Why Adam Silver and Sir Philip Craven are my sports leadership heroes of the last 12 months

Nick Keller
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
NBA boss Silver took a stand against North Carolina's equality laws (Source: Getty)

If politics entered a post-truth era in 2016, sport entered a post-trust era.

So much of sport is about trust – from your teammates to the coaches and medical team to the administrators that govern the game. Slowly but surely trust has been seeping out of the sports we love, and 2016 was the climax of years of ethical mishaps bubbling under the surface, which have stripped fans of their belief.

Strong, effective and ethical leadership is now needed more than ever.

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From doping at the elite level to a growing and deeply unsettling child protection catastrophe, both have infectiously thrived off the very essence of what sport is about: the desire and determination of a young person to go out and be their very best in a bid for future success.

Both of these incidents tell stories of failure of the institutions that govern; both are being dealt with far too late; both involved cover ups and both leave sport and society all the poorer for it.

Bach needs bravery

It seems that we are no longer shocked by what we hear or what happens as a result. Headlines come and go, right? After being let down time and time again, the sporting public are becoming numb to these tragic affairs.

The complicit nature of the Russian government in doping is a stain on sport. The handling of it was a catastrophic failure in leadership.

Thomas Bach may be bringing a bucket load of pragmatism to the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but it is vision and bravery that is required to run such a powerful and influential global organisation.

Scudamore's challenge

The Premier League continues to thrill on a global scale and its chief executive Richard Scudamore has been single minded in his commercial drive, keeping to the task of delivering to his key stakeholders – the clubs – with phenomenal success.

Along with a new rebrand comes a repositioning of the Premier League to a softer approach in society and much needed power internationally.

In 2017 my feeling is that Richard Scudamore will experience his most challenging times as a leader.

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He is clearly passionate about child protection in sport, but there is a huge level of responsibility sitting with the clubs.

I will be particularly interested to see how the “cash for silence” stories play out.

The Premier League could find itself stuck in the middle, and there are ethical and moral questions here that drive straight to the heart of sport and society.

Silver shines

So as I forage deep around sport for some nuggets of leadership gold, fortunately there are still some shining examples of bravery and compromise to discover.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver recognised from day one the precious commodity sport can bring to communities and the positive commercial power it can bring to cities.

This year, the 2017 All-Star Game was moved after the NBA objected to a North Carolina law limiting anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people.

This represented a loss to the city of $100 million. A simple message: human rights matter and we will not bring our showpiece to your city if not all people are allowed to join the party.

Silver is a no-nonsense social warrior and is also going to be one to watch as the USA transitions to a very different type of political leader. It was bold and visionary leadership and not without its risks.

Craven: anything but

Sir Philip Craven, meanwhile, who has led the International Paralympic Committee(IPC) since 2001, is outspoken, forthright and occasionally clumsy amongst the politics in sport, but he is determined to do right and has shown humility when required.

While the IOC made excuses, the IPC took a totally different stance on Russia and doping – zero tolerance – and the week before the Rio 2016 Games Craven issued a full suspension of the Russian Paralympic team, not just challenging the IOC’s position, but also very much removing himself from President Putin’s Christmas card list in the process.

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In his last year as IPC president he was under immense pressure from all directions. He could have easily left the mess to others. He did not. He could have followed the IOC in passing the decisions onto the individual sports. He did not.

In a post-truth, post-trust era, the likes of Sir Phil and commissioner Silver have offered us true glimmers of hope, as sport on the pitch continues to deliver some magical moments.

Sporting highlights

My personal highlights this year included Team GB’s inspiring women's hockey team, Leicester City improbably hijacking the Premier League and Eddie Jones’s remarkable turnaround of the England rugby team.

All are perfect examples of the importance of cohesion in a team, working towards a united and simple purpose.

Finally, as we reflect on this tumultuous year that has been hallmarked by a sense of fragmentation and uncertainty, we can yet again reflect on how sport can bring us together and generate so much passion in our lives.

This rare connection – which crosses generations, race, religion and colour – is a powerful antidote to the sense of division we might feel right now.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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