Baffling speech by David Cameron

February 7, 2014

The Prime Minister made a speech today on Scottish Independence. I was baffled by its strategic intent and execution

I watched and listened this morning [February 7th, 2014] as The Prime Minister gave a heavily trailed speech to a small audience at the London Velodrome. It was intended to urge the citizens of the United Kingdom who could not vote to use their influence on those who could to assist a NO vote in the Scottish referendum next year. [That is to say, he addressed people in Northern Ireland, Wales and England to persuade those living in Scotland to vote NO]

‘The sum is greater than the parts’

The Speech argued for the merits of The United Kingdom as a coherent political unity, so much more than the sum of its parts. It was accidentally a case that could be applied to the EU as well, although I am sure that was not the PM’s subliminal intent.

English cool and Celtic warmth?

It might have been an attempt to rebut rationally the points made by the YES campaign. In content however, the emphasis was on the more emotional point that David Cameron was ethnically [like many living in the UK] a mix of Scottish, English and perhaps a dash of Welsh genes.

The style was a restrained emotionalism if I might risk an oxymoron. Perhaps Anglo-Saxon cool and Celtic heat? The PM appeared uncomfortable about the whole performance. The careful explanation of why it took place in the Velodrome was clunky [Scottish for not terribly convincing, old boy].

Why did I find it baffling?

I just could not make much sense of his intentions or of the execution of the speech. What dilemma might he be seeking to address? Was it the need to reverse apparent gains in the YES vote, in recent polls whatever the political risk? Did his advisers appreciate the dilemma of risking infuriating Scottish voters by the intervention? Was there a concern to find a popular new initiative in difficult political times?

Comments and interpretations welcomed.


FIFA – gatekeepers to our beautiful game

February 6, 2014

FIFA logoPreparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

by Paul Hinks

According to FIFA’s website, the FIFA World Cup is the world’s most widely viewed sporting event. An estimated 715.1 million people watched the final match of the 2006 FIFA World Cup held in Germany – the 2010 event in South Africa was broadcast to 204 countries on 245 different channels.

June 2014 will see Brazil host the next World Cup Finals – a country synonymous with carnivals, rich culture and ‘samba’ football – but also struggling in terms of economic progress.

Ethical Leadership versus Financial Motivations

As PWC report, the World Cup Finals will provide Brazil with investment and an opportunity for commercial success – a credible legacy for FIFA and the host nation.

However as The Guardian noted, challenges are evident in the preparation for the tournament. The Economist noted that workers are now scheduled to work around the clock in an attempt to meet the fixed deadline; there have also been fatalities when a crane collapsed in São Paulo’s new football stadium. Deeper concerns remain that Brazil cannot afford to host the World Cup Finals and that the investment should have been spent on hospitals, basic sanitation, housing and other more fundamental needs.

Brazil as a template for success?

Exploring the rationale behind FIFA’s decision making process deserves closer inspection – preparation for the Brazil 2014 FIFA World Cup Finals may well be causing anxiety for some, but there is evidence of greater challenges within FIFA.

There are accusations that the selection of venue for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup Finals were unfair – allegations of vote rigging and bribing were reported by the BBC in 2010 when Russia was awarded the 2018 finals; Forbes are amongst credible sources who echoed similar concerns about the successful Qatar 2018 bid.

The selection of Qatar for the 2018 finals appears even more confusing, given that traditionally the World Cup Finals are held in summer – in Qatar the summer temperatures would expose teams to temperatures of more than 40c – even today’s highly conditioned footballers cannot expect to excel for 90 minutes in that heat. Then there is the deeper analysis of how FIFA are attempting to correct the situation – prompting closer inspection of Sett Blatter’s tenure as President of the FIFA organisation.

Internal disruption within FIFA

The Telegraph reported (on 09 Jan 2014) that all may not be well within the FIFA hierarchy:

The row at Fifa over the timing of the 2022 World Cup intensified on Thursday after Michel Platini accused Sepp Blatter and Jerome Valcke of disrespecting their own executive committee.

