The Rugby World Cup finished in grand style at “Fortress Twickenham” (ha ha) one week ago this weekend and what a World Cup it was. Not only the best final but arguably the best World Cup since its inception in 1987.
And throughout emerged the usual comparisons between the less supported, but perhaps the more respected, game of Rugby and the world’s most popular sport of Football. From leadership, player behaviour, crowd behaviour, respect for the referee, use of the TMO (television umpire for crucial decisions), use of the sin bin, player wages… the list goes on.
Whenever these discussions take place, what strikes me the most is that it is nearly always from a perspective of “football could learn a lot from rugby”. And I confess, this is pretty much always my own personal stance. Use of the sin bin for two yellow cards instead of a sending off feels like an interesting experiment, the respect for the referee enforced by values of the game from grass roots along with the required authority for the officials to impose harsh sanctions at the slightest whiff of impertinence, the ability of opposing fans to sit next to each other as the gladiatorial spectacle enfolds and congratulate or console as the final whistle brings the battle to a close.
The element that perhaps stands out more to me than any is the leadership demonstrated on and off the field.
After the rugby match the captains who face the media for questions will respond eloquently; they are stoic in defeat and magnanimous in victory. Questions such as “what about the forward pass that led to their final try” would face a swift reply along the lines of “they deserved the victory, congratulations to them…”
The behaviour and attitude leaves us in awe; their manliness and leadership in the aftermath of the bloodbath that has left them bruised, battered, often broken.
The contrast with football is stark.
Now that the World Cup is over our attention is back to the soap opera that is the Premier League – the weekly story lines followed like a series of Game of Thrones.
A good friend of mine was arguing that without this, what is the Premier League? And how else could they attract an audience to justify £5 billion TV deals? The diving, the cheating, the accusations, the defences, the heroes and the villains. And we lap it up, every year, every month, every week, every single day. The starring role this year has to go to Mr Mourinho and with Christmas fast approaching you could easily mistake him for the baddie in a festive play.
When a simple question arises during a post-match interview we sit like excited children waiting for the comment that will bring the villain down a peg or two. What are your thoughts about the game?… “they were off-side for all of their four goals, their number 3 should have been sent off twice, the referee is weak, my team doctor’s a woman and doesn’t understand the game, everybody hates us and I’m fed up with eating worms”
On the pitch the players display such foul mouthed rants at the officials that it is hard to work out whether it is an aggressive attempt to coerce decisions or if it is driven by genuine hatred of the poor sod in black. I can see their point – the audacity of some referees to harbour a different opinion to the “gods” playing this great game is hard to comprehend.
So we do not need to look very far to understand some of the differences between the two great sports.
The fact is, the audience is feeding off the actors. The behaviours of those we look up to (“leaders”) permit us to replicate their behaviour and defend it as acceptable.
The respect or rudeness, good or bad sportsmanship, acceptable or foul language that we see on the sporting pitch during a match is replicated, enforced and emphasised by ‘fans’ in the crowd. I see perfectly sensible people displaying behaviour that they would never display away from the ground.
An interesting parallel is organisations that we work in day in, day out. Behaviours emanating from the Board Room can be behaviour that is clearly unacceptable in a civilised society, however becomes tacitly acceptable in the open office.
For the same reason why I would not take my 5 year old son to a football game, there are some office environments where I would genuinely think twice.
Leaders, at every level, must be aware of the impact on others and the examples that are being set. Just like Rugby or Football, the culture of an organisation is determined by the worst behaviours of its leaders.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love football, having played and followed it all of my life, and after all is said and done, sport is there to entertain. Although the Stoke fans were deprived of the opportunity to shout “he’s behind you” to the fourth official on Saturday (because the self-proclaimed Special One was sitting in his hotel room having been banned from the stadium for swearing at a referee the week before) I, for one, sincerely hope that Mourinho’s performance hasn’t peaked to early, because if he’s defeated before the final act, Christmas without the pantomime villain just wouldn’t be the same.