Potemkin villages and the politics of Formula 1 racing

October 11, 2014


Formula 1 heads for Sochi and the Russian Grand Prix, where a huge PR budget has been described as producing an example of a modern day Potemkin village

The Telegraph came up with the brilliant analogy of the Sochi site as a modern-day Potemkin village.

Potemkin village

Catherine the Great, accompanied by a gaggle of courtiers, made an unprecedented six-month trip to Novorossia – literally ‘New Russia’ – now the much disputed and fought-over territories of eastern Ukraine. As governor of the region, Grigory Potemkin, a favourite and lover of the empress, was tasked with impressing Russia’s allies along the journey.

The tale goes that Potemkin’s men would assemble mobile villages, dressing up as peasants, before moving the settlement down the Dnieper River overnight for inspection by Catherine the next day. The notion of a ‘Potemkin village’, a facade concocted to hide an undesirable reality, was born.

The Sochi Autodrom, more than 300 miles away on the shores of the Black Sea, has all the hallmarks of a modern-day Potemkin village.

Similar to a simulacrum?

I have been looking for a way of explaining a simulacrum for students of symbolic leadership. A simulacrum is a term for a representation of an original that never existed.

Maybe, in future I will offer Potemkin villages, and The Sochi Autodrome to my descriptions.


Sporting leadership and the new CSR of Corporate Sporting Responsibilities

August 18, 2014

Sepp BlatterSporting participants, coaches and administrators face a set of overlapping challenges which collectively could be described as Corporate Sporting Responsibilities

Take a look at these recent sporting stories.

Drug cheating in sport

Drug cheating continues to plague a range of sports since the monumental fall from grace of Lance Armstrong.

In cycling, of the nine fastest sprinters in history only two , the Jamaicans Usain Bolt and Nesta Carther, have not been found guilty of contravening the sport’s drug regulations.

Corrupt practices

Administrative bodies have been accused of various corrupt practices in the award of major global sporting events.

Qatar’s award by FIFA of the 2022 World Cup has defied rational explanations in failure to take into account the health dangers of extreme temperatures later conceded as requiring serious concerns. Corruption accusations have been backed by commercial sponsors calling for release of results of an internal investigation.

Further accusations have been levelled against FIFA’s President Sepp Blatter. A Government committee in the UK was told that the Football Association would not be ‘wasting its time bidding’ for the World Cup as long as Blatter remains in post.

The Olympic Movement has repeatedly found its idealistic vision at odds with harsh political and financial realities. The recent Winter Olympics at Sochi began with demonstrations against Russia’s recently tightened discriminatory laws. These are said to be contrary to P6, the anti-discrimination proposition in the Olympic Charter.

During the games, accusations of bias were made against a judge whose score elevated a Russian figure-skater to gold medal status.

Corporate sporting responsibilities

Coaching of young athletes has also come under serious criticism.

In researching coaching leadership, I came across an article on a website dedicated to sporting excellence. It suggested widespread coaching abuse of young athletes by bullying coaches obsessed with winning. This chimed which some of my personal observations of amateur coaches including over-zealous touch-line parents.

The article drew my attention to the broader responsibilities of sports coaches and administrators to address the issues and dilemmas outlined in the examples above. The parallels with the emergence of the Corporate Social Responsibilities movement were too tempting to resist.

This sporting life

Any efforts to rescue sport would have to deal with criticisms made by the sociologist Lasch, nearly fifty years ago. Lasch, in The Lonely Crowd, wrote a classic analysis of the development of a culture of narcissism. In a chapter on The degradation of sport he describes how the athlete was increasingly becoming an entertainer, open to being bought and sold in what he describes as in “antagonistic cooperation” to teammates.

Perhaps a movement is required, a new form of CSR, whose principles will be incorporated into sporting charters and declarations. Participants are likely to be leaders in such a movement. Athletes have already stood up in many demonstrations against perceived injustices when administrators have taken a more cautious approach.

More importantly it may, like the original CSR, find expression in the beliefs and actions of a future generation of administrators, coaches, and sports players at all levels of excellence.


Curling is big in Sochi, toe-curling is bigger at the Baftas

February 17, 2014

Baftas night is normally a stay-in-and-watch-a-DVD night

The beguiling DVD obtained for that very purpose turned out to be so bad we exercised our democratic right to vote against it and opted instead to see what the great British public had done with their democratic right to vote for the Not the Oscars awards, aka The British Academy Film and Television Awards, aka [this year] The Orange Baftas.

Evidence of leadership abounded, even of leaders we deserve because we voted for the winners.  In true post- modern style Stephen Fry brought a veneer of languid sophistication to the event.   His mocking hyperbole for the presenters  of the awards just about managed to imply they were not exactly the wonderful beautiful supremely gifted and loveable people he described, perhaps not even as wonderful [etc] as Stephen Fry.  That being said, Fry still had the most amusing and witty remarks of the evening, as well as some at the other end of the scale which helped me associate with the other story of wonderful beautiful supremely gifted and loveable people at the Winter Olympics in Sochi.

Here, in London, for a few hours, curling was transformed into toe curling.