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CSR and beyond: Ashes fever hits a nerve

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The emergence of England as a serious contender in the Ashes series has captured the imagination of the sporting nation; the spirit within which the tests are played provides valuable lessons for those looking to polish their workplace behaviours.



Played with civility and mutual respect, the way in which professional cricket is conducted is a marked contrast to the way the premiership and recent world cup qualifiers are performed.

In these games, referees are abused while violent and threatening behaviour by both players and fans is the norm.

The question for those of us working within the corporate responsibility arena is whether we should try to convince those in soccer to play more like our cricketers? And if we are, is it really a step that can be taken? Once a sport becomes corrupted can it turn back the clock?

Many social commentators have pointed to the cricket and its virtues in terms of sportsmanship and mutual respect and held this up as a model for young people to emulate. But it is also worth noting that in the cricket there have been a number of outbursts of bad language, dissent and allegations of cheating.

But if there is some kind of linear progression from cricket to soccer behaviour then the corporate responsibility industry is wasting its time trying to push water uphill.

So what are the features that make the cricketers so appealing? The first is mutual respect. They applaud the opposition when it has done well. The second is that they respect the rules. The umpire’s decision is final and even when clear mistakes are made, it is the culture that the players abide by it. The third is enjoyment, cricket players look like they are enjoying what they are doing, even when under severe pressure.

The contrast with soccer is clear. In the soccer games the opposition is treated with no respect, a barrage of constant abuse is expected from one side to the other, led by the fans but often encouraged by the players. The referee has little respect. He is regularly abused verbally by the players. His decisions appear negotiable, even if they are not. And lastly, soccer players don’t seem to enjoy what they do very much.

In business the soccer mentality is clear to see. Making sales at any cost, treating people as little more than production units, false accounting, not paying suppliers, abusing dominant positions, paying bribes and so on.

One part of the argument is that the huge amounts of money paid to soccer players fuels a distasteful mentality. If this is the case cricket will go the same way, because it is only a matter of time until they start commanding salaries close to those enjoyed by players in the soccer world.

But it is all too easy to hark back to an earlier time and say how it used to be better. Or to look at soccer and say cricket is infinitely better. I don’t believe that. In fact I think that cricket is often played in a bad spirit, with barracking of umpires, over appealing, sledging and deliberate slow bowling designed to stop the opposition from winning.

But to cap it all, cricket has recently suffered from players taking bribes to fix the outcome of matches. Therefore I don’t think that it is possible to say that one game is the cause of the problem and the nature of another game means that it is immune.

In the end the current Ashes series is being played by excellent sportsmen, playing at the peak of their ability and totally within the spirit of the game.

For businesses the lessons are clear. It is up to each business to set the climate in which behaving properly is expected, where respect underpins human interaction and where rules are followed. It is not the nature of the market or the sector that leads to bad behaviour. Although it is clear that some sectors experience much worse business behaviour than others. But ultimately it is the values set by the individuals and the teams within the business that determine corporate behaviour.

Leo Martin is director and founder of GoodCorporation, the corporate responsibility standard and is the principal character in the BBC’s series, Good Company, Bad Company.

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