Edition number 26; dateline 31 March 2010

In with a bullet: the real leading lights of sport

Stop Press: Baroness Campbell has only been selected at position 34 in The Times’ most powerful people in sport list for 2010. Top of the list was the England (men’s) football manager – after all who else could possibly be at the top? But Sue, who arguably has one of the most influential positions in British sport, can take comfort from the fact that she was only just behind Andy Murray (33), the minister for sport (32) and Norbert Haug (31). For those of you wondering, Norbert Haug is the competition director for Mercedes and the Baroness did come in ahead of Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee. Is that something to celebrate? What is perhaps a little more worrying is that the controller of Radio 5 Live came in ahead of both the minister for sport and the Olympics minister, although we should be comforted that David Beckham is number 11, so sport is safe, at least for the rest of 2010.

On your behalf, I scoured the list of 100 people said to be the key drivers of sport and found that approximately 16 of these esteemed folk could have some influence on the development of sport. In this short list I include David Beckham in his role of providing the Beckham Academy. It’s a generous ‘give’ perhaps, but he is trying. More worryingly, I am including Roger Draper, chief executive of the Lawn Tennis Association, when there is no mention of Ian Drake, chief executive of British Cycling. Drake was the man who brokered the deal with Sky that is responsible both for funding our elite cycling teams and also the huge Sky Rides initiative aimed at increasing recreational cycling. I have also included Niels de Vos, chief executive of UK Athletics, but there was no mention in the paper’s list of any swimming people, which is surely one of our largest participation sports. I don’t wish to comment on the effectiveness of any of the listed individuals – that is an entirely different subject – but one has to wonder at how this list of power in sport is compiled.

Being the inquisitive type, I looked up the judging criteria. I found that each of the candidates for The Times “Power 100” has been assessed across this series of “demanding categories”:

Influence those in their sports or business. “We are looking for people who are at the top of their professions, the ones others strive to emulate and whose methods become a template for their industry.”

Influence across sports and business. “Few manage to break out of the bubble that encloses their environment, but the best become known across all boundaries.”

Impact, for good or bad, throughout sport. “Be they players, managers, agents, public relations advisers or sponsorship specialists. How do the ripples spread out from them?”

Impact on the grass roots. “Not everyone works in the grass roots but what they do, who they work for and how can filter down to the park playing fields or the small clubs seeking a day-to-day sponsor.”

Esteem. “It is not enough to be the best, we want our Power 100 to be looked up to for all the right reasons. Few achieve national esteem but many can hold their heads up in their chosen professions.”

These criteria, on the face of, it aren’t too bad. I worry a little about the “impact good or bad” but this list is about power not about how nice someone is. So why am I still confused at some of the decisions? Try measuring Bernie Eccelstone (10) against the “esteem” criterion and even the “influence those in their sport or business” one, when we have been told the listees should be “the ones others strive to emulate and whose methods become a template for the industry”. Perhaps the “impact, for good or bad, throughout sport” had a larger weighting than the other criteria on the list? I leave you make up your own mind.

I shouldn’t let myself be surprised by this list from one of our national newspapers, although I suppose I am still a little depressed that one of the ‘quality’ papers isn’t willing to look much beyond football and the other highly commercial professional sports. Especially as they are a key partner in the women’s sports personality of the year awards. However, when you look at the judges of the Power 100 – their chief sports correspondent, their football editor and one of their correspondents, albeit the sports journalist of the year – the surprise starts to lessen. Any discussion with journalists from the national press tends to centre on what they tell us the “readership” wants to read about, which is primarily football. Don’t get me wrong, I like football. I am often seen lurking around various league football grounds (three this week alone) but I do worry when I see lists such as the one produced by The Times. If Fabio Capello is the most powerful person in sport how are we ever going to be able to use him to champion the needs of the whole sport community? I am sure he is a great football manager (not that I am really qualified to judge) but how is he going to make a difference to young people in rural Lincolnshire, Cornwall or the Scottish Highlands who want to play and get better at sport? The power of the media around football can inspire youngsters to play the game in the outer reaches of the country, especially with the World Cup on the horizon, but can we really put that inspiration down to Mr Capello, however good he is at his job? People who can influence both the elite end of sport and directly ensure everyone has the opportunity to have a go surely have to be the most powerful people in sport?

