by Martin Veitch

Paul Collingwood, Paul Coby and the art of the mea culpa

Jun 25, 20083 mins

It was difficult not to detect shades of the PR handler when Paul Collingwood faced his interrogators yesterday evening, following the shameful episode of The Run-Out That Wasn’t.

For those that don’t follow cricket, England captain Collingwood surely went against the spirit of the game by calling for a New Zealand batsman to be given out after the Kiwi had run into a member of the opposing team and, as a consequence, failed to make his ground. The incident sparked angry scenes and many thought it just when New Zealand went on to win the game.

In full crisis management mode afterwards, Collingwood apologised but reiterated severally his contention that he had made a “spilt-second” decision:

“You have to make a spilt-second decision at the time and maybe it was not the correct one. The umpire asked me if I was upholding the appeal and I said, ‘Yes’. Obviously the apologies go out to New Zealand over the decision — I made a split-second decision… and that was the wrong one. It’s great being able to look with hindsight and have time to reflect — maybe a different decision would have been made.”

Methinks he doth protest too much. Even in saying sorry, Collingwood could not resist the temptation to defend himself with caveats and deflections. The problem was that his decision not to cancel the appeal for the run-out was not quite split-second as the umpire even asked him, with arms around shoulders, whether he was sure he wanted to continue with the appeal. Even after the fact, Collingwood could have seen the light and called the batsman back.

Collingwood’s failure to fully admit a fault was in contrast with the attitude of New Zealand captain Daniel Vettori who trumped Collingwood with his own mea culpa, saying: “I’d just like to apologise for my reactions and some of our team’s reactions at the end of the game. They were probably a little bit over the top.” Vettori could then assume the moral high ground with his comments on the incident:

“A captain is responsible… to make sure [the game] is played in the best possible spirit. Paul Collingwood had the opportunity to go to that and he didn’t. He went for the other option, win at all costs, and he will have to live with that.”

CIOs and other business executives sometimes have to apologise and the smart ones do it with such effect that the crowd stops baying for blood and perhaps even empathises.

British Airways CIO Paul Coby said sorryfor the Terminal 5 fiasco this month at a conference in Portugal and his words were simple but effective, without recourse to blaming others or seeking special dispensation. “We do make mistakes. T5 is probably at the front of your minds,” he said. “I’d like to say I’m very sorry, I was there, I am part of it. It was a tough experience for customer and a tough experience for us. We have learnt lessons from T5 and those lessons include being prepared. We talked it up too much; we should have talked it down.”

Saying sorry isn’t easy but it’s a way of correcting a wrong that can even leave the wrongdoer in a stronger position than before. Coby and Vettori get this. I’m not sure Collingwood does.