Platini, the Uefa president and Fifa vice-president, condemned the latter’s president and secretary general for their repeated public pronouncements indicating the tournament in Qatar would be moved to November or December.
The latest of those was delivered on French radio by Valcke on Wednesday, prompting an angry response from Fifa’s British vice-president, Jim Boyce, who insisted the decision over any switch lay with the governing body’s ExCo.
Platini, who could stand against Blatter for the Fifa presidency in 2015, was even more nonplussed, telling L’Equipe: “When the executive committee was held in early October, it was decided to launch a major consultation of all football and no decision would be taken before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was also agreed not to talk about this before then.”

Leadership challenges within FIFA

FIFA need to retain their credibility as an organisation that operates ethically and also to the expected high standards – the recent global banking crisis illustrates just how quickly the public loose trust in institutions where those in positions of influence operate with self-interest and guile.

Football is unquestionably a global sport – it transcends geographies, providing an opportunity for supporters from different cultures and backgrounds to mix on equal terms, exchanging opinions and creating debate – in some ways it provides a common language which can bridge political and cultural differences. Those entrusted as guardians of the ‘beautiful game’ need to demonstrate an authentic style of leadership – one which engenders trust.

There remains an interesting dynamic around who is leading and who is following in this increasingly powerful industry – power plays are evident both internally within FIFA, and also externally beyond the boundaries of FIFA’s organisation. FIFA and Sepp Blatter deserve credit for how football has prospered on the global stage in recent years – the rich diversity of footballing talent from different nations in our domestic leagues and competitions is just one metric of success.

However, if FIFA is to remain a highly respected organisation, perhaps it’s time for improved governance and more transparency around how key decisions are made.


Dealing with performance anxiety: the Coach’s dilemma

February 4, 2014

FencingDealing with performance anxiety has been a major issue in the development of a science of sport management. The knowledge gained is contributing to understanding of choking and under-performance across the sporting spectrum

I recently asked a [very small] sample of contacts whether performance anxiety and its management were important in coaching their sport. Here are few responses:

Football

In football, reckless tackling is deemed career-threatening and met with assorted bans and other sanctions. Although sometimes this is deliberate it is loss of control often through pressures to perform. Weak penalty kicks would be another example. Routines that work in practice influenced by performance anxiety.

Rugby

Rugby Union is a sport which prides itself in the traditional sporting values of personal discipline and respect for the referee’s authority. The violence, as in other contact sports, is mostly channeled legally into man on man hits. But there are still surprising episodes of grievous bodily harm. Off-field skullduggery are also known including coaches fixing blood injuries to obtain player substitutions. Nor is violence a product of the sport’s recent professionalization. One of the most-quoted injunctions was from a coach in the era of amateur rugby who urged his players to ‘get your retaliation in first‘.

Tennis

Non-contact sports create fewer opportunities for the release of a competitor’s tension through physical aggression. In Tennis, much aggression is directed towards explosive attack on the ball. If that fails, an attack on the racquet becomes a back-up strategy for some players. The action is subject to sanction, but the punishment is minor.

One tennis player who rejects the release provided by racquet-smashing is Chinese star Li Na.

Golf

Golf, in common with other non-contact ball sports [such as snooker, pool, ] requires execution of well-grooved routines which can break down under performance anxiety. In golf, the breakdown of routines particularly in putting is famously known as the Yips. The medical condition is considered a kind of small muscle fatigue. Similar breakdowns of performance are known in the world of music among violinists.

Fencing

William Thompson is a qualified fencing coach. He outlined how a leading international trainer dealt with performance anxiety:

“I studied fencing under Professor Robert Anderson who died in 2013. He explained to me that his role as the coach of the British Olympic team was to remove all stress and performance anxiety:

‘My foot ware is causing a problem,’ Coach: We will change your foot ware.
‘There is noise from the room next door and I cannot sleep,’ Coach: We will move your room.
‘My training partner does not seem motivated,’ Coach: We will change your partner.
Performance stress has its observable symptoms. The coach’s job is to address these symptoms and remove them.”

Obsession and performance anxiety

Overall, the accounts suggest that performance anxiety of players is a major issue for coaches across a variety of sports. Probably the obsessive drive to achieve among top athletes is a mixed blessing.