Bad Leaders – Two Peas in a Sports Pod

They both led organizations that presided over iconic sports.

They both led organizations that by many measures were stunningly successful.

They both transformed the sports over which they ruled.

They both were ultimately corrupted by the color of money.

They both were enabled by numberless followers – who themselves contributed to the corruption and cronyism.

They both were protected by numberless followers – who themselves contributed to the corruption and cronyism.

They both were Europeans who led in a limbo in which no individual or institution held them accountable.

They both operated in a context that shrouded them in secrecy.

They both led their organizations for far too long – about two decades.

They both got away with being bad leaders until they were some 80 years of age.

Finally they both had to be pushed from their perch – neither walked willingly away from the positions of power that they seemed to feel rightfully were theirs.

Put directly, Sepp Blatter, the tarnished president of FIFA, the governing body of soccer, has a predecessor in the world of global sport, another leader who not long ago started strong and ended humiliated.

His name is Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) from 1980 to 2001.  In my 2004 book, Bad Leadership: What It Is, How It Happens, Why It Matters, I wrote extensively about Samaranch, concluding that:

“As the years went on, as Samaranch presided over the nearly complete transformation of the IOC from sports movement into commercial giant, the original Olympic ideal faded…. The negative impact of the infusion of corporate capital on the Olympic movement and its parent figure, the IOC, became increasingly evident. For all his early accomplishments, Samaranch was unwilling to check the growing costs of his relentless drive for more money and greater expansion. And so by the time he resigned as president, the reputation of the IOC had become badly tarnished, many of his IOC colleagues had been discredited, and the games themselves had become no more, if no less, than global sports extravaganzas.

Over time Samaranch had grown careless. His increasingly exclusive focus on financial expansion caused him to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to problems ranging from enveloping commercialism to … growing corruption. His ignorance of these problems gradually evolved from inattention to rank mismanagement and incompetence. His refusal to address the IOC’s increasingly long list of troubles bespeaks a man whose insatiable ambition ultimately intruded on his capacity for good decision making and sound judgement.”

Sound familiar?


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