When the storm breaks

June 4, 2015

The storm around FIFA reaches a new intensity as President Sepp Batter prepares to step down, and revelations of corruption by Supergrass Chuck Blazer are made public IMG_1409

3rd June 2015

Three days after his defiant acceptance of reappointment as President, Sepp Blatter stands down ‘in the interests of the organization’. What might have changed?

The news came in a rapidly-convened and unexpected press conference. Blatter The President suggested that his change of mind was a result of realizing his appointment was unacceptable to players, fans and to others in the great game of football.

He also indicated he would drive through the radical changes needed. This is if anything is as implausible now than when he made similar claims on his reappointment. His statement has presented a dilemma to an incoming leader and others in and outside FIFA. How will a new leader have freedom to introduce independent change if the outgoing leader is intent on initiating the process?
This suggests that Mr Blatter will not be able to cling to this proposed interim position.

The Tipping Point?

Consensus among commentators is that a critical incident has occurred maybe in the last few hours prior to the press conference. The emerging criminal investigations, particularly from the United States, are producing the butterfly wing flap that triggered the storm.

Another possible explanation is favored in an article in the Independent. This involved a bribery claim before the vote which appointed South Africa to hold the 2010 World Cup.

The Guardian suggested that Blatter had been urged by close aides to change his decision. A possible trigger point came from reports from America that Blatter was among those to be investigated for money laundering and tax evasion.

June 4th 2015

The storm breaks

LWD correspondent Paul Hinks noted:

As we keep saying, there will be more to come from this story. Suspect we’ll hear more from the accused, Blatter himself maybe dragged into the corruption allegations and questioned.

I keep thinking about President Bush’s reference to ‘Axis of evil’ … perhaps Blatter had an ‘Axis of evil’ or and ‘Axis of corruption’ that underpinned his power play.

I heard on Radio 4’s news this morning that Greg Dyke has suggested that FIFA bring in forensic accountants to go through FIFA’s books and trace the ‘lost’ funds? Good idea; FIFA desperately need to rebuild and regain trust; not easily achieved.

There’s also a nagging part of me that wants to recognise the good in Blatter’s (/FIFA’s) vision to encourage football development in countries like Africa … it’s just Blatter failed the ethics test in attempting to realise his goal.

Now [June 4th 2015] there’s the breaking news that Chuck Blazer [FIFA exec and US Supergrass] knew about the bribes: Fifa crisis: Ex-official Chuck Blazer details bribe-taking

June 8th 2015

FIFA official says that evidence of corrupt practices in the bidding process may be result in new votes for 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

June 11th 2015

Unconfirmed reports that Sepp Blatter is reconsidering stepping down.

European Parliament to intervene in FIFA constitutional crisis, and asks Mr Blatter to step down.

July 16th 2015

Various stories have developed in the last month concerning FIFA officials facing charges over financial dealings and corrupt practices. FIFA returns for first meeting since May to consider radical reforms.

July 20th 2015

BBC story that Michel Platini has been asked to stand as next president of FIFA, with adequate support from all FIFA regions.

To be continued


Graeme Smith, a greatly underestimated leader of South African cricket

March 6, 2014

Graeme Smith is rarely mentioned among lists of the great cricket captains. This is mostly a matter of style over substance

Graeme Smith announced his immediate retirement from international cricket this week [6th March 2014]. The timing of the announcement was curious,and appears to have been a shock to his closest colleagues. I want to return to this, but my main interest is why he has not received far more recognition for his achievements.

His track record as captain starting as a 22 year old is outstanding with numerous achievements. His 109 tests as captain far exceeds that of second player Alan Border, and his batting average of nearly 50 is only surpassed as an opening bat in Test Cricket by the great Sunil Gavaskar.

He has been a particular success over England with team and personal displays that have contributed to several retirements of his English counterparts.

His curious departure

There have been rumours over the last few years that he was becoming disenchanted with his lengthy time as captain. Changes in his personal life contributed recently. Even so, to announce his retirement as his team were struggling in series-determining match against Australia goes against the principles of a leader putting his team above personal considerations. It suggests considerable internal conflict or a cranky individualism of another controversial South African, Kevin Pietersen whose defections to the ranks of the England team and then out of it are infamous to English and South African cricket lovers alike.

Why is he rarely hailed as an all-time great captain?

