I guess I take, at a minimum, a passing interest in just about any sport (or game), or achievement in its broadest sense, although I prefer some more than others. Soccer, for instance, has never really grabbed me in the same way it seems to grab millions of others - a large percentage of whom have descended on South Africa to watch the 2010 World Cup. I am more likely to go out of my way to physically watch a rugby match over a soccer match - in fact I think the last soccer match I attended was at Vicarage Road in North West London to watch Watford play somebody like Exeter in Third Division South. As that particular Division was abandoned at the end of the 1957/58 season, you might get some idea of my level of interest (and age!).
That said I will watch the scores and the progress of various teams through the competition, although without getting wildly excited about it all. But sports, like businesses, are often about teams and the personalities within them, their successes and the failures. And a couple of very different events in the last week indicated how sport has parallels with - and lessons for - business.
First up; The Goalkeeper!!
The name Robert Green is one that is well known to every British soccer aficionado today, as well as soccer lovers from many other countries too. It was the hapless Mr. Green who allowed the Americans to slip a ball past him and into the England goal, giving the USA a 1 -1 draw in their opening World Cup match between the two countries. And Mr. Green seems to have been blamed by just about everyone for being such a "butterfingers" (polite version!).
Excuse me – but why him, alone?
Where was the goal-scoring machine that was supposed to be knocking goals into the USA net at the other end of the pitch? Had they gone to sleep after Gerrard scored a goal for England in the first four minutes of the match? Wasn't it up to them to do their bit to score, as much as it was Green's job to keep the Americans out of the English goal? This is supposed to be a "team game", people. That means the blame should not just rest on the shoulders of one person. Perhaps if anyone has to take the "blame" overall, it should be the captain. For not making the team work hard enough to score goals. For not immediately protecting his goalkeeper from some of the blame!
And so to business, and BP.
Mr. Tony "I want my life back" Hayward, the CEO of BP is a name that is well known to every American, and many other people around the globe. And as "Captain" he is taking the blame for BP's oil spill. As I have said before, BP need to ensure that they do everything they can to clean up this mess, (and pay for it), but there seem to be a lot of "players" in the background who are perfectly happy to see BP take all the heat. The US companies who are the operators of the rigs, the US officials who refused the offer of help made by the British Government in the first four days of the disaster over chemicals that could have been deployed immediately with a view to averting at least some of the ecological disaster that ensued, and even perhaps the President himself who could have acted more swiftly than he did and who now appears to be making up for lost time and ensuring the blame is focused on others, rather than himself.
In both of the above cases, in sport as in business, one person takes the blame while others lurk in the background hoping that the spotlight will not suddenly shine on them.
The other event was that involving the 16 year old American girl, Abby Sunderland, who wanted to sail round the world single handedly to break the age record for doing so.
Putting aside any concerns about ages (for example the Dutch authorities have, so far at least, successfully banned a 14 year old from making a similar attempt - which they will review in July 2010), the issue here is more about the chances one takes - and who pays if it goes wrong.
Miss Sunderland, by all accounts an accomplished sailor despite her age, worryingly went missing in the ocean after encountering some difficulties. A particular event that was not an age or experience thing, and one that could have happened to anyone, whether they were aged 16 or 60. Fortunately in this instance there was a happy ending. She was found, and eventually rescued by a ship that went well out of its way to effect the recovery. The girl herself, clearly appropriately thankful and happy for the rescue, said she wanted to try and do it again - even though she would not make it as the youngest any more. Frankly, I have no difficulty with that. If the people responsible for her believe she is up to it, it's for them to decide. What does trouble me though is who has paid for the rescue? The shipping company? The insurers - can you insure against something like this? In other words, as long as the rescuers have been compensated in full for their costs then Ms Sunderland should be free to sail again – but perhaps not until the costs of the rescue have been recovered!
And yes, you know where I'm going with this don't you? If the financial ship (global, regional or domestic) hits stormy waters, and as a result if Governments put their hands in their pockets (or, more accurately, YOUR pockets) to rescue someone who has got into difficulties and needs to be rescued, you shouldn't give the “rescuee” complete freedom to go off and do their own thing again until they have repaid their debt!!
In sport...as in business, there are risks. You take chances and if, as a result, there are costs involved in resolving them that involve other agencies, then the dues should be repaid to them before you move on.
What do we learn from all this?
There are many lessons in sport that apply to businesses too. Business is a team sport. The team needs a captain, a leader, but the team won't work unless it operates together. Even if you are sailing around the world singlehandedly there will be a support team somewhere. And in business, as in sport, you take risks and chances to get better and better, but there is a price to pay if you don’t get it right.