How finance led hockey through Olympic Games uncertainty

England Hockey

Kuldeep Kaur, ACMA, CGMA, England Hockey’s finance and administration director, explains how scenario planning, data-led decision-making, and effective communication combined to lead the sport during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting Olympic Games scheduling uncertainty.

What you’ll learn from this episode:

  • An explanation of England Hockey’s business model.
  • The role of timely communication in dealing with the pandemic.
  • How visuals can help communicate with nonfinance colleagues.
  • Why diversity can bring results — for sports teams, organisations, and in the boardroom.
  • The opportunities for management accountants within sport.

Play the episode below or read the edited transcript:

To comment on this episode or to suggest an idea for another episode, contact Oliver Rowe, an
FM magazine senior editor, at


Oliver Rowe: Welcome, Kuldeep.

Kuldeep Kaur: Hi, thanks for inviting me to join you. I’m thrilled to be talking to you.

Rowe: Hockey in England is a growing sport. What's its business model and how has COVID-19 disrupted that?

Kaur: As you know, I work for England Hockey and we’re a not-for-profit organisation. Everything that we earn we re-invest into the sport of hockey. We cover everything from the grassroots side of the game all the way to the professional end of the game. We put England and GB teams on the field of play. Ordinarily, a third of our income comes from commercial revenue streams, and two-thirds of it is generated from government funding. And that can be Lottery funding, and it is often awarded to us in four-year cycles with the run-up to the Olympic Games.

What has the pandemic meant for us? A number of things. We have postponed or cancelled events. It’s meant that our revenue streams have been massively impacted. Those games that are happening are not fully attended. They often have limited crowds or are operating under a closed-door environment with strict Health and Safety protocols. And none of this would really be possible without the support of our 860 clubs and thousands of volunteers.

Rowe: Great. Thank you. And you’ve talked a bit about the pandemic and as we have moved through the pandemic, scenario planning has become ever more important. How’s that worked in practice from a commercial perspective? And what would be your tips for management accountants in that area?

Kaur: The pandemic has hit our revenue streams pretty hard. Those commercial revenue streams are heavily impacted and government funding was extended for a year because the Olympics moved. There have been many, many aspects of rethinking and scenario planning options for the game – looking at different variables, engaging with stakeholders, really trying to get to the heart of what were the moving parts and how do we best present them. There were many options that we considered and mapped out, but then we tried to narrow it down into a best, medium, and worst case so that we could really lay some markers in the sand to be able to best communicate to our external and internal stakeholders.

My advice to management accountants would be to stay calm because sometimes in these environments, the message that you are communicating may not be what you want to see or your stakeholders want to hear. Be led by data so that you can provoke good constructive debate and drive data-driven decisions. Use visuals wherever you can because for those non-financially literate parts of the organisation, it can be very meaningful and it can often help people understand very, very quickly. And often when in times of crisis, which in parts this has been, that relaying information quickly can enable others to stay very calm.

Rowe: Thank you. And are there any other lessons from the pandemic?

Kaur: I would say this is the ideal time to be a completely true business partner to the organisation. Talk honestly with the organisation about the current and future options available and the commercial challenges. We definitely took the organisation on a journey with us [and] highlighted the steps and targets we would need to achieve from an income perspective. We talked honestly about scenarios, so there were no surprises when we had to take the necessary actions. And then the feedback that we’ve recently received from the organisation really commends that transparency. So I would value that very highly.

Rowe: Thank you. It now seems certain the Tokyo Olympic Games will go ahead this summer, but for many months it was not certain whether they would or not. How has the game dealt with that uncertainty?

Kaur: I really don’t think we can ever underestimate that from an athlete and coach point of view, changing the timing of the Olympic Games, and the calendar of events that proceed that, it comes at a heavy cost because that preparation sometimes planned eight years in advance to give us the best opportunity for success. That preparation provides crucial marginal gains, and they can be the difference between a win and a loss. Having said that, I think the game has dealt with it as well as it can, in my opinion. How have we achieved that? The communication on Health and Safety has been challenging, but we’ve met that challenge. The teams reacted quickly. We found effective means to relay messages in a remote environment and implement the necessary protocols.

The game also invested a lot of time and effort in becoming even closer to partners such as the British Olympic Association and to be more strongly aligned to other sports. We worked together to meet the challenges in the environment to adapt our planning accordingly. We kept close to government on elite dispensation pieces and any guidance that they were issuing on the relaxing of rules around COVID restrictions, and wherever we could allow squads to train in environments, be flexible, and arrange competitive test matches, we did. And it’s that flexibility and adaptability in the changing tide of events that has been critical to managing it successfully. But when I look at it, I think we are still in uncertain times, we remain in that environment. There are many things along the way that we fine-tuned as the pandemic has gone on. We’ve kept an open mind, been flexible to really adapting and learning and growing as we have gone through, and I think we will maintain that philosophy.

Rowe: Thank you. And in recent months diversity has moved up the agenda around the world. What impact can increasing diversity have on hockey’s governance and long-term success?

Kaur: Absolutely, the need for diversity of thought in all aspects of life has been at the forefront of many in the last year and I think is absolutely necessary to create a fairer world for everyone. And sport hasn’t been excluded. It has been asked in a big way to step up in this particular space, and by stepping up what I mean is it has been asked to create safe psychological spaces for talent to develop and thrive. And that is what hockey is passionate about doing. We believe increasing diversity can have many benefits. Having role models that are from varying backgrounds is an important start for representation, but having diversity in decision-making is considered key to leverage the most powerful ideas and teams. If this does start to happen in all areas, from its governance to its representative teams and within the grassroots, we will give rise to the talent with the greatest potential. And in turn, that will mean that when we are performing on those international stages, whether it’s in the boardroom, on the field of play, or as an organisation, we’ll stand the best chance of winning.

Rowe: And finally, Kuldeep, what would be your three key takeaways for management accountants listening to this podcast?

Kaur: I would say that using scenario planning to present options, to test the thinking of your key stakeholders, is an incredibly useful tool. Using the analysis to make sure that data-driven decisions are made is incredibly critical. It justifies and offers credibility to the decisions that are made. And as you are delivering those results do remain calm, because no matter if you don’t want to deliver those results [and] the stakeholders don’t want to hear those results, it’s a really important component in decision-making. And remaining calm in the face of that is an important emotional skill. And look, I think there is a range of skills that management accountants can offer their local sports clubs as well. Don’t rule sport out. There are many roles from club treasurers to commercial directors, planners, and chairpersons. Within the governing bodies of sport, which is where I am, these skills are really important at the moment as we respond to uncertainty. And where there are key decisions being made on investment priorities, the analysis on return on investment of those priorities is a critical component of it. And therefore I would say to your listeners, please don’t rule out making an application to sport whatever your background.

Rowe: Kuldeep, thank you.

Kaur: Thanks for having me.