned the game and financed it, albeit bottom up, through cable subscriptions, tickets, merchandise and sponsor products, were forgotten and the great disconnect began. The rains will come again, through hosting the British and Irish Lions and a Rugby World Cup, so the big challenge is to keep the river flowing and the water level rising.

When working through every strategic decision, sporting body must ask these 3 questions. “What’s the impact of this on our Commercial operation, what’s the impact of this on our Community and what’s the impact of this on our High-Performance program?”

James Godfrey, Founding Partner of XV Capital says, “Fundamentally this begins with Governance and should flow throughout the organisation. The appreciation of the impact that decisions, both strategic and tactical, have on the three verticals is critical. This doesn’t mean you can’t prioritise one over the other, or that everything needs to be in equal balance, it just means you need to unpack the implications, and make informed decisions as to the short medium and long-term consequences – good and bad”.

Sporting organisations at all levels are rethinking their models and reimagining their futures. Those that consider these basic principles will have a far greater chance of sustainable success both on and off the field of play.

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