The only explanation I can think of is that he is the antithesis of a stylish player. His personality verges on the dour and anti-charismatic. Cricket is a game that loves the effortless style and flamboyance of players such as David Gower and Ian Botham. You can see more psycho-analytical ramblings on leadership style, Geoffrey Boycott and Kevin Pietersen in an earlier blog post

A Tribute to Nelson Mandela [1918- 2013]

December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela changed his country and through it our understanding of what can be achieved by a leader.

Leaders We Deserve commented five years ago [2007] on the impossibility of capturing the essence of his achievements . The post is reproduced here as a tribute.

On August 29th 2007, the great man watched as the wraps came off his [nine foot high] statue in Parliament Square. Fleetingly I thought of statues of others leaders. How art and politics cannot be kept apart, any more than sport and politics could be kept apart in an earlier South Africa. How the downing of statues can be as symbolic an act as their installations.

Why Nelson Mandela doesn’t need a statue

He already is an awesome world-figure, destined for his place in the history. There will be revisions to the story. There always are. Human-scaled blemishes will be revealed to enrich the tale of his struggle in what he termed a long walk to freedom for himself and his country.

I was immensely moved by Mandela’s story in his autobiography. I go back to it from time to time. I remain in awe of what he communicated about his time in prison: ‘Even in the grimmest times … I would see a glimmer of humanity in one of the guards, perhaps just for a second, but that was enough to reassure me and keep me going. Man’s goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished’. With Mandela, the process is reversed. In his every public action his ‘goodness’ shines through. We search in vain for evidence of wilfulness and vengefulness.

The Charismatic Leader

The idea of the great charismatic leader is increasingly coming under scrutiny. In the 1980s, a tamed-down version of charisma was proposed, as the transformational leader. More recently, the expression post-charismatic leader has emerged, from theological and secular sources.

In this context, Nelson Mandela and his story deserves the closest attention. An excellent recent biography by Professor Lodge suggests that Nelson Mandela was
‘Especially sensitive to the imperatives for acting out a messianic leadership role during his [time as a guerrilla commander] …deliberately constructing a mythological legitimacy.. to engender hopes that salvation would be achieved through heroic self-sacrifice.’

‘Look on my works, ye mighty and despair’

The idea of erecting a statue to Nelson Mandela in London has been around for over a decade. There was [in 2007] a highly suitable place in Trafalgar Square, which has four plinths for monumental pieces. Three are occupied with military and monarchic figures. The fourth would be particularly appropriate as it is close to the South Africa House, focus of so many ‘Free Nelson Mandela’ demos during his imprisonment on Robben Island.

The public was invited to suggest appropriate artifacts. One suggestion was for a work that would celebrate animals in wartime service. Nelson Mandela was among other front runners together with The Queen, Margaret Thatcher, Lady Diana, as well as long shots such as David Beckham, Winnie the Pooh, and a very large Pigeon, (capturing one of the more intrusive visiting groups that flock to Trafalgar Square).

The fund-raising ran ahead of the official decision, and the statute commissioned was considered too massive for the original location. Eventually the political pieces fell into place, and Nelson Mandela’s image was unveiled at Parliament Square, rather than close by to that other Nelson, atop his column in Trafalgar Square.

What the poet says

Look on my works, ye mighty and despair. Unlike the despotic leader Shelley wrote about, Mandela could be said to inspire us to look on his works and rejoice.

Timeline: July 18, 1918: Born into the Thembu royal family in Mvezo, southeastern South Africa. Died, Dec 5th, 2013

Tribute video

You can see a tribute video here

Rugby Brains trust gets it right

April 23, 2009
Brains trust

Brains trust

Congratulations to the Leaders we deserve brainstrust whose members pinpointed Ireland’s O’ Connell as Lions captain and also suggested most of the squad

Leadership issues

Now to identify the leadership challenges facing O’Connell and the entire touring party

Lions tours are notoriously difficult to manage. Signals of possible friction points have begun to emerge as national heroes are left behind. Irish players have earned their places with monster six-nations performances. In contract Scotland had a woeful competition. That hasn’t stopped Scottish journalists being peeved over the tiny number of Scots in the quad. The English have similar gripes as they have a historically low number of squad members. Welsh comment is mixed. There is a healthy representation from Wales. But there is disappointment that Ryan Jones is one of several national captains left behind. In Wales there is also some bitterness over what they see as a potential re-run of the Graham Henry time as Lions coach and Wales National manager. This time it’s another Kiwi, Warren Gatland, again Wales national coach also coaching for the Lions.

