Sky’s independent directors have a lot on their plate these days, with takeover bids piling up, but they should spare a moment to ask a couple of obvious governance questions.
Is Sky’s involvement with Team Sky, the professional cycling outfit now the subject of explosive allegations by MPs, harming the company’s reputation? Has support for Team Sky only survived this long because the adventure into cycling was a pet project of chairman James Murdoch and chief executive Jeremy Darroch?
Sky’s role at the cycling team goes deeper than mere sponsorship. The company is also the owner: its shareholding in Tour Racing Limited, the vehicle for Team Sky, is 85%. Darroch and the team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, have also given joint interviews to the FT in the past citing the closeness of the team to the company as a factor in sporting success. A picture of Chris Froome winning the Tour de France adorned the cover of the 2016 annual report.
There is, so far, no indication that Murdoch, Darroch and Sky are wavering. The company stood firm even when Brailsford said in March last year that “mistakes were made” over how former rider Sir Bradley Wiggins’ medical treatment was recorded at a 2011 event.
Yet the highly serious charge in the report from the digital, culture, media and sport select committee is that Team Sky abandoned its ethos of “winning clean” and allegedly abused the anti-doping system before the 2012 Tour de France. Team Sky denies that medication was used to enhance performance but, from the point of view of an owner-cum-sponsor, the damaging headlines have been running for 18 months and only seem to become more serious.
Has Sky conducted its own investigation of its subsidiary? Does it intend to do so? Does Darroch believe anything has changed as a result of the MPs’ report? It is impossible to say since Sky on Monday continued its policy of near-silence on Team Sky matters.
We have though, surely, reached the point where the non-execs should give the cycling enthusiasts in the boardroom a prod. This is sport, but normal responsibilities of ownership should apply. Saying next to nothing looks untenable when you are the majority owner of a business that carries your logo and is subject of serious allegations from a committee of MPs.