A- A A+

Bad sports and politics

4 Comments
John Warhurst |  25 April 2017

 

Recent adverse coverage of sporting organisations has revealed once again what looks remarkably like widespread organisational dysfunction. It is now all too common and you don't need to be an insider to be appalled by what is happening.

John CoatesSport is such a major part of Australian life that we should all be interested in what goes on within the multi-million dollar organisations that run it, whether it be the big football codes, cricket, tennis or the various Olympic sports. The stakes are huge and the issues, including self-interest, interstate rivalries and personality conflicts are eerily familiar in public life more generally.

The recent major media stories have been further instalments in the long-running battles within the Australian Olympic Committee. Its long-serving president, John Coates (pictured), is being challenged for his $760,000 job by Danni Roche, a former Olympian with the Hockeyroos and a member of the Australian Sports Commission.

Coates and John Wylie, head of the Sports Commission, are not on speaking terms other than on those occasions when Coates' language is allegedly abusive.

The most recent story is based on allegations by a former AOC chief executive, Fiona de Jong, of a culture of workplace bullying within the organisation. De Jong, who resigned after the Rio Olympics, charges the AOC media manager, Mike Tancred, who holds a job worth $320,000, with examples of personal bullying of an appalling type. Others have supported de Jong. Tancred's job is said to rely on support from Coates.

So both their futures will be decided on 6 May when 40 sporting organisations and members of the AOC board vote on the presidency.

At the same time Netball Australia, which runs the national Super Netball competition, is in disarray. Its board has recently terminated its chair, Anne-Marie Corboy, a former senior financial services executive, after less than 12 months in the job.

This was followed by board elections in which the state associations, who control the votes, ousted Kathryn Harby-Williams, a most highly regarded former Australian netball captain. In doing so they disregarded the unanimous views of the players, represented by the Australian Netball Players Association, which, after considering industrial action, staged symbolic protests before their games.

 

"The battle between Coates and Roche bears all the hallmarks of the worst aspects of the in-fighting and personality politics behind Kevin Rudd versus Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott versus Malcolm Turnbull."

 

There are many other similar stories in sporting organisations. They could also be drawn from many areas of the corporate, trade union or not for profit sectors. Whether you regard such conflicts as merely business as usual or as a blot on life, they are common. We tut-tut over the crimes and misdemeanours of young players but pass over the more serious shenanigans at board and senior staff levels.

These insights into the organisation of activities of which we are extremely proud give us a measure of Australian society. They also put into context much of what the public doesn't like about political party and parliamentary politics. Factional battles become more important than talent and performance. Bullying goes unpunished within organisations. And so on. The battle between Coates and Roche bears all the hallmarks of the worst aspects of the in-fighting and personality politics behind Kevin Rudd versus Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott versus Malcolm Turnbull.

This context suggests that we should not kid ourselves that there is anything special about the dysfunction found within politics. Small p sporting politics seems very like large P Party and Parliamentary Politics. This should not be surprising as the two worlds overlap.

Organisational politics, as is found in sporting and other community organisations, is the breeding ground for entry into parliamentary politics. It provides the talent pool of ambitious individuals with proven records and public profiles who find their way into politics. Coates, for instance, could easily have ended up as a senior government minister rather than as president of the AOC. He is already a more important figure in Australian public life than all but a handful of Australian political leaders.

Such organisational leaders are also the peers of our politicians. They meet socially and professionally and share their values. They bring these values into parliament rather than learning them after they get there. Their weaknesses are deeply rooted in Australian society.

 


John WarhurstJohn Warhurst is an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University.

 



Comments

Comments should be short, respectful and on topic. Email is requested for identification purposes only.

Word Count: 0 (please limit to 200)

Submitted comments

A very interesting perspective. Thank you. But if this is a problem, and it surely is, do you have any solution?

John R. Sabine 27 April 2017

Coates' salary says it all. I don't know of any nurses, ambulance paramedics, soldiers in Afghanistan, or social workers on $760,000 a year. Even the PM is on less. I find it hard to see this tawdry internecine brawl as being of any importance to the community, except in so far as it is taxpayer funded. Whoever gets up at the AOC election on 6 May, we will still have concentration camps on Manus and Nauru, and children will still be dying in Yemen, Aleppo and Mosul. Very much a first-world problem.

Peter Downie 27 April 2017

No real surprises here. I agree with Peter's comments. I also think there should be a limit on the time one gets in these jobs. There are disgustingly large egos and a lot of greed involved in the AOC example. Taxpayers should be furious.

Cate 27 April 2017

Thanks John for the sobering look at the disarray so evident today in many organisations. Even the RSL organisation is embroiled in similar issues. Too much money, too many bruised egos. Throw them all out and start again!

Gavin 28 April 2017

Similar articles

Digital solutions to political reform

8 Comments
Kate Galloway | 13 April 2017

People voting using iPhones. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonThere are reasons to be concerned about the capacity of a government to govern in the current brief election cycle, and in dealing with what some describe as a 'hostile senate'. But the networked world we inhabit also calls into question the way in which politicians might be accountable to the public. Rather than focusing on changes to a system of governance derived from a different era, we should be asking what are the implications of emergent technologies on the way in which we are governed.


Waiting for the trickle down effect

16 Comments
Frank Brennan | 10 April 2017

Malcolm Turnbull explains 'trickle up effect' whereby welfare cuts fund corporate tax cutsIn an age of 'budget repair', social policy risks becoming just a sidebar to economic policy which is a contest of ideas about how best to grow the size of the pie thereby providing a slice for 'the deserving poor' without having to redistribute too much of the pie, while 'the undeserving poor' drop off the edge as they would have anyway. For those of us schooled in Catholic social teaching, the so-called 'undeserving poor' are the litmus test of our commitment to the human dignity of all persons.


Marr withers 'White Queen' Pauline

16 Comments
Irfan Yusuf | 05 April 2017

Pauline Hanson on the cover of David Marr's Quarterly Essay The White QueenHanson doesn't pretend to be religious. Her anti-Islam agenda isn't inspired by some rightwing evangelical passion like Danny Nalliah's nor by a conservative moralistic Catholicism like Cory Bernardi's. But she clearly can feel the pulse of many in the electorate who worry about terrorism and national security. Hanson's politics really only work when there is a 'them' for 'us' to worry about. But where does she get this idea that Islam is not a religion but an ideology?


Tackling wealth inequality through justice reinvestment

10 Comments
Ann Deslandes | 31 March 2017

Lady Justice gazes favourably upon restorative justice model. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonAustralia was rated as the top destination for millionaire migrants in 2016 for the second year in a row. Meanwhile the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reveal high correlations between prison entrance and indicators of entrenched poverty and discrimination. If we want our system for justice to amount to something more than a mirror of our inability to distribute wealth and opportunity evenly, we need to address the undeniable role wealth inequality has in putting people in prison.


Job-sharing could make for a more inclusive parliament

3 Comments
John Warhurst | 30 March 2017

Kate EllisThe announcement by Kate Ellis, the 39 year old federal Labor MP for Adelaide, of her retirement at the next election to be with her young son came as a surprise. Several Fairfax journalists were dismayed. Stephanie Peatling issued a challenge: 'It's not people who should have to change to make their lives fit politics as we know it. It's politics as we know it that should change.' The immediate issue is gender balance, but the wider context is all types of diversity in parliament.