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August 06, 2012



If the Olympics is a really about management technique, can we use the eventual winner to determine whether America or China has the best management system?

As to why we can't turn around a business in fifteen years, well, the "generation time" in sport is much shorter; after fifteen years a ten year old will be approaching the the peak of their athletic powers (cf twenty-five year old Andy Murray). But in business, you're looking at—what?—forty years to reach the top.

Ian C

Agree with all this, but the point that we are excellent at applying business techniques to non-business activities needs a significant qualification. We are definitely world leaders in insisting on doing this, and persuading elites that it makes sense, but the results are mixed, to put it mildly. As someone who once inherited a botched PFI contract to oversee (and is there any other kind?), I suspect that a lot of the transfer of business philosophy has made parts of the public and voluntary sector less successful and more liable to the kinds of dysfunction you see in the UK private sector.

The Golden Silence

The reference to the Soviet Union's sporting ideology appears apposite, it's just been diluted and updated for our "post-ideological" society... This PR behemoth is about stemming the flight from the Union of the celtic nations (Murray and the Welsh guys playing football), relegating economic misery and foreign policy inadequacy (Syria) to the section after (!) the sports news, and encouraging property-based speculation in London (because we all know how well that worked the last time).

Let's not forget this system of "picking winners" has been funded by State monies - whether it was as infrastructural investment, (re-)direction of lottery funds or public broadcasting's support of the endeavour in the attraction of sponsorship to individuals and teams. Go, Team Sky! Go, Team GB.

If someone had the ludicrous idea of dedicating that amount of money, labour and commitment to public services, or even industrial policy, that would be interesting. Not least because I'm sure we have enough performance systems, league tables and the like to start apportioning medals...

Will Davies

In answer to Pete, there is some sort of analogy here, in that Chinese competitiveness is still based in surplus quantity of labour, whereas (at least the rhetoric says) US competitiveness is about quality/training.

Amusingly, this blog post has been widely tweeted... in Australia. In 2008, they accused GB of only succeeding in the 'sitting down sports'. Now they can add sociology as grist to the mill!


1st PM to care deeply about sport?

Clement Attlee, cricket obsessive. Or Ted Heath, who actually competed in serious sport while in office, paying his own way?* Countless Tories, horses and blasting grouse out of the sky.

I take it you're defining sport as "sports I care about"? Or "sport excluding the posh ones, and cricket even though it's not necessarily posh outside Lord's but it's sort of tory-y except for Attlee but then he achieved stuff and therefore wasn't a proper socialist, QED"?


I think related to English football's failure is the issue of coaching; you take a standard empiricist approach which scorns the very notion of coaching education and add in the poisonous short-termist politics of the game (which arise out of managerialism; all the actors are relentlessly focussed on private goals, not sports-wide concerns).

In germany, the clubs came together with the national association to deliver the reforms which have subsequently borne fruit. They didn't see their interests as opposed, but complimentary. Not so here, where the larger clubs have consistently been focussed on their own goals and seen them as mutually exclusive to something called 'the national interest'.

It helps that in Germany, clubs are essentially mutuals, and enforced as such, whereas here, they have always been private fiefdoms which increasingly saw their self-interest from the 1980s onwards in light of neo-liberal canards (as opposed to previous decades of self-interest, which was essentially feudal enjoyment of property by lords).

In Germany too, there's a stronger approach to regulation (because the clubs have not managed to neuter the governing body) and comfort with theory. In England, the team manager of a club in the Premier League must have the UEFA Pro licence. In Germany, that extends to every member of the coaching staff down to the third tier of football. UEFA A and B licences are required for working at amateur and junior clubs respectively; here such are 'aspirations'.

Will Davies

Interesting, Dave. One curiosity is that sufficient money and oligarchic desire *does* seem capable of turning around a Premiership club, albeit by changing all of the players along the way. Whereas sufficient money and desire does not seem capable of turning around the England team. Fabio Capello's appointment and pay-packet was basically an attempt to ape the success of Chelsea/Mourinho (and now Man City/Mancini), though I think Capello was paid *even more*. But the strategy failed miserably.

Obviously Capello couldn't simply upgrade the squad, but then the quality of the individual players was supposedly not a problem circa 2008.


The causes of England's failures are long debated, and in many respect work as a Rorschach test for what one feels are problems anyway (lack of desire / too much money / decline in national affect / too many foreigners etc).

What is clear is that England doesn't suffer from the lack of resources to tackle this issue should it wish to do so; in other words, this is a failure of politics, not economics. It's also clear that there is a stunning failure for the bigger clubs to conceive of having any role in creating conditions for the national team to succeed. Partly that's unsurprising; most of the owners of top clubs owe national allegiance - if at all - to someone other than England.

But the problem long predates that, and is more related to the longstanding split between the Football League and the FA, where the latter saw the former as cannibalising its resources.

Money can be deployed at club level, because the club has primacy; it employs the players and pays their salaries and none need the national body to help (unlike most sub Premiership rugby clubs, and most county cricket clubs). It's no surprise to me that the only time English football has progressed in the modern era on its own efforts, it did so at a time when clubs were still in an economic funk, and players couldn't achieve glory through club football due to the European ban.

Account Deleted

England's ranking in football is an accurate reflection of its resources. Last 8 in Europe and last 16 in the world are a fair return. We unreasonably expect more because of historical conceit and the relative over-performance of our domestic clubs in Europe (largely a money factor).

Germany have more resources (i.e. quantum of decent players) so normally do a bit better. This is thrown into greater relief by their domestic clubs relative underperformance. Spain are benefiting from a golden generation (this does happen, and largely by chance) and the relative contrast of historic underperformance. Like France before them, they will fade back to roughly England's level in a decade.

Team GB have done relatively well at the Olympics because the sports are biased so heavily towards areas we indulge/invest in, such as rowing, cycling, dancing horses etc. If the sports chosen were only those played by a majority of the world's population, and the number of medals reflected the scale of participation, then GB would probably be around 16th in the table.

Team GB's 3rd position (at the mo') tells us more about the sociology of the Olympics than it does about Britain.

Will Davies

I know what you mean, but it's ironic that you use the expression 'England's ranking', given this new absurdity.

This chunk from the BBC article I link to is significant, in view of your comment:

"We have identified four sports where there is virtually no chance that anyone from a poor country can win a medal - equestrian, sailing, cycling and swimming," says Prof Forrest.

He points to a study suggesting there is one swimming pool for every six million people in Ethiopia.

Wrestling, judo, weightlifting and gymnastics, he says, tend to be the best sports for developing nations.

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