CBC: 10 most influential figures in sport in 2012

For the fourth year, a panel of CBC Sports executives, producers, writers and broadcasters has come up with a list of the people they consider the most influential on the national sports scene over the past 12 months.

A lack of NHL hockey has eliminated half the 2011 group, as they’ve been replaced by a new, spirited team of athletes, leaders and decision makers.

Though, like an old penny, there are some you just can’t get rid of. The guy at the top, for example.

With the help of famous-quotes.com, let’s take a look at the 2012 Most Influential People in Sports.


1. Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League
“A good leader needs to have a compass in his head, and a bar of steel in his heart.” – Robert Townsend

What, him again? You bet your Bill Daly him again.

Bettman may be a despised figure among hockey fans, but he garnered more top votes than anyone else, and that says power.

This is a man who knows what he wants and has the steel heart to hold on long enough to get there. Influential? When the commish tells the gaggle of NHL owners there’s more out there, they will nod. When he says this is the best we’re going to get, they will nod, call their GMs and say “let’s go.”

Problem for Gary, however. There’s a new 1A out there who himself would easily fit the above quote.


2. Donald Fehr, head of the NHL Players’ Association
“I am more afraid of an army of 100 sheep led by a lion, than an army of 100 lions led by a sheep.” – Charles Maurice De Talleyrand


De Talleyrand was a diplomat who died 174 years ago, but he would have recognized Fehr.

Last time out, the NHLPA did, by most accounts, send out a big baaaah after a long fight and allow themselves to be sheared.

After a group of the sheep turned on a couple of new herders, they came up with the former baseball players’ association head who has never backed down from a fight, and rarely lost one.

Now the sheep have some sharp teeth and are willing to follow this guy as far as possible.

Like Bettman, when Fehr says there’s more, the players believe him.

That’s how we got to this point.


3. Alex Anthopolous, General Manager, Toronto Blue Jays
“Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.” – Robert Half


A couple of good deals and you’re suddenly No. 3. But when it comes to influential, there has to be a lot of votes for anyone who can get the sports media lined up and convinced you’ve built yourself a winner two months before pitchers and catchers report.

There is an argument that team president Paul Beeston should be ahead of his young GM on this list, because he’s the one who convinced owner Rogers to pony up the money for that big deal with Florida and others moves.

Be that as it may, the one they call AA has put a AAA repair on his roster and has Canadian baseball fans chomping at the bit for the new season.

He works incessantly, peeking around corners, lifting up the box lids, checking his list and checking it twice. Reminds one of a guy they used to call Segap Wolley (hold your computer up to a mirror): Hall of Famer Pat Gillick.


4. Christine Sinclair, Captain, Canadian Women’s Soccer Team
“Eagles don’t flock, you have to find them one at a time.” – H. Ross Perot


By a slim margin, a female soccer player has slipped ahead of the nation’s most famous hockey performer. What a year for the newest hero in Canadian sport, one who led the national women’s side to the first team Olympic medal since 1936.

Think about that …76 years.

Sinclair showed once-in-a-generation skill, plus leadership, toughness and a willingness to call a lousy ref a lousy ref, and we fell in love with her.

What’s interesting will be seeing how this new influence plays out in the coming months as Canada prepares to host the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. How will she use it? Will we follow her?


5. Sidney Crosby, Member, NHL Players’ Association
“The first task of a leader is to keep hope alive.” – Joe Batten

This is a tough one.

Crosby was a key addition to the 2011 list because of his struggles with concussion and how that made the problem so much more high profile across the country.

None of that has changed, but with no hockey being played we don’t hear much about it anymore.

Where he’s shown influence is in the attempt (one that, by the way, we still haven’t seen come to either fruition or naught yet) to orchestrate an end to the NHL lockout by joining with his Pittsburgh Penguins’ owner and his own agent to help get things going.

A gutsy move, actually, because if things don’t work out he’ll be seen as ineffective. Crosby could easily have hid behind his money and not said a thing. He chose another path.


