Decision making in sports management has never been in greater focus. With revenues rising in the majority of the major disciplines, media attention sharpening and the choices made having a more profound influence on commercial, political and social issues, the importance of prudent executive guidance is paramount.
Against this backdrop, a role has gained prominence. Football, Formula One, rugby union, cricket, cycling, athletics and the world’s other great pursuits have all attempted to marry these often conflicting concerns together within the position of sporting director.
To pioneer tomorrow’s leaders who impact social well-being and economic growth, Visionary Sports Investment (VSI) have partnered with Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) to produce the Masters degree in Sporting Directorship (MSD).
The aim is now to deliver this first-of-its-kind accredited qualification in Manchester for the UAE market, equipping sports and business professionals with all the skills and practical experience needed to progress their careers.
E-Sports managing director Gareth Mordey and Hamilton Aquatics chief operating officers Pippa Clarke have already travelled from Dubai, putting them on the same path as a number of high-profile fellow students since it began in 2013.
These include Lancashire head coach and former England spinner Ashley Giles, Manchester United’s head of athletic development Tony Strudwick, ex-Nigeria and Stoke City midfielder Seyi Olofinjana, Oxford United manager Michael Appleton, Audi DTM Rosberg performance consultant James de Mountfort and ex-Doncaster Rovers Belles assistant general manager Becky Easton.
“You are taken out of your comfort zone,” says Giles, who took 143 Test wickets from 1998-2006. “But I feel I have really benefited from the experience.
“The academic side opens your mind to new ideas, but as much as anything else it has been working alongside the rest of the group that has been really important. I have been able to hear and see how other sports deal with issues, and you can’t help but learn so much from their experience.”
Sporting directors provide a figurehead for the institutions they are involved in, helping twin business and competitive interests. They will work to give support to head coaches on the pitch, while often also taking responsibility
off the pitch for the commercial growth which underpins them.
Prominent examples include Monchi at Europa League champions Sevilla and Team Sky general manager Sir Dave Brailsford, while in the UAE ex-West Ham United and Watford administrator Guianluca Nani performs the role for Arabian Gulf League giants Al Jazira.
Manchester is placing itself as the global hub for executive education in sport, with this scheme at its heart. Crucial to this progress has been the strengthening of links with the UAE, exemplified by His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s takeover of Manchester City in 2008.
Regeneration of the east of the city has been twinned by success on the pitch, developments which the vice chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University, Profes- sor Malcolm Press, would like to re-pay by advancing sporting performance in the Arabian Gulf.
He says: “Sport is deeply ingrained in the DNA of Manchester. It is a particularly proud and exciting time as the city’s football teams prepare for a new season and Manchester-based British Cycling are hopefully set to aim for more Olympic glory.
“At a time when we all have to redouble our efforts to build new global alliances, it is fitting that business relations have never been stronger between the communities of the UAE and our city.
“The owners of City Football Group, Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and his family, have been instrumental in the regeneration of East Manchester since arriving at the club. Their legacy for the city is already written and we are hugely appreciative.
“We also want to give something back and believe that we can play a big part in creating a new generation of UAE sport leaders, educated by academic partners from Manchester and working closely with our colleagues from VSI.
“Three years ago, Manchester Metropolitan University launched what we consider to be the blue ribbon programme in elite sport leadership: a Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship.
“Sport in the Gulf states has never been stronger and we would like to contribute our experience in Europe to educating men and women capable of leading sports to the pinnacle of world sport.”
The MSD is a two-year part-time course which teaches a unique curriculum, designed to give students all the skills required to meet the demands of leading sporting organisations. Covering sports leadership, personal development, masterminding innovation and change, sport governance and best practice – alongside a diverse range of hands-on extra-curricular activities – the course provides unrivalled preparation for the role of sporting director.
With remote study twinned with on-campus commitments, a significant opportunity exists for sports and business professionals in the UAE to gain all the skills and practical experience needed to take their next career step.
“From the conception of the programme we have had interest from individuals and groups in the UAE,” says Tony Faulkner, co-founder and VSI director. “Gareth Mordey from E-Sports in Dubal and Pippa Clarke from Hamilton Aquatics in Dubai are both on the programme in Manchester.
“We have visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi meeting with governing bodies in sport and potential future students. Sport creates a competi- tive mindset, everyone has the will to win but only the very best have the will to prepare to win.”
The course also aims to investigate the process behind sporting success, with the study of neuroscience key. MSD believes understanding the drives behind human social behaviour will lead to improved leadership and results.
Ex-England right-back Easton is convinced this knowledge will allow her to get the very best from herself and those around her.
She says: “Much of the course is underpinned by neuroscience and this on a practical level will really help me in dealing with people.
“Understanding how the brain drives performance is vital in any management position.”
The MSD is aimed for ambitious self-starters who want to take the next step, be that in sports or business. Mordey, of E-Sports, who provide a range of services for children’s sport and coaching, leisure and adult recreation plus corporate sports and events, is set to graduate this year. He is sure taking on the challenge will boost his career
He says: “The Masters in Sporting Directorship course has been a game changer for me personally and professionally. It has enabled me to better understand myself and once understanding myself then understanding others better.
“Professionally the learning, the theories and the models that we have learnt on the course have enabled me to better understand leadership and decision making.
“There is nothing like this in the UAE, the profile of person on the course, access to world-leading talent through pioneering and innovative partners like Manchester City FC, GB Cycling, Saatchi & Saatchi makes this a highly-attractive programme for leaders and potential leaders in sport and business across the UAE.
“I would think this is something the sports federations across the gulf should look into, as this will provide them with a world-leading platform to develop their people.”