Mess up, and own up — The lesson from leading sportsmen that politicians would do well to heed

Our leaders should show more dignity in defeat

Share

Dignity in defeat is not a quality one would necessarily associate with professional sport. Yet between them, the Wimbledon tennis tournament, the Tour de France and this week’s devastating defeat of Brazil in the World Cup have provided examples. I’m thinking of Andy Murray, Mark Cavendish and Luiz Felipe Scolari.

Murray, for instance, reflected on the loss of his Wimbledon crown with a lengthy, unsparing analysis of what had gone wrong – after having first sincerely congratulated his opponent.

This is what Murray said: “The frustrating thing was the amount of mistakes I made today because even when I wanted to get into longer rallies I was missing shots.

I was unable to make [my opponent] work as hard as I needed to, if I was going to get back into the match.” And he added: “The best way to prepare for majors is by winning a lot of matches and I have not done that… I need to go away for a few days, think about a few things, talk to my team about what I am going to do to improve my game and how I am going to get better.”

You would suppose that Murray, Cavendish and Scolari must have drunk fully of the cup of adulation that they have been offered over the years. No doubt Murray and Scolari cannot take a walk down a street in their home countries without being mobbed. Or, and this is the point, perhaps in fact they didn’t drink their fill.

Maybe they wisely said to themselves when surrounded by fans and celebrity-seekers that fame can send you mad – as seems, for instance, to have been the case with the television entertainers who have passed through the criminal courts recently.

Is that why Murray conspicuously humbles himself in public, says frankly what his faults were and promises to work even harder to win Grand Slam championships in the future? In effect he seems to have entered into a pact with his vast army of fans: as you have supported me and cheered me on, so I owe you a full account when things go wrong.

To turn to the second example, when Mark Cavendish literally crashed out of the Tour de France, this rider, whom the French newspaper L’Equipe named best sprinter of all time, simply said: “It was my fault.” An observer described what happened. “He was so sure to win that he probably made a mistake. The rider Simon Gerrans came next to him, slowed down, he wanted to get out, and he pushed with the shoulder and Gerrans pushed back and they crashed.”

Cavendish added: “I’ll personally apologise to Gerrans as soon as I get the chance. In reality, I tried to find a gap that wasn’t really there… I wanted to win today, I felt really strong and was in a great position to contest the sprint thanks to the unbelievable efforts of my team. Sorry to all the fans that came out to support – it was truly incredible.”

Thus Cavendish plans to say sorry to his rival, he apologises to fans and thanks his team. You cannot ask for more than that.

In the very worst of circumstances, even more dreadful than that which Murray and Cavendish endured, Luiz Felipe Scolari, the manager of Brazil, blamed only himself. His words are perhaps still fresh in our minds: “Who is responsible? Who is responsible for picking the team? I am. It’s me … who decided the tactics? I did… I’ll be remembered probably because I lost 7-1, the worst defeat Brazil have ever had, but that was a risk I knew I was taking when I accepted this position.” No self-pity here, no whining, no shifting the blame.

READ MORE
Why I'm leaving teaching today along with thousands of others
Kim Jon-un has the best PR team in the world

Even in defeat, therefore, the three sportsmen have earned respect, which is pure gold compared to the dross of adulation. It is how you deal with failure that matters, not how you handle success.

Apply this to the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman MP, who this week complained that she hadn’t been made Gordon Brown’s Deputy Prime Minister in 2007 after she had won the election for the post.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened?” she asked. And for good measure, she later told the BBC that she expected to become Deputy Prime Minister if Labour won power after the next general election. Were Ms Harman’s remarks dignified? Did they command respect? Not in the slightest I would say.

Who could blame Lady Butler-Sloss for refusing sex abuse inquiry?

The furore over Elizabeth Butler-Sloss’s appointment as head of an investigation into child abuse is following lines so straight and predictable that they could indeed be part of a railway system.

A cabinet minister makes an appointment to a controversial position. The prime minister of the day gives his or her full support. But an argument breaks out over the wisdom of the choice. At first the criticisms are muted.

In this case, it was said that the former judge had clearly been a lifelong member of the establishment and as such was an unsuitable person to deal with the question of whether there had in fact been an establishment cover-up.

On cue, Prime Minister David Cameron reiterates his support. Lady Butler-Sloss vows to get on with the job.

Then the objections become more pointed. It turns out that Lady Butler-Sloss’s brother was Sir Michael Havers, who was Attorney General in the 1980s when a cover-up, if there was one, was supposed to have been happening.

Then we get the damaging allegation that Sir Michael, who died in 1992, refused to prosecute Sir Peter Hayman, a diplomat and member of the Paedophile Information Exchange, a lobbying organisation for child abusers. Whether this is true now has little to do with the predicament in which Lady Butler-Sloss is beginning to find herself.

So the question becomes not whether the Government will withdraw its support. For it will stand by her. Rather the question is whether Lady Butler-Sloss will suddenly see that it is not worth going on. For what awaits her? Conducting an inquiry that has lost authority because of her conflicts of interest, and the likelihood that she will be subject to continuing criticism whether deserved or not.

Yesterday’s newspapers, for instance, carried reports that she had been in charge of a “flawed” investigation into how the Church of England handled the cases of two ministers in Sussex who had sexually abused boys. So gradually her task is being made impossible.

The Government will stay silent. But I guess she will soon withdraw. At the age of 80, shortly to be 81, nobody would blame her. The story will have run its usual course when such difficulties arise.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Would you fork out to spend time on Sting's Tuscan estate?  

Happy to pay for the privilege of picking olives? Then Sting might have a job for you...

John Walsh
Clockwise from top: Zafran Ramzan, Razwan Razaq (main picture), Adil Hussain, Umar Razaq and Mohsin Khan were sentenced for grooming teenage girls for sex in 2010.  

Nothing can make up for the trauma of Rotherham's abused young girls, but many more heads must roll

Jane Merrick
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?