Case studies

England Netball

Wharton Consulting was commissioned by England Netball in 2003 to conduct a review of its Sport England-funded performance programme following that year’s World Championships. Among several recommendations was that EN should transform its domestic competitive environment so that it prepared its players adequately for the demands of the international level.

Early in 2004, EN asked Wharton to follow up these recommendations by assisting in the delivery of a game-wide competition review. Initially, this involved facilitating a series of stakeholder workshops which produced proposals which went forward for validation through constructive challenge by a second group of stakeholders. Meanwhile, the junior and youth section of the game was separately explored by a specialist group which sought to integrate the principles of Long Term Athlete Development within a deliverable competitive framework.

In spring 2005, a set of detailed proposals was formulated and presented to the game for its acceptance. Implementation began immediately thereafter, with Wharton continuing to advise EN on the process, communications and infrastructural changes required. Innovations included two new national divisions, a pyramid structure from local to national level, and a three-tier Challenge Cup competition.

Chief among the proposals was the institution of a Superleague, which began in autumn 2005. Neil Tunnicliffe was able to draw on his parallel experiences in Rugby League to guide EN through the process of drawing up rules and regulations, formulating management structures, issuing franchises, and then launching and marketing the competition to a completely new audience.

The Netball Superleague has now become one of the modern success stories of British sport. Its on-court intensity is making the England team competitive with the world’s leading nations, while the quality of the product has led to sell-out attendances and projected the league on to Sky Sports, where its audiences bear favourable comparison with more established spectator sports such as Rugby Union and Rugby League. Meanwhile, Wharton continues to advise the Superleague Management Committee on the development of the competition, as it looks towards the fulfilment of new strategic goals by 2012.

Irish Sports Council

In summer 2004, Wharton Consulting won a competitive tendering process run by the Irish Sports Council to conduct a review of Ireland’s preparations for and performances at the Athens 2004 Olympic and Paralympic Games. This review was to assess the fulfilment of recommendations following the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, and to look for the first time at the programmes operated in the build-up to the Paralympic Games.

In conducting this review, Wharton consulted directly with each sport which was represented at the Games, delivered an athlete questionnaire and conducted workshops both with athletes who had qualified for and competed at Athens, and with those who did not. A best practice review was also conducted which compared Ireland’s performances and programmes – both past and present – with those operated by nations of similar size and strength, as well as with some of the world’s best nations.

The result was a report to Government including a series of recommendations for the reshaping of Ireland’s high performance system. Chief among these was the establishment of an Irish Institute of Sport – and Wharton was subsequently invited back to participate in the research of detailed proposals for the progression of this recommendation. Working within a team of international experts, Wharton took responsibility for gathering athlete input, for staging a governing body workshop, and for collating and transcribing the outputs of the process into a report for Government. In July 2006 this report was approved and accepted, and an initial grant of €4.5 million issued for the establishment of the IIS.

In spring 2007, Wharton was invited back by the Irish Sports Council to conduct a “temperature check” of how Ireland was responding to the recommendations of the Athens Review. This review produced inter alia a clarification of strategy across high performance, a crucial easing of the implementation process of the IIS, a sharpening of focus in the countdown to the Beijing 2008 Olympic and Paralympic Games, and an anticipation of the progressive phases of development that would be required over the cycle to London 2012.

Both the Athens Review and the proposals for the establishment of an Irish Institute of Sport can be found on this website, within the “Sample Reports” section.

British Paralympic Association

In 2002 Wharton was commissioned by Sport England to review the UK Sport-funded performance programme of the British Paralympic Association – unique among such programmes in that it was delivered by an agency which is not a governing body of sport.

Wharton’s report embraced both the BPA and the six smaller Paralympic sports funded by UK Sport. Among its conclusions were that such sports could not hope to achieve meaningful results on their own account, but would need considerable infrastructural support to enable them to advance.

UK Sport then commissioned Wharton to gather information from the remainder of the funded Paralympic sports, to set aside that from the former review, for inclusion within a new Paralympic strategy for the years 2005-09. At the same time, Wharton was asked to assist the BPA in creating an operational plan for the 18 months leading into the Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.

The BPA’s World Class Performance Plan for 2005-09 brought significant additional investment into Paralympic sport and included numerous innovations, including a new staffing structure and a programme through which central support was to be provided to the smaller Paralympic sports entitled the Managed Sports Programme. Wharton continued to assist in the implementation of this plan – formulating the policies through which the MSP was to be delivered, and advising the BPA in the creation of a governance structure for its performance management company British Paralympic Performance Services Ltd.

Wharton has continued to be active in Paralympic sport over the Beijing cycle, creating a national governing body for boccia where previously there was none, and working on governance issues within wheelchair basketball.