Sport Politicians


After 35 years in the sport of swimming and 21 years at the American Swimming Coaches Association, I was invited to attend my first FINA Coaches Commission meeting in Montreal as a member of the Commission. I was surprised, to say the least by my appointment, since in the 90’s, I was viewed as a considerable thorn in FINA’s collective side, on the anti-doping issue.

But time marches ever onward, anti-doping has become popular, FINA has become an anti-doping leader, and my persona apparently became respectable enough to invite to join “the FINA Family” (another phrase which enrages me, but that’s a story for another time.) I am honored to be asked, and to serve.

FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu, a brilliant and highly effective leader, came into our meeting and laid down in no uncertain terms what FINA expected of the FINA Coaches Commission. I, and my fellow Commission Members nodded our heads and started to think about how we could deliver. Cornel’s last task was to introduce us to our FINA Bureau “Liason” who was charged with bringing the work of the Commission to the Bureau for its consideration/approval.

I knew from our friend Peter Daland, first chair of the Coaches Commission, that the role of the Liason was crucial. If the Liason does not either A) Attend the Commission Meeting, B) Pay Attention, C) Like what is being said or D) Bring it forward to the Bureau in an enthusiastic way, the work of the Commission is simply a bunch of nice people sitting in a room talking to each other. And that is exactly what happened in the first incarnation of the Coaches Commission from 2000-2004… the Liason didn’t and the Commission and the Bureau were both frustrated.

The Liason began his introduction with the proud announcement that “my name is _______ and I am a Sport Politician.” I damn near vomited on the spot.

Now the English language is a funny thing. In Australian, to “table a motion” means to bring it to the attention of the group. In American, well, you know what it means in American.

My first thought was that the gentleman MUST mean that… well… what did he mean? Obviously, from the pride with which he said it, the term Sport Politician was something that he thought was a good thing to be. Not me.

You see, I like what the Australians have to say. Sport should be “Athlete Centered, Coach Driven and Administratively Supported..” That’s logical to me. If we’re not in it for the athletes, it means we are in it for money or ego, both of which are pretty sad excuses. If sport is not Coach Driven, who else would know more about a sport than the people who have been involved in it their whole lives… the coaches? Who else WOULD drive? And Why?

And administrators should support the work of the coach and the athlete, or why are they working? Ego or money?

Nowhere in there did the term “sport politician” occur.

Now sports politicians can come from officials, administrative ranks or even coaching ranks. Because you see, the word politician means, according to Mr. Webster, “a person actively engaged in politics, especially party politics, professionally or otherwise;often, a person holding or seeking political office, frequently used in a derogatory sense, with implications of seeking personal or partisan gain;scheming, opportunism; etc. as distinguished from stateman, which suggests able, far-seeing, principled conduct of public affairs.”

Also, “Cunning, using artifice.”

Sounds charming, doesn’t it?

One of the longest held beliefs I know is that of George Block is that contrary to popular belief, we WANT to elect people with “Agendas.”.. but we want the agendas to be public knowledge, openly stated, and designed to advance the good of the sport, not the good of the person.

Clearly, if taken literally, being a Sport Politician is not something to be admired, if one accepts Mr. Webster’s definition.

Coaches, and administrators, need to SERVE the needs of the sport and the athlete. Artifice has no place. Volunteers don’t want to waste their valuable volunteer time in meetings where they are lied to.

We want our elected officials to have an agenda, promote that agenda, work for that agenda, and have that agenda be the centerpiece of their service to the sport.

NOT having the centerpiece being the advancement of that sport politician up the sport politician ranks to greater power and influence where he can advance his agenda of rising even higher within the sport.

Now the bottom line, in the case of FINA, is that from what I have seen, the FINA Bureau Liason to the Coaches Commission is the best of the best… .a man dedicated to doing good work, taking full and vigorous part in all discussions, and then faithfully forwarding the will of the group to the Bureau as any good servant leader should. He’s a fine man, doing a fine job and we’re lucky to have him. But I need to get him a copy of Mr. Webster’s latest.

Reject Sports Politicians. Elect Sports Statesmen with transparent and stated Agendas. Support the person who wants to advance the agenda you believe in.

That’s athlete centered, coach directed and administratively supported. Thanks Australia, a great contribution to world sport.

John Leonard, August, 2006.

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