Sporting organisations and Crisis Management

A crisis is an activity or event that has a negative impact on individuals and the environment in which they operate. At times the environment as well as the number of individuals and organisations impacted can be very extensive.
In an article, Tyrone James cited the definition of crisis from the Merriam-Webster as an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome; a situation that has reached a critical phase.
Crises are prone to occur everywhere and at any given time without notice. They can be devastating to an individual, organisation, a community or country.
In the realm of sport crises occur with great frequency. We have seen stands collapse killing scores of enthusiastic fans; brutal fights between fans and at times between fans and players; and of course, we have had doping scandals galore in virtually any sport. It is common for athletes to seek legal recourse for matters such as omission from national teams.
When crises occur the affected organisation has a responsibility to respond appropriately.
Organisations often seek to avoid crises occurring in the first place. However since crises cannot always be predicted an organisation that is mature and responsible would seek to develop a Crisis Management Plan that can be put into effect once a crisis looms on the horizon.
Crisis Management theory is well known and remains an area of active debate as organisations face new challenges in the rapidly changing realm of international, regional and local sport.
The National Olympic Committee (NOC) of St Vincent and the Grenadines, as part of its Continuing Olympic Education Programme (COEP) will tomorrow, Saturday 16 April, conduct the first of a two-part workshop on Crisis Management for national sports associations and other sports organisations in this country. The second part would take place on 30 April 2011.
Former executive member of Team Athletics St Vincent and the Grenadines (TASVG) and consultant to both TASVG and the NOC, Tyrone James, would conduct the workshop.
The practice of sport in SVG
None of the national sports associations and organisations in St Vincent and the Grenadines is in possession of a Crisis Management Plan. This is indicative of the low level of attention given to this very important area of concern. However, we have had our fair share of crises in local sport.
Several years ago an athlete from Bequia attending the St Vincent Grammar School collapsed and died while participating in a road relay.
When Rodney ‘Chang’ Jack, one of this country’s leading footballers, got injured he found himself in dire straits and there was no plan in place at the level of St Vincent and the Grenadines football to address it.
National Sports Associations using Arnos Vale Sports Complex and many other sports facilities across the country for local competitions find it virtually impossible to find a locally based insurance company willing to provide public liability insurance. This leaves everyone – players, officials and patrons, totally exposed. This is a crisis already in existence in many respects. Thankfully we have not had any serious incidents that caused legal action to be pursued but it is a most worrisome reality.
Many of our playing fields are still open and animals use them during the day for forage. They leave their droppings on these fields and thus create a severe health hazard to the sportspeople who use them on afternoons.
In athletics there was the case of Natasha Mayers and the positive drug test. Happily in this matter there was an already established procedure, which is mandatory. It was included in the Constitution of TASVG several years ago because the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) insisted upon it given that organisation’s own experiences with litigation. Some other international sports federations have adopted a similar approach in respect of the process to be followed in the unlikely event that an athlete tests positive.
In many respects little attention is paid to anticipating crises in sport. What happens is all ad hoc. We seek to remedy the situation after the fact with much confusion.
The Crisis Management
James cites Fink (2002), and noted that he simplified the ability to identify a crisis, noting that a situation was in danger of turning into a crisis if it was escalating in intensity, came under close media or other oversight or regulatory scrutiny, interfered with the normal flow of business, jeopardize the positive public image enjoyed by the organization or its officers and/or damages a company’s bottom line in anyway.   If any or all of these developments occur the situation would most likely take a turn for the worse. According to James, It therefore follows that if a situation runs the risk of escalating in intensity, that situation if caught and dealt with early enough would have a completely different outcome. He insists, This is the function and purpose of crisis management.
Not surprisingly therefore, James suggests, Crisis management involves the identification of the prodromes (or warning signs) and the application of appropriate measures to prevent a turning point.  Crisis management therefore deals with prevention.  It also involves environmental scanning and issues management such that crisis potential situations and industry type threats are identified early (even if at the time they are not threatening your organization) and appropriate actions taken to address them.
Sporting organisations are well into the planning and administration of a range of activities that involve several stakeholders. They all develop reputations over time which they seek to preserve and enhance as often as possible. Crises can impair the reputation of any organisation, especially those involved in sport. Sponsors, for example, may withdraw their support for a particular team if the players of the latter are seen as engaging in behaviour with which they do not wish to be associated. We have seen this in the case of Tiger Woods following his domestic problems. It was noteworthy that some of the sponsors actually went public in this regard. In a sense, what they were doing was withdrawing their support for him because they deemed his conduct contrary to their core values.
Some sponsors seem to think that an organisation’s inability to deal with crises exposes them to such an extent that their core business may be negatively impacted.
Communities may also turn their backs on the athletes from their area if they feel that their conduct is likely to give them a bad reputation.
Inadequate crisis management could mean significant losses for an individual athlete or organisation.
It is interesting to note the way in which sporting organisations and individuals respond to crises. In some cases one finds that the individual athlete allows his lawyer to do the talking. In others the individual or organisation involved in the crisis allows the public relations department to do the talking through one who is the designated spokesperson.
Usually however, the management crisis plan ensures that there is a crisis management team in place should any crisis appear to be pending. This team must involve an expert in the particular field, a public relations expert, a legal counsel, the spokesperson for the organisation as well as the head of the organisation.
Faz Hakim of Karian and Box ( reminds us that in planning for a potential crisis the following steps are critical:

  1. 1. Work out what might go wrong and what you would do in each scenario.
  2. 2. Get your story and messages straight.
  3. 3. Build a plan of who does what, when, where.
  4. 4. Make sure you know who you need to speak to when a crisis hits and where you can reach them.
  5. 5. Get the face and voice of your organisation ready and coach them until they are ready.

The NOC’s Continuing Olympic Education Programme is designed to ensure that the affiliates of the organisation are appropriately equipped for their roles and responsibilities as national governing bodies (NGB) for the respective sports in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
A series of courses are offered at different levels.
Sports administrators at primary, secondary and tertiary levels are all offered leadership training. The same training is offered to the community sports leaders in the country.
Coaches also receive special attention as do the technical officials of the various sports. The athletes are not left out of the training programme as education programmes are also offered to them in respect of how they must recognise and be imbued with the positive values attendant to sport.
There are programmes for children, mature adults and seniors. No one is left out.
The NOC has also been focusing on the promotion of sport art amongst Vincentians.
The COEP involves all of the Commissions of the NOC – Education and Culture, Sport for All, Women and Sport and Sport and the Environment – all of which fall under the National Olympic Academy (NOA), the educational arm of the NOC.
The decision to focus this particular workshop on Crisis Management has to do with the understanding of the significant weaknesses in this all-important aspect of sport management development in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
One would hope that the various affiliates and other sporting organisations that have been invited to participate in the workshop would seize the opportunity, prepare a Crisis Management Plan for their respective organisations and ensure that these are enshrine din their By Laws henceforth.
We cannot afford to be caught unawares in any aspect of our sport development process.
If we are to facilitate the cultivation of a national sports culture we must work together to ensure that become proficient in all aspects of sport. Crisis Management has to be an essential ingredient of the emerging national sport culture.