Metty Speaks: Politics in Sport


Come To Me with the Solution, Not With the Problem - said every effective manager that I have had in the 13 years that I have worked for the state Government.

We see and hear of “politics” all the time in sports such as strongman and powerlifting and to be entirely honest most of what I see and hear is what I would refer to as “low-brow bitching” rather than legitimate politics. bitching does not equal politics! So moving right along from that because simply stating what is not working or what we do not like about someone or something WILL NOT ever solve the problem. In this article I want to draw attention to successful governance principles and outline the key principles that underlie one of the most valuable companies in the world- Apple.
As you read this I demand you keep in mind the question, as an athlete or a promoter, is it appropriate to expect for your federation to apply the standards and principles outlined?

Firstly to define governance. Wikipedia defines governance as the act of governing. It relates to decisions that define expectations, grant power, or verify performance. It consists of either a separate process or part of decision-making or leadership processes. In the case of a business, governance relates to consistent management, cohesive policies, guidance, processes and decision-rights. Governance is separate and different from government in that “governance” is what a “governing body” does. It might be a a corporate entity (business) or a socio-political entity (tribe or family, etc.) but governance is the way in which rules are set, implemented, embedded and sustained.

The United Nations Global issues site states (https://www.un.org/en/globalissues/governance) that in the (UN) community of nations, governance is considered “good” and “democratic” to the degree in which a country’s institutions and processes are transparent. They state that successful governance includes key activities such as; Elections and legal procedures – I would drill this down a level further and state the criticality of clear rules, processes and procedures for how a body operates.

UN global issues specifies that these key activities must be seen to be free of corruption and accountable to the people. Further they state that good governance promotes equity, participation, shared power, transparency, accountability and the rule of law, in a manner that is effective, efficient and enduring. At a practical level this is achieved through fair and frequent elections, representative legislatures that make laws and provide oversight, and an independent judiciary to interpret those laws. presumably this is why many businesses/organisations including sporting organisations have board’s of management. A board of management will aim to 1. reduce the risk of an autocracy (where only one person sets the rules) and 2. comprise individuals with different skills sets, critical to the business for example for a sporting federation this might translate as a person with business management skills, a person with marketing skills and a respected athlete/s who can represent the (client) in setting the rules and providing oversight. History shows that a country’s success in achieving these standards has become a key indicator of its credibility and respect on the international platform.

Countries, communities, businesses and organisations (including sporting organisations) prosper and grow through the application of a clear transparent governance system (a good example being American Strongman Corporation).

Alternatively, in my experience, when governance, rules and processes are unclear, people (athletes) and systems are immobilised, highly ineffective and the organisations growth and evolution tends to be stunted.  “Political unrest” essentially occurs as a result of threats to good governance,threats might occur as a result of corruption, violence (or threats of), selfish motives (for example the primary motivation making money), all of which undermine transparency, security, participation and fundamental freedoms.

Reflect on this in terms of your sporting community/organisation – what can YOU do to enhance the groups functioning?

Tim Cook is the CEO of the world’s most valuable company - Apple. Clearly the man knows a thing or two about managing people and running business on a multi-national platform so what are some of his key principles in leadership? Below are a fews summarised that might be applicable to sporting federations (http://www.inc.com/eric-markowitz/tim-cooks-message-for-ceos-admit-when-youre-wrong.html)

1. Transparency is key.
With criticism about the standards of Apple’s global employees Cook opened the doors and invited the world to see how Apple’s operations really worked. By doing this, he not only created goodwill around the company, but set industry standards for other manufacturers. “Our transparency in supplier responsibility is an example of recognizing that the more transparent we are, the bigger difference we would make,” Cook says. “We want to be as innovative with supply responsibility as we are with our products. That’s a high bar. The more transparent we are, the more it’s in the public space.”

2. Read customer emails. (If anything, it humbles you.)
Cook, head of the world’s most valuable company, allows time to walk around company stores and read customer e-mails.
“I’ll walk around our stores,” he says. “You can learn a tremendous amount in a store. I get a lot of e-mails and so forth, but it’s a different dimension when you’re in a store and talking to customers face to face. You get the vibe of the place…Not allowing yourself to become insular is very important—maybe the most important thing, I think, as a CEO.”

This not only allows the client to feel valued and “listened to” but also allows Cook to get a sense for what the client wants and needs. Without the customer (or athlete in our case) the business/organisation does not exist – so you can see why listening to the athletes feedback would be critical to the ongoing development of a federation.

3. You “can only do a few things great.”
Considering the size of Apple, it’s incredible how few products the company actually creates.
“I mean, if you really look at it, we have four iPods. We have two main iPhones. We have two iPads, and we have a few Macs. That’s it,” Tim Cook says.

The point is: focus on what you do best, and do it the best you can.

The key principle here for a sporting federation or athlete, is that if you want to be truly successful in a sport, remain single-sightedly focused on that sport and don’t sell out for the point of sponsors or money. Using me as an example, I decided 4 years ago to put 100% of my efforts into strong woman competition on an international level-I sought out expert assistance in Jill Mills(my coach and programmer) and Simon Colley (for conditioning)- knowing that both Jill and Simon had succeeded at the highest level, in their sports. I was often questioned about my focus from other australian athletes; why don’t you do this local contest? or why don’t you try olympic lifting? the simple answer was that I knew to do well in America I had to focus on this 100% – there was no room, time or energy for “other” activities outside of this. Funnily, I recently decided I wanted to be able to do back flips so tried to add urban gymnastics to my training regime. Although it was so much fun, it was also brutal on my body and I had to withdraw as it was impacting on my strong woman training. We have to make choices – how much do you want to succeed in what you do? I’m fairly certain that your success is directly proportional to your focus+the energy you put into reaching your goal. Demonstrated by Apple.

4. Admit you’re wrong.
“So many people, particularly, I think, CEOs and top executives, they get so planted in their old ideas, and they refuse or don’t have the courage to admit that they’re now wrong,” he says. “Maybe the most underappreciated thing about Steve was that he had the courage to change his mind. And you know—it’s a talent. It’s a talent.”

I think this is a fundamental quality in any person or organisation to achieve transparency – the confidence to say “we did not get that quite right and we need to refine how we do our business or conduct our operations!

So to summarise the key concepts that Cook espouses in running a successful organisation business include;

    Honesty and transparency
    Having the capacity to admit when you are wrong
    Having the courage to change
    Listen to the customer/client
    Focus on and master your trade

Tim Cook is not a silly man~he knows what works and is clearly driven by pure intentions, focused on the customer/client (this would be the athlete when applied to a sporting federation) and remains focused on some very basic values. From my experience both as an athlete and an employee, I know that when intentions are pure, are founded with solid values and are not driven be material gain or ego, amazing things can and will be achieved. I do not think that it is too much to expect as an athlete that your federation would have clear transparent governance AND likewise if you expect this as an athlete, contribute to it by applying the values and principles that you expect to see of your federation.
Be the change you want to see in the world and help make the shift!

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