I know that it is unforgivable but I just took a break from writing this column and nipped out in my car. On the radio was a wonderful piece on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour about Manchester City Football Club. It was almost as if someone from the programme had been reading The Tub. The programme told the story of Anna Connell who is the only woman to reportedly have founded one of this country’s major football clubs. Within 24 years of Anna, daughter of the local vicar, knocking on every door in the Gorton area of Manchester to gain the interest of local men ‘to change their lives’, the club had won the FA Cup final. Anna’s driver wasn’t football but the desire to “give local men something to do, to keep them out of trouble and crucially out of the pub”. There was a particular problem in the area which was a form of gang warfare called ‘scuttling’ which she wanted to address. Does it all sound familiar? Additionally, she wasn’t only concerned for the men but for their families who suffered when they became violent after drinking and, of course, when they spent all the family’s money in the pub, not on food. The men she persuaded to come along to her local meetings. They  started playing cricket and took up football to keep fit for the following year’s cricket season.

The project she had embarked upon started to work but when the attendance started at one point to wane she didn’t give up and she persisted in building numbers back up. Now we see Manchester City near the head of affairs, one of the richest clubs in the country with a very “powerful”, or at least very rich, owner. Manchester City still have a very good community programme working with a wide range of people as well as boasting the sixth-placed person in The Times’ power list. But surely Anna is the really powerful one, even in 2010, when her work is being continued at all levels of the community?

I was originally going to write this column about data and inspiration. It was going through my head how the tedious collection of data we are all now driven towards on a daily basis tends to stifle inspiration but as I read this list of people I started to think that the fantastic evidence, which I know is being collated, should be an exciting way of influencing people in all sorts of ways. Rather than be depressed about the endless push towards the glamour and glitz of sport, represented by The Times list, why can’t we play them at their own game? The media love lists, well surely we can give them to them? We have the information to hand and the capacity to sell the story. After all, if we can persuade a group of people with mental health to play sport or a group of people over 70 to start exercising, or 45 women to return to playing netball after a long break from sport (well done Active Tibshelf by the way!) surely we can begin to influence the media? A journalist, whose boss made number four on the list, was giving some advice to a group I was with this week and he suggested that Wednesdays and Sundays were really good days to influence their organisation, which he described as “a big, hungry beast which needs constant feeding 24/7”. If you can give folk like that some food to put into “the beast” then they will be delighted. Just don’t expect that all of it will be accepted as the beast can also be like a difficult toddler, throwing its food back at you just as often as it consumes it.

However, I stray from my original train of thought which was around powerful people in sport and the concern that those on the list, or at least those near the top, aren’t the ones I would like to see being recognised as powerful. I will try to leave you with some hope. Although three of the most powerful people in British sport – Tessa Jowell, Baroness Campbell and Jennie Price – are a little lower than I would like to see on any list, they have all made significant moves upwards on the hit parade since last year. Just like Anna Connell in nineteenth century Manchester, we need to keep trying to send out our messages and perhaps, just perhaps, even the journalists of the national media might pay heed.



Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.


The Leisure Review featured an article by Nick Reeves on the founding of football clubs for social and community motives in the December 2007 issue. See the features page or this direct link.


To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.


Tales from a tub
the last word in contemplative comment on the leisure industry

last edition


other news

Kay Adkins, hot tub correspondent
Kay Adkins, hot tub correspondent

“I shouldn’t let myself be surprised by this list from one of our national newspapers, although I suppose I am still a little depressed that one of the ‘quality’ papers isn’t willing to look much beyond football and the other highly commercial professional sports. ”

an independent view for the leisure industry








about us

contact us