Michael Moynihan: Leadership in a time of crisis proves harder for some

Michael Moynihan: Leadership in a time of crisis proves harder for some

Public service to begin with.

The squeeze is well and truly on now, and there’s no denying it. The urge to get out is rising steadily, index-linked to the encouraging news from the daily briefings on the virus.

But that’s precisely the reason to fight the urge, not to give into it. That encouraging news is the result of a lot of people’s hard work, not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Now is no time for slacking, no matter how tempting the sunlight, how sweet the smell of that freshly-cut glass.

Stay at home. It’ll be worth it.

Onto the frivolity, but the point made above is relevant: You can talk about leadership and direction, but how much of the resistance to the virus is driven by individual responsibility?

Is that analogous to sport?

Your columnist thinks so. There is huge credit due to the likes of Dr Tony Holohan for his clear, calm pronouncements: If you doubt me consider the backlash against the backlash when Minister of Health Simon Harris stumbled last week over the provenance of the term Covid-19.

There was no shortage of voices supporting Harris for what was, after all, an understandable slip given the pressure he has been operating under for the past number of weeks. Compare this to the sporting context you favour, and the performance of that sport’s leaders in this crisis.

Quite a few organisations have conformed to our long-held suspicions, among them the UFC leadership, which had planned to host a fighting tournament on a private island.

The scheme involved fighters coming in from quarantine and then staying on the island while the...

Unfortunately, this plan never came to fruition due to underlying factors such as common sense, which means we were denied the prospect of what was clearly intended to be a remake of Enter The Dragon (original tagline: Their deadly mission: To crack the forbidden island of Han!).

The UFC wasn’t the only sports organisation to consider an island-based tournament. Going back to the start of the month apparently the NRL (rugby league) in Australia considered a holiday resort on another island as a staging post for its games.

Sadly, this never worked out either, which meant the resort manager’s “fleet of high-speed ferries and catamarans” whisking players and spectators to the festivities never roared into life. Quel dommage.

Clearly this kind of boneheadedness sets the bar low for sports administrators the world over, though a few contenders close enough to us are putting their hands up for consideration.

Remember Cheltenham? The narrative being spun about the race meeting — that everything was fine, fine — before it was held got another boost earlier this week, when the UK Culture Secretary said:

The scientific evidence we were being given was that, at a mass gathering, the threat at a mass gathering relates to the people who immediately surround you — the people in front of you and behind you.

“The risk at mass gatherings was no greater or less than it would have been in pubs or restaurants, and the advice at that point was that we did not need to ban mass gatherings.”

Try not to laugh too much at this, particularly after the claim in the Guardian last week that Covid-19 deaths in the Cheltenham area are roughly twice as high as fatalities in nearby areas.

A spokesperson for Cheltenham Festival and the Jockey Club said the event went ahead under government guidance to do so “like other sports events at Twickenham, Murrayfield, 10 Premier League matches and the Uefa Champions League, all with full houses that same week”.

Which is another form of leadership, of course: What about the other people who’ve done the same? Who’s blaming them, eh?

Individual members and units must find it in themselves to make a way forward, and many have gone above and beyond the call of duty in doing so.

Some management reputations have experienced the bacon slicer in comparison. And a few have simply been confirmed for what they are.

‘The Last Dance’ reconsidered

By the time you read this you’ll probably have watched, or had the opportunity to watch, the next two episodes of The Last Dance, the 10-hour Michael Jordan tongue bath on Netflix.

Sorry for the crudity, but now the event flash has faded a little bit — the shock of seeing new sports content has the capacity to knock even the most level-headed sideways — the cold light of day picks out some interesting details to the series.

Jordan’s approval of the entire project has had some people tut-tutting, but even if you’re fine with that, a cursory look at the documentary confirms suspicions harboured by anyone who ever took an interest in Jordan’s career: Great, great player, but the last person on earth you would want to sit next to on the train from Dublin to Cork.

That may not hinder your enjoyment of the documentary. It won’t hinder mine, certainly.

But I can share with you a gem I collected from David Halberstam’s magnificent book about Jordan — Playing for Keeps.

The one thing Jordan couldn’t do on a basketball court was leap from the baseline behind the basket outwards — and upwards —to dunk the ball. This is difficult to manage, because of the double move involved, though it can be done. One of Jordan’s team-mates, the great Scottie Pippen, could do it.

Which drove Jordan crazy.

Players in Spain reluctant to be tested

Professional soccer players in Spain have reacted to the prospect of widespread Covid-19 testing of them to facilitate a return to La Liga.

A statement from the players’ union said: “Footballers have made it clear that other groups in society need tests and access to healthcare equipment more than they do.” That’s a reasonable point.

However, the players also questioned whether their clubs were legally entitled to carry out the testing and voiced concerns that they might be stigmatised by society, if they were seen to be getting tested ahead of other groups.

A couple of weeks ago, I spoke to Jack Anderson, doyen of sports lawyers, and he gave a glimpse of the legal issues that sports might face because of the virus, and here they come.

On a parallel track, if the last 11 rounds of La Liga are not completed, then league authorities face a loss of €1bn.

Parallel mightn’t be the right term, though, because parallel tracks never meet.

In this case, they certainly do.

The British have come

To Tony the postman: Sir, I salute you for your commitment to excellence, but, most of all, I commend you for coming through with the most recent delivery.

I had been hoping that The British Are Coming: The War for America, Lexington to Princeton, 1775-1777, by Rick Atkinson, was somewhere nearby in the postal ether, and, thanks to Tony, it landed last week.

Atkinson’s book got glowing reviews, and, so far, it has more than lived up to the advance word.

Best of all, it’s the first in a projected trilogy.

Roll on Rick, get cracking on those follow-ups.

Contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie

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