The Closing Ceremony stuff up and response

Basil Zempilas and Jo Griggs brought the
fire following the Closing Ceremony

Sometimes I can miss seeing the forest through the trees.

I’m sure many of us have been in a meeting where you’re planning an event and you think you’ve covered everything only for someone to have a brainwave and point out that you’ve actually forgotten a key item.

For example, I was once in a meeting a few years ago where some friends and I were planning a dinner event.  We’d just about got to the end of the meeting and were doing a final review of the proposed run sheet.  We’d ticked everything off and thought we had a terrific event planned.

That is, until someone pointed out that we hadn’t left any room in the run sheet for serving and eating dinner.

Yep – we’d managed to plan a dinner and forgot the dinner!

I mention this because the Commonwealth Games organisers seem to have made a similar error – planning a closing ceremony for the event without including the athletes.

It’s quite a stuff up, really.  The whole event has been about athletes competing and then they close the games without them?  You wonder why no one had said something like this in the planning meeting:

“Uh, folks – I think we’ve forgotten something.”

The backlash from viewers and spectators was swift and savage.  Social media lit up (which I hate writing because social media lights up about everything.  Seriously, someone could misuse their and there in a speech and their resignation would be demanded by the social media collective within 30 minutes).

The response from key stakeholders was actually pretty interesting though.  Channel 7, the Australian broadcaster, for instance, savaged the Closing Ceremony in their final broadcast.  Even the normally mild-mannered Basil Zempilas was pretty damning in his assessment.  Given Seven paid big bucks to host the games, it was eyebrow-raising (to say the least) to see them lambast their own event.

The response from Games Chairman Peter Beattie the next day was a smart PR move but also, in my opinion, a little defensive.

I reckon in a situation like this any kind of justification you try to articulate won’t come off as you’d hoped.  When trying to placate an angry mob like this when you have clearly screwed up, it’s best just to take the hit, say sorry, and then move on.

Instead, Beattie did apologise, but he sandwiched his apology in a justification.  He rationalised not including the athletes by trying to dress it up as ‘care and wellbeing’ for them.

Sorry, but no one’s going to be receptive to that.  You think that a bunch of angry viewers will suddenly come around to being more sympathetic because you thought you were trying to be nice?  I don’t think so.

What Beattie should’ve said was: “We definitely got it wrong.  I’d personally like to apologise to the viewers in the stadium and around the world for not including the athletes in the closing ceremony.  I can understand people’s frustration and, in hindsight, realise we should’ve put the athletes front and centre.”

If there’s no justification there’s no more to the story.  If there’s no more to the story – the shorter the outrage period.

So I reckon there are two key learnings here:
  1. When handling a crisis like this, don’t sandwich your apology with a justification – just apologise. 
  2. Take a moment at the end of a planning meeting to ask – hang on, have we forgotten something REALLY obvious here?

By taking these two steps you might help mitigate a crisis but also, hopefully, avoid one altogether.

In the meantime, hats off to Basil Zempilas and Jo Griggs  for their post-race fire.  I sure enjoyed watching that!

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