Around The Bases: Sochi Olympic Games Edition

Posted on January 27, 2014 | in Baseball, Leadership, Manufacturing, Problem Solving, Quality, Respect For People, Safety, Sports | by

sochi 2014 olympics logo

The Sochi Olympic Games begin in a couple of weeks – a lot more attention is being given to the enormous cost of hosting the Games, the LGBT uproar, and the questionable security than the games themselves.

First, the security concerns with suicide bomber and terrorist threats already have made some American athletes at the last second reconsider having their families attend the Sochi Games. But what about the athletes themselves?

The U.S. Ski and Snowboarding Association has hired Global Rescue, a security company, that will have up to six aircraft on standby for medical or security emergencies.

This is in addition to the two U.S. warships in the Black Sea and U.S. aircraft on alert at bases in the region, as the Pentagon put it, for all manner of contingencies.

And such rescue operations require coordination between the U.S. Olympic Team officials and Russian security officials. How will that work?

Any American rescue operation would depend heavily on (President Vladimir Putin)’s approval, security experts say. And that’s unlikely if not impossible.

“As far as being able to do things without Russian cooperation, it’s basically a nonstarter,” said Andrew Weiss of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Russia expert in the Clinton White House and an NBC News analyst.

“This is their territory, their country,” he said. “They get to decide what kind of outside help they need.”

While it’s understandable that Russian leaders would have to grant approval…it’s also not outside help for Russia but for the United States athletes. Diplomatic tensions are already high between the two countries and failure to work together in the event of an emergency won’t help those tensions.

And then we have the costs of holding the Games in Sochi. Initially estimated to be about $12 billion, they have ballooned to a reported $50 billion, a lot of which is caused by the allegedly-corrupt business dealings.

(Former deputy prime minister Boris) Nemtsov, along with Leonid Martynyuk, issued an updated report late last year that stated that between $25 billion to $30 billion spent on the Games has been stolen or skimmed off the top by construction firms and other business interests that they claim are friends of Putin’s.

“The Games are nothing but a monstrous scam,” Newtsov said, according to The Daily Telegraph. Nemtsov is a Sochi native.

Despite the extravagant costs for new infrastructure and facilities that, if history is any indication, will become ruins due to non-use, Sochi apparently couldn’t afford to install a simple accessory in the men’s restroom of one arena.

sochi toilets mens room

Financial prudency at its finest.

At least one city is finding that hosting the Winter Olympics is not a sound financial investment. Stockholm has dropped out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Games because of the enormous costs involved for rarely-used infrastructure and equipment installations.

”To organize Winter Games would mean a big investment in new sports facilities, for example for the bobsled and luge,” Regina Kevius, the mayor in charge of sports events, said. ”There isn’t any need for that type of that kind of facility after an Olympics.”

The city’s top mayor, Sten Nordin, who also in charge of finances, said the Swedish Olympic Committee had done comprehensive work on the plan.

”Although the calculations are thorough, we estimate that revenues will likely be lower and costs higher than the investigation indicate,” he said in a statement.

Simple and brilliant. I wish more governments operated this way – advanced planning and no forced rushed decisions, objective decision making held in higher esteem than ego, and avoiding the hubris Russia is likely going to encounter.


Mark Emmert NCAA

Earlier this month the NCAA held a convention for over 800 Division I athletic directors and associates in what was deemed by Mark Emmert and the NCAA as a “governance dialogue” about changes and enormous redesign of Division I athletics. Instead, according to attendees, it became more of a corporate retreat and semi-boondoggle instead of actually accomplishing seriously-needed NCAA reform.

This was no more than a typical corporate retreat. As several industry officials told in some form, “This is all for show.”

– snip –

Six months after oft-maligned president NCAA Mark Emmert sent a letter inviting members to this “important milestone,” with several power conference commissioners at that time publicly calling for “transformative” NCAA change, 800 people flew from all corners of the country to be greeted with … dotted lines.

This sort of confusion occurs when there is a serious lack of strategic thinking from the top of the organization and a lack of proper communication through the rest of the organization.

If Emmert and the NCAA were to use Lean thinking and genuine strategic application, they would first establish their mission and vision:

Interestingly, a previously bland Q&A session didn’t truly heat up until moderator Jean Frankel, the NCAA’s outside management consultant (think “the Bobs” from Office Space), showed a slide entitled “NCAA Core Values” (page 14), first adopted in 2004. She’d made a seemingly innocuous remark about the need to reevaluate the list annually, to which someone replied, astutely, they aren’t core values if you change them every year.

And then the audience sprang to life.

“I’m concerned that our first core value isn’t ‘graduation of our athletes,'” said one faculty athletics representative. Touche.

Another questioned why they didn’t begin the entire discussion with values, not board composition. Another faculty rep suggested that schools weren’t currently living up to multiple items on the list.

Uh oh.

The Sports Illustrated article contains some other great notes and anecdotes about balance of power, the lack of a genuine plan, lack of clarity in the reporting structure. (Note: I am in favor of re-evaluating core values frequently, not with the intent of changing them but to reaffirm that they continue to be the core values necessary and using them to guide decisions down the line. Better than letting them turn into dust-covered words in a frame on a wall no one notices anymore.)

So how does this get fixed? Yes, the core values and mission/vision need to be solidified first. The NCAA also needs to continually confirm what its objective and purpose are, and always answer “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?” when considering making changes down the line.

But nothing should come before establishing objective/purpose/core values/mission/vision. The fact that they are not established nor is what is in place fully adhered to should tell you a lot about the NCAA.


From the world of bobbleheads, we have a couple of defects that have come to light.

First off, last season the Sacramento River Cats held a Barry Zito bobblehead giveaway night. At the time, Barry Zito was a pitcher for the San Francisco Giants (but as of today he is a free agent).

barry zito bobblehead

Looks sharp, right? Well…Barry Zito is a left-handed pitcher. This bobblehead body is of a right-handed pitcher (or defender). Whoops.

And then there’s this. Courtesy of Uni Watch, someone spotted a couple of Mets bobbleheads with a certain body abnormality (you know, aside from the giant baseball head):

mets bobblehead oops

The left hands on those two fellows in the middle look awfully uncomfortable and perhaps defective. Quality control probably wasn’t as good back then when these figures were made. Unfortunately Barry Zito shows that it’s still not perfect.


Lastly, Seth Godin’s blog post from Saturday [Measuring nothing (with great accuracy)] is about metrics and how it’s important to measure the right things instead of the easy things.

Baseball teams used to measure a hitter’s greatness and value by the number of home runs hit or batting average. Smarter minds are now measuring a hitter’s value relative to winning ballgames such as on-base percentage and Wins Above Replacement because the primary goal of a baseball team is to win the game. Give Seth’s blog a read.

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