Lessons from this World Cup

Drawing real life examples from sport is often over-played if that isn’t a contradiction in terms! World sporting fans have been enthralled over recent weeks by the 4 yearly jamboree of the World Cup. For those of us living in the (currently) United Kingdom, the Celts for once got behind England as the only “home team” in the World Cup. The arena of the World Cup has shone a light on a number of aspects which are very relevant to international business. A few to ponder:

Football is universally played with 11 players per team and there is a standard size of pitch, goal and ball. Teams come to the World Cup with a clear understanding that the team winning has either scored more goals or held its nerve in a penalty shoot-out. The ultimate winner of the tournament has to do all of that, ride its luck in some situations and avoid suspension, injury and “unusual” refereeing decisions. The referees perhaps play the role of the face in business of the host government or national oil company. The rules are typically set out (perhaps not clearly) and on the face of it, should be readily capable of being followed but are subject to a variety of interpretations. Recognising that and handling the resulting scenarios “real time” can be the difference between success and failure.

Culture and playing styles which might be appropriate and acceptable in domestic and regional leagues do not always translate well onto the global stage. The different playing styles and tactics of the teams are very apparent in a World Cup and some teams struggle to recognise that the approach they might take at a more regional level will not yield success either with the referee or the scoreboard when played amongst teams from different cultures and with a different interpretation of the rules.

Technology – Some of the early World Cup matches risked descending into total farce due to the, at times, overuse of “VAR” and indeed the poor referee in the Iran v Portugal match appeared to view most of the second half through VAR rather than through his own eyes. Developing and applying technology takes time. Sports such as cricket, rugby and tennis have very successfully adapted technology to aid the referee and match officials and most fans of these sports would agree that when properly developed and sensibly used, the technology is accretive to the quality of the game. Applying technology inevitably involves trial and error – something which the oil and gas industry at times struggles with.

Team – The UK found it easier to get behind the England squad as they played as a team. They were led by an excellent manager and all appeared to play for each other. We did not hear that any of them were “the best in the world” (when patently historically many of the players attributed that status were not) but instead they played to each others strengths and sought to support each other in areas of weakness. The behaviour of the manager and squad has (certainly in public) been impeccable and they have truly been ambassadors for their country. A good lesson for any global business.

So the dream of “taking it home” is over but there are some enduring lessons from this World Cup.