Global-Minded Leadership in Sport
The world’s two most popular sports are soccer and cricket with 3.5 and 2.5 billion fans respectively. Although in the United States, sports fans are primarily devoted to four major professional sports together with NCAA football and basketball much of the rest of the world’s attention is focused elsewhere. The NFL’s global fan base of approximately 500 million fans causes barely a ripple outside of North America. In light of the above, what does it mean to be a “global minded” sports leader and why does it matter?
With reductions in transportation costs, and a liberalization of visa and immigration requirements, today’s most talented athletes have become migratory workers crossing geographic boundaries to apply their skills beyond their home borders. The draw of top professional leagues has transformed these organizations into highly diverse, multicultural work environments. Twenty percent of NBA players come from 40 over different countries and one-third of MLB players are foreign born. This phenomenon is not exclusive to US professional leagues. The English Premier League is the most diverse and globalized league in the world with two-thirds of its players originating from outside of England. The migratory movement of these athletes is unprecedented and will likely accelerate as the pace of globalization quickens.
Although the movement of professional athletes is apparent, university students are on the move also. Today, more than 3.3 million students study at higher education institutions outside their own country, a 65 percent increase from a decade ago. By 2020, that number is expected to double again, to about 7 million. With the surge in upgrading and modernizing athletic facilities as a result of university sports conferences commanding billions of dollars for their broadcast and media rights, the US university sports environment will continue to attract elite athletes and provide a platform for those athletes to develop. Clearly, our world is becoming increasingly interconnected with deeper economic, educational, cultural, and political integration. As the pace of globalization quickens, global minded sport leaders will become increasingly in demand.
The anticipated migratory acceleration of elite international athletes to US leagues and institutions will present associated challenges to sports leaders requiring a global mindset to manage. Effective leaders must be able to demonstrate an understanding of cultural differences in an increasing ambiguous world that is rapidly evolving through a range of global policy issues, including politics, religion, global health, and governance. By way of a basic example, most other countries operate under a club-based format with different philosophical, cultural, structural, educational and athletic backgrounds where the distinction between amateur and professional is blurred. Without an established global standard of amateurism, sports leaders often find themselves in uncertain territory.
Aside from understanding the underlying structure of sport, global leaders must recognize that athletes from various parts of the world view sport and competition through different lenses. A leader’s ability to understand perspectives, blend visions and build consensus will likely determine ultimate success. At the end of the day, a leader’s ability to foster interpersonal relationships matters. As author Audre Lorde stated, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.”
Over the past four years, I’ve resided in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. This cosmopolitan city sits at the cross roads of an increasingly globalized and interconnected world located between major European and Asian markets. As part of its vision, New York University Abu Dhabi, a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences research university, has been brought to the Emirate in an effort to integrate western education into a Middle Eastern environment. NYUAD’s small, but highly diverse student population from over 100 countries, is a microcosm of a globalized future. As NYUAD’s Director of Athletics, Intramurals & Recreation, I’m struck by how big our world is, but how small and interconnected it is becoming.
In large part due to its extreme wealth, the gulf region has garnered attention by becoming the destination for a number of high profile global sporting events. Much of the press revolves around FIFA’s decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup, but events such as the European PGA Tour’s Race to Dubai, the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the Dubai World Cup horserace affirm the region’s growing status in the global sports world. As this region or other emerging areas gain global influence, sport leadership will not only be sought, but also demanded. In order to prepare for the future, it is essential that one seek opportunities to develop a global mindset.
In 2013, Abu Dhabi owned Manchester City FC partnered with the New York Yankees in purchasing Major League Soccer’s 20th franchise, New York City FC. Last week NYC FC announced that its head coach, Jason Kries would take advantage of an opportunity to undergo “personal development” by spending the remainder of the English Premier League season with Manchester City FC’s Chilean coach, Manuel Pellegrini. Accomplished coaches and two of the most influential sports organizations in the world recognize the importance of developing a global mindset.
Although the visibility of my work here in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi dims in comparison to that of Manchester City FC and the New York Yankees, it is no less challenging. In addition to providing leadership in developing a comprehensive athletic program at NYU Abu Dhabi, I’ve taken a leading role in establishing the Abu Dhabi Inter-University Sports League (ADISL), the first university sports league in the UAE. The league comprised of nine universities provides regular intercollegiate play with an exit path for continued play into the greater Abu Dhabi community. The success of ADISL is based on the interpersonal relationships established between the sports leaders of its member schools. The differences between the schools are varied with wide discrepancies in student populations, ages, definitions of a student, eligibility standards, and nature and extent of sports programming. However, these differences are also ADISL’s strengths as they require collaboration and consensus in order to develop a competitive environment. Cooperative, global minded competition is the underpinning of ADISL and will hopefully support a stable and sustainable local and eventually regional university sports league that will endure for years to come.
Pete Dicce is the Director of Athletics for NYU Abu Dhabi and the Commissioner of the Abu Dhabi Inter-University Sports League (ADISL). Previously, Dicce was a trial attorney for 20 years. Before moving to UAE, Dicce was Staff Coach for United States Youth Soccer Association Region 1 Olympic Development Program. He will complete his M.Ed. from the Center for Sport Leadership this spring.
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