The story goes that by the time the last Lions tour was over, Henry had lost the trust of key Welsh players and it carried over into subsequent national team performances. There is worry the same thing might happen in South Africa. To get some idea, you might like to think of the expectations at Newcastle Football Club, and the heights and lows as each possible saviour fails to ‘guide them to the promised land’.

So here are a few leadership questions

I realize that much will be forgiven a winning team, but I’m anticipating plenty of blame to spread around before the tour is over.

Has ‘the management’ done a reasonable job in selecting O’ Connell and squad? Will potential cultural factionalism play a significant part in events off and on the field? Comments will be incorporated into future blogs.

Other notes

A Guardian summary of the ‘team picked for toughness’ gives indication of the reasoning behind the selections.

Life with the Rugby Lions: Background to the 2009 Tour

January 14, 2009


The British and Irish Lions are preparing for the 2009 tour against the South African Springboks. Ian McGeehan is off-field leader of a team which will compete against the current world champions of rugby. He will also have to deal with the ‘mid-week team’ problem, and the potential off-field clash of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon cultures

The tour has echoes of the famous 1997 tour in which the Lions had also visited South Africa. Coincidentally, the Springboks had at that time too been current world champions, and McGeehan had been chief coach of the Lions.

Background to the Rugby Lions

The British and Irish Lions reflect a cherished rugby tradition with a team assembled representing the members of the Home Nations championship (England, Scotland Ireland and Wales). The Lions players still come from these nations, although the original championship has long been extended to include France, and more recently Italy.

Anglo-Irish Politics and the North South divide

It should be noted that Ireland in this tournament is represented by a combined team with players from the Irish nation, and from the British and unionist province of Ulster. The issue of governance of Ireland has been one of the historically important ones for Ireland and the United Kingdom for many years, and became particularly intense and bloody over the period of The Troubles in the mid 1980s to the turn of the century. This was followed by a period of implementing the aspirations of the Good Friday Agreement, which continues to the present time. We have reported this in an earlier post.

In popular shorthand, the North of the Island is the geographical core of the battle for a united Ireland, with cultural, geographic and religious tensions between North and South. Although a dangerous over-simplification, the ‘two cultures’ are often stereotyped as a Protestant North, and a Catholic South.

In a host of daily experiences, the citizens of Ireland co-exist within all-Ireland Institutions. In sport, the institutions include Rugby Union and League, Cricket, Hockey, as well as traditional Irish sports such as Hurling. Football is governed, in contrast, by Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland Bodies. Religious institutions are all all-Ireland in scope including the influential Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Anglican Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

In any study of sports management such cultural differences are likely to be a consideration. An obvious source of tension will be the inescapable fact that in most instances, the leader will be be drawn from one of the communities, and faces the challenge of creating and retaining team coherence, and of loyalty and respect from those coming from the other cultural traditions.

Distributed leadership and the midweek team problem

Over various tours, midweek matches have been played by a group of players considered less gifted than the squad playing the test matches and week-end matches. While in principle, mid-week players can ‘play their way’ into consideration for selection for the test-matches – the ultimate personal achievement – the reality is dealing with the presumption that they are second-best. This is a morale problem, which has deepened over time as the mid-week role has become increasingly recognised in these terms.

Disenchanted players find it easy to attribute non-selection to wider cultural preferences by the tour leadership. Clive Woodward’s lack of success as a Lions’ manager in 2005, after his world-championship success as England manager in 2003, was attributed, in part, to his failure to resolve the mid-week problem. The media (and players subsequently) made it a major issues, as week by week, the Lions limped through their New Zealand itinerary to humiliating defeat after defeat, losing the test series 3-0. Woodward’s coaching methods, man-management, and extended loyalty to the English players he knew well, all came under intense scrutiny..

Cultural symbolism

By the 1930s cultural diversity was implicitly and symbolically acknowledged in the team colours: red jerseys, white shorts, blue socks and green stocking-tops, (to represent Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland respectively). Recently, senstivities over labels had rresulted in an official name The British and Irish Lions, as well as the pithier label of The Lions

Follow the tour

Leaders we deserve will be following the 2009 tour, drawing on the views of sporting administrators and rugby experts. We hope the posts will interesting, enlightening, and maybe providing material which throws light on leadership issues in and beyond the world of rugby football. Quick polls will make for interesting evidence of changing views as the tour progresses. We welcome comments, and the wider distribution of the posts, to enrich discussions even further.

Polling your views