Football Diplomacy

This issue of bUSiness CHILE coincides with the 4th of July celebrations, so it is appropriate that at the time of writing this the United States soccer team has just won its first FIFA World Cup match in eight years, 1-0 against Algeria.

Sadly, the U.S. and Chile were both knocked out of the tournament in the second round, but, whichever team you support, watching 22 men chase a ball around a field has given us something to cheer (or cry) about just when we needed it most. That’s because, back in the ‘real’ world, there is not much to celebrate.

Living in a global marketplace seems to bring extraordinary risks and the possibility of a new epidemic of uncertainty across markets and currencies appears quite probable. How terrifying!! I was recently in Europe for two weeks and confidence levels are extremely low, with the preachers of doom and gloom very much in the majority. The “borrow and buy your way out of trouble” pundits are losing ground and, with the Eurozone debt at an all time high, something has to give. This means drastic cuts in public spending, which could lead to massive strikes and social unrest.

But things are not much better across the pond. It must be so rewarding for Americans to know that China will keep buying U.S. debt, to the point where, I am informed, the Chinese now own more of America than Americans do! On the positive side, China cannot allow the U.S. recovery to falter because they need this market to soak up everything produced by, generally dirty, Chinese industries. China must also meet the growing demands of the Chinese people. And to prove its commitment to the concept of open markets, China has floated the yuan, well just a little…

Moving on to environmental disasters, things were bad enough before BP (ex British Petroleum, unless you have been asleep for a month) blew an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico causing a massive spill. President Obama promised to “make BP pay” – the culprit has committed US$20 billion for clean up and compensation and that is just the beginning. The President would also have had the pleasure of watching the U.S. soccer team draw 1-1 with England, thanks to an own goal by English goalkeeper, Mr. Green. But the ‘own goal’ by BP, a company which has tried hard over the past decade to cultivate a Green image, will most certainly have a more lasting effect.

So, the news is generally ghastly – except in Africa. Well, there is always bad news coming out of Africa (witness the spread of AIDS) but for now the Soccer World Cup is the jewel in this poor continent’s crown. The home side, South Africa, beat France in their last group match sending both teams home early; France to humiliation and investigation but the South African team will be celebrated for its achievements. Literally billions of people worldwide are watching Africa’s first ever Mega Event and, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu said during the opening ceremony, “all of mankind originally comes from Africa so welcome home…”!!

So what can soccer teach us? Well, there are winners and losers, as well as whiners and divers, and very often the presiding authority (referee or linesmen) gets it wrong with almost tragic consequences. I think the greatest lesson here is that 32 countries of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities, colors, religions, GDP, levels of debt, tattoos and hairstyles are competing for one of the most famous trophies of all time – the beautiful FIFA World Cup trophy (previously the Jules Rimet trophy) – and no one gets killed; well at least not on the playing field.

Despite the hostilities and refereeing errors, at the end of the game everyone shakes hands, swaps shirts and eventually goes home. After the final whistle blows, perhaps the most important lesson is that a ball of whatever size (in this case a football called Jabulani) will always bring people together – win, lose or draw. The winner takes the trophy BUT we will go through it all again in just four years…

I remain ready to play – whatever your choice of ball,

Santiago Eneldo
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