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Where Woodward can really help

by Matt Slater (U1647490) 09 October 2007
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Olympic golds

Harry S Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, once said: “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

It was exactly the kind of home truth for which this humble man, who ran the world’s most powerful country for eight years from 1945, was famous.

It is also the kind of home truth that the people who run Olympic sport in this country would do well to remember over the next five years.

Unlike the US, we don’t do tidy constitutional arrangements here. We don’t even do constitutions.

The picture, whether it is in the arts, business, politics or sport, tends to be more complicated. So much so that it is often difficult to work out where, to paraphrase Truman’s most quoted maxim, the buck does stop.

Take London 2012, for example. On the sporting side alone, the British Olympic Association (BOA), UK Sport and the governing bodies of the (currently 35, soon to be 33) Olympic sports share responsibility for the preparation of the team that British sports fans hope will deliver shed loads of medals in five years’ time.

But how that responsibility is shared, and who is in charge, is the subject of some debate.

The BOA is the National Olympic Committee mandated by the International Olympic Committee to look after all things Olympic in this country.

It is the BOA that officially picks Team GB for the summer and winter Games, and it is the BOA that manages that team when it is at the Games and in the pre-Games holding camps.

The BOA is independent and privately funded. It was this independence that allowed it to ignore Margaret Thatcher and send a team to the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

But the BOA has never been particularly rich (or, some would say, professional). As a result it has tended to focus on its administrative roles in and around the Games. It is for this reason that it has sometimes, perhaps harshly, been described as a glorified travel agent.

UK Sport, on the other hand, is a government quango set up to distribute public money (although it is increasingly coming from the Lottery) to our elite sports men and women.

It was established in 1996 - largely as a response to Team GB’s dismal showing at the Atlanta Games – and bears many similarities to the all-conquering Australian system.

Over the last 11 years, UK Sport (in conjunction with the English Institute of Sport) has developed a widespread and well-resourced network of support services for elite performance.

But UK Sport is clearly not free from government influence. It is also, by its nature, elitist. At its heart is a virtuous circle that rewards success with a bigger slice of the funding pie.

This is, of course, a rational and transparent way to use public money (and cycling, rowing and sailing keep delivering) but it doesn’t help the talented kid in a less successful Olympic programme, does it?

Which is where Sir Clive Woodward, one of only two Englishmen to actually mastermind a world cup triumph in a major team sport, should come in.

Without doubt an innovator and a proven manager of sporting talent, Woodward could be exactly what those under-performing/under-resourced sports need to contribute to Team GB’s “stretch target” of fourth in the 2012 medal table.

He may also have helpful contributions to make to the sports that are already genuinely world class.

We won 11 golds in Sydney and nine in Athens to finish 10th in the table. Woodward thinks cycling, rowing and sailing can contribute that many themselves in London, but the extra golds we need to get to the 18-20 required will have to come from elsewhere.

So what’s the problem?

Hmm, where do you start?

Woodward has been the BOA’s elite performance director for a year now and it is clear many of the questions that followed his surprise appointment remain unanswered, and new questions have arisen.

Why Woodward? How can one man, with no previous experience of Olympic sport, have any impact across so many different disciplines? What is the BOA up to? How is it going to pay for this? Haven’t we already got elite performance directors at UK Sport? Et cetera, et cetera.

Woodward has come in for a wee bit of criticism for not doing the rounds of British Olympic sport in his first 12 months in the job but I think that’s unfair.

He says he’s been to a cross-section of the sports, here and abroad, and that seems reasonable to me. After all, there are common features in all sports and an endless round of meeting and greeting would not have achieved a great deal.

He has also been working on a template for sporting success that he has based on a golfer called Melissa Reid. Yes, a golfer, and yes, she’s a 19-year-old amateur. That also has raised eyebrows within the Olympic family.

But here too, I don’t think this is the fundamental problem that Woodward represents/faces.

No, my real concerns about Woodward’s role, and more importantly for Team GB’s London preparations, are to do with the relationship between his employers and UK Sport.

The latter was not remotely happy when such a high-profile figure (not known for his observance of diplomatic niceties) arrived on what it sees as its patch. Woodward’s preparation of an “elite performance model” that appears to work outside the UK Sport-funded framework has not helped this perception.

I think one national performance director said it best when he described Woodward’s plan as putting the cart before the horse. What needs to happen first is for the BOA and UK Sport to settle their differences and start working in unison.

Genius is a word that is far too frequently used, particularly in sport. But it’s a word that Woodward likes so I’m going to use it now.

What he and the BOA need to understand is that there are lots of other geniuses already out there (many of them at the sports themselves) and if we can get them working together there is no reason why Team GB cannot meet its 2012 targets.

Perhaps this is a time for Woodward to lead not from the front but from the centre.

Latest 10 comments

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posted Oct 9, 2007

Re Samsbiggestfan's comment on Woodward - "he had only been marginally successful as a player" - he was an England international when they won the Grand Slam and a Lion you idiot!

