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Italian Rowing Team Cox Up

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It all started at a cocktail party held at the Italian embassy in Tokyo, Japan.

“You know,” commented Japan’s minister for trade, “the problem with Italy is efficiency. There isn’t any.” What followed was a heated exchange between the minister and Italy’s ambassador.

Italy’s outraged ambassador issued a challenge. “I’ll prove to you that Italy is every bit as efficient as Japan,” retorted Italy’s ambassador, “Name a sport, any sport, and the Italian team will beat Japan. If it does not, I’ll donate a month’s salary to a charity of your choice.”

“Deal! Let’s pitch a Japanese rowing team against an Italian one”, came the reply from the partial to rowing Japanese trade minister who also agreed to donate a month of his salary to charity in the event his nation’s team losing.

Italy Prepares for the Rowing Team Race

A date was set and preparations began. Italy’s national pride was at stake.

As rowing team coach, Italy nominated Massimo “Max” Potenza, its finest rowing trainer and personal friend to the nation’s prime minister.

Sensing an opportunity to show off the best in Italian technology, Italy’s top boat designer, Franco Flotta, a close personal friend of Italy’s prime minister’s wife, was commissioned to build a boat for Italy’s rowing team. Millions were poured into the rowing boat development fund by a consortium of Italian businessmen who were close personal friends of Italy’s prime minister.

Lake Geneva in Switzerland was named as the neutral venue for the Italy versus Japan rowing boat race. There were to be three races to determine the winner.

The Big Day

As a result of massive media hype, thousands turned up on the big day to watch the Italy-Japan rowing race. The world’s press was there in force.

Italy’s prime minister stated he was confident of a decisive Italian victory. When asked about his team’s chances, the Japanese prime minister merely smiled, commenting, “We shall soon see”.

The Race is On

The first heat of the rowing race started…and Japan won by ten lengths. Italy’s prime minister, looking a little embarrassed, quipped that Italy needed to warm up.

Off both teams went in the second heat of the race. This time, the Japanese rowers beat the Italian rowing team by a full eleven lengths. Japan had won the day.

Italy’s prime minister, by now looking thoroughly embarrassed, handed over a check for one month of the Italian ambassador’s salary to Japan’s trade minister who smiled graciously and winked.

Japanese Efficiency Beats the Italians, was the sense of the headlines in most newspapers around the world. A video of the race posted on YouTube attracted millions of views and quite a number of disparaging comments about the failure of Italy’s rowing team, not to mention Italian efficiency.

The Blame Game Starts

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In the days and weeks after the Italian rowing team loss, Italy’s press was dominated by attempts to understand just why the nation’s rowing team was beaten by the Japanese. Or rather, the blame game started.

The rowing team coach blamed the Italian boat designer who in turn blamed the consortium for not coughing up enough funding. The consortium blamed Italy’s government for not taking enough interest in the race. The Japanese were accused of cheating. Responsibility was dodged and bucks were passed. Scapegoats were sought. A few junior civil servants lost their jobs.

Nobody in Italy, well, nobody in Italy’s parliament, could explain precisely why Italy had lost the rowing race, and lost it so resoundingly.

Debates in Italy’s parliament raged for days until eventually, after calls for his resignation, Italy’s prime minister formed a parliamentary commission to identify why the cause of Italy’s rowing race defeat.

The Experts Wade In

Six months later, the commission, made up of members of Italy’s parliament who were close personal friends of Italy’s prime minister, had not managed to reach a conclusion. A dream team of Italy’s top university professors and business owners (all close personal friends of Italy’s prime minister) was then created, paid a small fortune, and asked to analyse the defeat of the Italian rowing team by the Japanese and advise the parliamentary commission.

The professors promptly asked their students to produce theses on the Italian rowing team’s defeat. The business owners hired interns at €500 a month and charged them with finding out why Italy’s rowing team had failed to win.

And then came the court cases.

Enter Italian Justice

Editorials in several newspapers in Italy accused both the rowing team coach and the boat designer of incompetence. Damages claims followed and the work of the parliamentary commission and the dream team were halted in order not to influence the outcome of the court cases.

Ten years later, after the court cases had come to an end, and found in favor of the coach and the designer, the parliamentary commission and the dream team got back together.

The Rowing Team Cox Up is Revealed

A full eleven years after the fateful Japan versus Italy rowing race, the parliamentary commission and the dream team issued a 5,000 page report analysing the defeat.

About halfway through its 5,000 pages, the report concluded, somewhat tentatively, that the reason for the defeat was that in the Italian rowing boat there were eight coxes and one rower.


This post was inspired by Massimo – whose surname is not Potenza – who provided me with a link to this article, in Italian: Le Aziende Italiane sanno reagire alle Crisi. (una fiaba aziendale) – translation: Italian companies know how to react to the Crisis (a company fable).

One of Italy’s greatest problems is having too many chiefs and not enough indians. And the situation isn’t going to change anytime soon.

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