British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tacit refusal to stand by his own Parliament’s stand on Brexit is a flaw in leadership that is also prevalent in sports organisations.
Johnson sent an unsigned letter to the European Union requesting a delay to Britain’s exit from the bloc but added another signed letter in which he explained that he did not want a “deeply corrosive” Brexit extension.
It underlines the fact that Johnson believes as the Prime Minister, only his decision on the issue matters. It is the same with how American President Donald Trump pushes through his personal agenda. And it is same with many Malaysian politicians who presume only they know better.
Our new deal means we can leave without disruption and deliver on the priorities of the British people – investing in our NHS, tackling crime and improving our schools. pic.twitter.com/TbjtgkcwCx— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) October 22, 2019
The trait is also falsely seen as a given right to sports administrators around the world, as well as in Malaysia.
Look at how the likes of Joao Havelange managed football’s governing body with an iron fist during his tenure from 1974 to 1998. It was not until 2012 it was revealed that he and his son-in-law had received USD41 million in bribes in connection with broadcast rights.
His successor Sepp Blatter was no different as he ruled the organisation for almost two decades, and was also seen as an authoritarian. He, who was slapped with a six year ban from all FIFA activities, saw his reign also dogged by allegations of corruption and financial mismanagement.
Once elected as president of a sports organisation, many leaders are of the opinion that they have the absolute power to decide on issues and rest of the elected executive members were obligated to throw in their support.
They believe that only they have the right to all policy determinations and make such decisions independently with little or no input from the other elected members.
Disagree and you are seen as a trouble maker and need to be disciplined, isolated or kicked out at the first opportunity.
Such was the action taken by former International Volleyball Federation (FIVB) president Ruben Acosta. Acosta, who was the FIVB president from 1984-2008, was expelled for corruption. But by then he had sacked almost 90 leaders for various ‘offences’ including for questioning his decisions.
The role of a president or chairman is well defined in the sports organisations’ own constitution.
Chairing all meetings of the organisation, supervising the management of the elected council and standing committees as well as representing the elected council in its dealings are the roles given to the president of sports organisation.
No absolute powers to decide on any important matters without the approval of the elected council is entrusted to the president.
Much of this has to do with the servile attitude of elected council members, who prefer to toe the line to curry favours that includes overseas trips and sometimes even lucrative contracts.
Some leaders also take complete control of the association by also nominating themselves or their subservient allies to key committee positions.
This is contrast with a genuine democratic leadership, which values participation and communication.
Sometimes leaders are elected purely because they hold political or financial cloud.
Last year, the scandal laden International Boxing Association (AIBA) appointed Gafur Rakhimov of Uzbekistan as its interim president. He was tasked with cleaning up corruption within the world governing body of amateur boxing to prevent the sport being banned from the next Olympics.
The IOC took over the management of boxing event at the next Olympics, but the AIBA was still banned.
While the ban had to do more with the financial discrepancies and match fixing allegations, Rakhimov’s appointment did not help matters either.
While he was never prosecuted, Rakhimov is blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury Department as “one of Uzbekistan’s leading criminals” and an alleged key figure in the heroin trade.
In Malaysian sports organisations are rarely embroiled in corruption controversies. One such rare case of financial discrepancy arose when the Malaysian Paralympic Council (MPM) wrote off RM3.8m given to a company owned by its president.
In Malaysia, leading a sports association is often seen as an avenue to create favourable public opinion of oneself. Sports offers plenty of mileage to its leaders, especially when the sports also delivers results on the arena.
To see how much sports can change perceptions, look no further than how Vladimir Putin reacted after being re-elected in 2012. Just hours after the authoritarian’s inauguration, he chose to don a hockey jersey to play a televised match between an amateur side and Russian hockey legends.
On the other extreme, sometimes candidates for the top position are elected only to be a showpiece and face of the organisation.
This is seen as a public relations coup to project the association in a better light with the government agencies or the sponsors. After all the Datuk or Tan Sri title carries more weight than a genuine leader without a title.
However, this scenario is also open to abuse. More powerful are those, whom actually wield the power but use the elected president as a shield to protect themselves.
In recent times, a number of Malaysian sports associations are embroiled in leadership tussles. It cannot be denied that in some of these cases, it is actually a proxy fight of the real powers behind the throne.
While successful organisations, need strong leaders, total autocratic leadership is not the way forward.
Other elected officials, with the exception of a chosen few “president’s men”, only make up the numbers with no role to play in the organisation.
And with no role to play, but needing to hang on their positions, some elected officials allow autocratic leaders to take complete control.
The inset of herd mentality among elected sports officials would eventually lead to the sports itself being the victim.