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posted Oct 9, 2007

Lead from the center indeed. But will people believe in Woodwards plans when his 'sports model' is a rather fit looking 19 year old amature golfer? Hardly awe inspiring really as golf isn't within the mainframe of olympic sports and the model being used will almost certainly be remembered as being well tasty to coin a phrase. I'm sure thats not the intention of using this young lady but wouldn't using an athlete, gymnast, swimmer, rower or sailor or anyone to do with an olympic sport, have stood him in better stead?
That aside i really do think his work is already cut out before he can get the wheels in motion with all the in bickering between the BOA and UK sport. Anything olympic is the resposibility of the BOA, Uk sports role is to fund sports personal in a way that they can hopefully acheive an olympic standard.Thats the way i see it plain and simple, the way it should be. Why do the British complicate things so much. The average person on the street will read that article on BBC sport and think, oh hell we will never get a team together yet alone a medal.
Sir Clive is the right man for the job. He wont stand the nonsense drivelling from UK sports HQ. He will sit back and methodically go through every sport, through the training camps,coaches,accomadation, diets, clothes shoes,everything. And he will put forward his suggestions to the elite performance directors of those sports and work with them in gaining the extra funding. Thats where UK sport step in and help with that funding. If he's not allowed to do this for all the sports then the whole olympic bid will have been a complete waste of time.He has already said that with some of the sports he's been wow'd by the proffessionalism, and he is a bright intelligent man whose not to big to learn from those that have wow'd him and be sure he'll take something away from them and suggest implementing them into other sports.
As in 2003, its not what happens on the pitch, but what happens before you step on the pitch that is important.A well looked after sportsman will always perform well. If the whole thing fails then UK sport need to be and i'm sure will be held accountable.

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comment by U9933646

posted Oct 9, 2007

Melissa Reid ;-)

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posted Oct 10, 2007

I don't get the obsession this country has with Woodward... he talks a good game, is thorough in his planning which for me always looks like it's been over engineered and rakes in loads of cash, for himself.... personally I do not see it...

"He brought professionalism to English sport" -

erm, you mean Rugby Union, a sport so far behind the times that Alex Salmon would make a good president. And do you really credit Woodward with that world cup win? And if he had such a winning formula why did he not repeat it with the Lions... the fact that he brought in the spin meister snale Campbell says it all about this guy... job for the boys!!!

That's not to say I agree with the current structure and format within athletics. A lot needs to change but having this joker at the helm makes me truely wonder what will be achieved... he is sounding more like a politican by the day...

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posted Oct 10, 2007

Unbelievable that Woodward could possibly be considered as an option for developing a sport. The fact is, he left England rugby in a total state of dissarray when he left the RFU. In the final analysis, he won the World Cup, but at the expense of developing any depth in the domestic game. Four humiliating years following 2003 - the laughing stock of world rugby - is an expensive price to pay for World Cup glory. Regardless of the outcome of the current World Cup the past four years are simply not worth it! Even if we were to win the Cup again - in the scheme of things, it's just a one-off tournament and it will still leave us in the bottom half of the pecking order in world rugby. Like the All Blacks, we should aim for excellence all the time - not just think that World Cup glory makes up for everything else. Put Woodward in charge of Olympic Sport, and read Olympics for World Cup - except Olympic athletes don't generally have a long-spanning career, so what about those athletes who reach their prime between Olympics - will they suffer the same humiliation as our rugby players have? Abide by Woodward at your peril.

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posted Oct 10, 2007

What a ridiculous fiasco to say that he is failing after one year in the job. I am, in fact, amazed that so many sports have benifited in short a short tenure. If he can deliver the same level in his next year then I believe he will be exceeding all expectations!

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posted Oct 10, 2007

smiler_inc, I agree it is nonsense to say that he is failing after one year in the job, but it is just as absurd to claim that "so many sports have benifited in short a short tenure" (sic). I have read or heard nothing which suggests that any Olympic sport in Britain has benefited in any way from his input so far.
We are told that he has worked with one 19 year old female golfer and that he is going to share his template for success with Olympic sports at a meeting in November.
I have read Melissa Reid's description of this 'fantastic' programme she has been following and my first thoughts are that it may be revolutionary for golf, but it is nothing new for Olympic sport peformance programmes or their athletes.
I hope Clive is ready for a "so what?" reaction when he unveils his masterplan, if the information about it so far is accurate.

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posted Oct 25, 2007

Excellent article - clearly the priority is resolving the dispute between the BOA and UK Sport.

I also worry about the obsession with elite performance. Is it really so important for GB to finish fourth in the medals table in 2012? Why not try building from the bottom up - increasing participation and grassroots resources - rather than from the top down?

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posted Oct 25, 2007

I will give Sir Clive the benefit of the doubt. He did mastermind a world cup victory with domination of the game before the world cup. All these people blaming him for the decline afterwards, just look at the names who were away with injury and retired. Just give the guy a chance, if we are still here next year asking questions then perhaps we should be asking more questions why he is in the post

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posted Oct 29, 2007

Does anyone actually know what Woodward could or should do to improve any perceived failing sport? Does the BOA know? Does he even know?

What exactly is his power? It's one thing to make observations about the way a sport is run (everyone down the pub's got an opinion!) but it's entirely another to get those concerned to listen and even harder to change anything.

Woodward's problem from the outset is that he is known only for one sport. The top people,i.e., coaches, performance directors and the elite participants of any other sport would naturally be a tad miffed to have him tell them how to do something differently or "better" when they would almost certainly think he knows sod all about their sport!

So what has he actually done so far? Can he provide funding for innovative action? Can he reduce funding for underperformance? Can he hire or fire anyone?

Personally, and with acknowledgement of his achievement as coach to England's World Cup winning team, I think he is very much out of his depth and believe that the BOA with very little insight in to the realities of sporting achievement have employed Clive because they think the dynamics of one sport are the same as any other and success in one must therefore create success in others? Or cynically one might say that someobody in the BOA was a rugby fan and thought it would help their image to have him on the premises?

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