Insights: Lessons from the beautiful game

May 30, 2014
Stephanie Harrington
Michael Real

Media coverage of the beautiful game focuses on winners and losers, as well as any political or sporting blunders among the 32 competing countries. Royal Roads Prof. Michael Real says communicators can glean important intercultural insights from the tournament. Here he discusses what the World Cup can teach us about diversity.

Consider diversity in your workplace

When is diversity complete, and when is it an illusion? The World Cup invites all the countries in the world and is as diverse as you can get in terms of global representation, according to the rhetoric. But, in fact, Europe and South America have dominated the World Cup from the start. South America is a feeding ground for players and their teams are strong, while Europe is the most powerful and by far wealthiest centre for soccer in the world. Europe and South America very much dominate and contradict the ideal of inclusiveness. In your workplace, you may say, “we have all kinds of different people here,” but certain groups dominate well beyond their normal numbers, and many groups aren’t represented. You want to reach out to under-represented groups through recruitment processes, for example, that are genuinely open and to get the word out to under-represented populations.

Challenge cultural boundaries

The two global celebrations of the human race are the Olympics and the World Cup and that means we are joining hands with people all over the world around sports as a way of expressing human solidarity. In both cases we not only see the shared humanity with all the other peoples, we also see the differences. Both are really important and it’s worth thinking about this and applying it to our lives.

I would like for people in their work life and personal life to challenge themselves, to restructure their boundaries and to look at differences not as a threat but as an opportunity, and to reach out. The World Cup gives you a chance to see what people from Cameroon are like, what people from Ivory Coast are like. How does Honduras relate to its team? See those differences and put a positive value on them. Through that we can learn about how other countries and cultures operate.

Learn from intercultural differences

Global soccer is a really interesting example of different roads to success. You’ve got the stereotype of the Latin American teams as exuberant, offensive teams. Brazil and Argentina, two favourites to win this year, are good examples of that. In contrast, you have the German team, historically known for disciplined defense, cautious games, not allowing opponents to score. You have these two contrasting styles – both of which have been successful. We may have our preferred style, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to success. In the work place; others may operate in a different way and be completely successful. Different intercultural styles of working are an advantage, not disadvantage.

Measure success differently

We should be careful about how we measure success. In sports we tend to be very simplistic – success is the ultimate winner. In fact, in the World Cup probably the most striking successes are going to be one or several unlikely teams that advance far in the World Cup, teams that don’t win it all but really have an impact and change their countries’ pride and perceptions about them. The measure of success is not only by obvious victories. There are many forms of success and we want to always treasure those. In the workplace, there are a lot of different kinds of responsibilities and talents represented, some of which get recognised in obvious public ways and some of which are much more quiet and subtle. That doesn’t make them less important.