Giving yourself a sporting chance

March 10, 2016 by Alex Johnson


The resignation of Sunderland FC’s Chief Executive, Margaret Byrne, and Maria Sharapova’s admission of a drugs test failure, are classic examples of individuals operating at opposite ends of the crisis management spectrum.

Maria’s press conference at the start of the week put her firmly in control of her story. She was breaking the news to the media and explaining her version of events. The press conference was calm and measured. She appeared contrite and took responsibility for her actions. By making this bold gesture she successfully took the sting out of the scandal and garnered support from loyal fans. And, whilst it may not make a difference to a potential ban, her actions have gone someway to protect the ‘Sharapova’ brand.

By contrast, Margaret Byrne’s resignation following the Adam Johnson child sex abuse case had a very different feel. It comes after Johnson’s conviction called into question the decision she made to allow him to continue playing for the club, despite facing trial.

In comparison to Sharapova’s proactive positioning earlier this week, Byrne’s actions and Sunderland’s statement seem both reactive and laced with embarrassment and shame. Sunderland, under the leadership of Ms Byrne made poor decisions that failed to reflect the club’s clearly documented safeguarding policy regarding children’s welfare. This bad judgement resulted in the club and Ms Byrne finally acknowledging that her position had become untenable.

Both these situations demonstrate that control in a crisis, be it timing or message, is critical to stakeholder perception. They also emphasise the importance of being true to your values. Decision making during a crisis is hugely challenging, invariably you will be time and information poor, however, using your values to guide the thought process will ensure that from a reputational perspective you make well-judged choices.

For more advice on how to take control in a crisis, read our report Crisis Management: The Acid Test of Leadership.


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Winner of Consultancy of the Year at CIR Business Continuity Awards 2023

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Finalists for Specialist Consultancy of the Year at CIR Business Continuity Awards 2020 & 2023

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Finalists in 2023 Great British Entrepreneur Awards: Service Industries category

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Winner Specialist Business Book of the Year 2021 at The Business Book Awards (Crisis Proof)

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Finalists in the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards 2021: Purpose Before Profit category

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Finalists in the Business Champion Awards 2021: Champions in a Crisis category

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Finalists for Business Advisor of the Year at the 2021 Growing Business Awards

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Shortlisted for BCI Europe Awards 2023: Continuity and Resilience Consultant category