6. Marcel Aubut, President, Canadian Olympic Committee
“Leaders must invoke an alchemy of great vision.” – Henry Kissinger

Aubut, the Quebec lawyer and former boss of the old Nordiques, has been working two sides of the avenue in Canadian sport, both showing he sees a way forward.

One is the ongoing attempt to bring the NHL back to Quebec City, something you don’t hear a lot about right now because he and Bettman and playing the long, quiet game that returned the sport successfully to Winnipeg.

Two, as the COC president, he’s pumping new monies into the high performance system with a view to continuing the medal success of the Vancouver Games in 2010 and, to a lesser extent, London 2012.

That means, among other things, keeping his influence among the halls of power in Ottawa. You don’t see it, but PM Harper listens to the man.

Remember the old days when the federal government of the day doled out monies for amateur sport by trickle and dime? Those days are gone.


7. Mark Cohon, Commissioner, Canadian Football League
“I learned that a great leader is a man who has the ability to get other people to do what they don’t want to do and like it.” – Harry S Truman

In 44 years as a follower of the CFL, your correspondent cannot remember a time when this league has been stronger or less given to controversy.

Cohon has spent five years herding the most rambunctious group of ownership cats in sports (some feral, some owned by multiple parents) towards fiscal sanity, slapping down early attempts to circumvent the salary cap, improving and expanding the relationship with league sponsors and changing the atmosphere at games.

There are no panic moves, no awarding of franchises willy nilly, no ridiculous player signings, no moving off the plan. Now, he’s beginning to work on a new TV contract for 2014 that could bring in a record deal spread around at least two outlets.


8. Senator David Braley, Owner, Toronto Argonauts, B.C. Lions
“He who dreads hostility too much is unfit to rule.” – Seneca

Seneca was a stoic philosopher, and an advisor to Caligula, Claudius and Nero, none of whom have run the CFL lately. Braley has his hands in every aspect of the Canadian game, both by simultaneously owning the 2011 Grey Cup champion B.C. Lions, and the 2012 winning Argonauts of Toronto, and by ensuring his alma mater McMaster University Marauders have everything they need.

He has two centres at the school in his name.

Braley also helped bring the 2015 Pan Am Games to Toronto, and is now in the Senate with the ear of the Prime Minister.

Stoic? This man will not bite no matter the criticism or the wild shot. No reaction.

He’s above it all.


9. Clara Hughes, humanitarian, former Olympic star
“A leader has been defined as one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – Anonymous

What makes Hughes so influential is that she can speak to practically everyone in a way they can understand. .

A six-time Olympic medalist (split between winter speed skating and summer cycling), the now-retired athlete has lived a life, as they say, and then some.

When she speaks to young people about rising above their difficulties, it’s as a former troubled youth who drank and smoked and ran wild before turning her life around.

They get her.

When she speaks to other athletes about setting goals and striving for the top, they get her. She’s done it.

When she speaks to business people about leadership, about her causes, about investing in people, they get her, because they see a poised and polished person who herself is worth investing in.

One of our greatest citizens.


10. Kelly Murumets, President and CEO, ParticipAction
“A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself.” – Joel A. Barker

Remember when kids would tell mom they were bored and she would tell them to go out and play?

Kelly Murumets faced a problem when she took over as head of the moribund ParticipAction group in 2007, a national non-profit dedicated to getting Canadians moving – kids aren’t bored inside any more. Actually, they’re having a great time playing video games or texting or watching the tube.

Undaunted, the successful businesswoman (MA in social work, MBA from Western, long time of company turnarounds) took on the challenge and now heads up an agency that boosts the Bring Back Play initiative, urging parents to stop worrying so much (“My child might … you know … skin a knee”) and push the little ones back out the door.

Hopscotch. Four Square. Red Rover. Hide and Seek. Whatever. Just do it.

Murumets also isn’t afraid of doing what she thinks is needed, including signing a multi-million dollar deal with Coca-Cola that brought howls of protest from the Forever Grumpy class – the ones who couldn’t get kids outside.



© 2023. Clara Hughes. All Rights Reserved. Site Design | SGD