Five Dimensions of Global Sports and More Specifically Global Soccer Management
1. The sociohistorical aspect
2. The cultural imperative of global sports
3. Soccer from an economic/political standpoint
4. Soccer from a socio-psychological perspective
5. Cultural strategy, tactics and styles of soccer
Five Dimensions of Global Sports and More Specifically Global Soccer Management
1. The sociohistorical aspect
The Ancient Roman adage “panem et circenses” (bread and games) still seems to set the rules of the global game in our days at a universal scale, while bread still seems to be at stake. While one part of the world is dying of hunger, in civil wars and other violence the other revels in global gaming. Nothing has changed fundamentally since Ancient Rome as far as basic human tendencies are concerned. And who does not play that game has been sidelined then as much as he is now. The arenas of the gladiators have become the arenas of global business, politics and sports. Neither the language nor the fundamental themes seem to have changed on the world’s stage, with its super predator global competitors, those who emulate them and the masses of the spectators. Global media allow the whole world to take part in the game, not just the few ones on site. Global competition for victory over a competitor and the global competition for the bread of survival and its enhancement, i. e. total competition is the one theme that unites and divides all men, rich and poor, races, cultures, religions, ethnic groups, nations, organisations and sport organisations, federations, and clubs are simply another facet of the theme of competition, which necessarily entails losers, in sports, in politics, in business and above all with regard to bread, i.e. survival. Who refuses the game and proclaims deviating values from the mainstream ideology of panem et circenses will be prosecuted, as the Christians were prosecuted in Roman times as they are now in various places of the world. Diversity again emerges as a major issue at a global scale, internally and externally. In Roman days diversity could be controlled by Roman law and its military might across the Roman Empire that covered parts of three continents. The aspiration to global rule by major present day players is another parallel that transcends two millennia. Due to the emancipation of nations with their claim to sovereignty, however, it is has become difficult to enforce one global standard by global organisations and nations. Therefore the global diversity issue has arisen in our time, after the enforcement of global standards in the shape of various ideologies has also failed over the centuries.
It is useful to look at sports in a cultural perspective in order to contextualize it in human society and in the “global arena”. Due to man’s panem et circenses impulse he has transformed the whole world in countless arenas with their diverse forms of competition and strife with winners and losers across the word. Unless the impact of the destructively competitive arenas can be contained and mitigated by more cooperative gaming, there may not be enough bread for human survival for everybody. Unless the world learns, in addition to competition, complementary sharing cooperation, competition may satisfy human basic instinct but also destroy humanity if it remains uncontrolled.
Sports may be a human learning experience in view of controlling and containing the competitive instinct and thereby positively affect the diverse globally competitive arenas, individually, locally, regionally and globally.
With the ongoing UEFA (UNION OF EUROPEAN FOOTBALL ASSOCIATIONS) highlight, the European Soccer Championship 2012 in Eastern Europe, in Poland and Ukraine and the upcoming Olympic Games 2012 in London, organized by the IOC (INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE) it seems appropriate to look at the cultural role of sports in general and of soccer in particular in a global world.
This essay looks at global sports and more specifically at global soccer from historical, cultural, economic, social and strategic/tactical perspectives. Soccer as a global management phenomenon is contextualized in a global intercultural management framework.
2. The Cultural Imperative of Global Sports
Due to the globalization, multiculturalization and mercantilization of sports its protagonists increasingly need intercultural skills at the level of their strategic management in an ever more competitive global market environment as well as at the level of sports practice. This applies in particular to professional sports like professional soccer. Soccer clubs have to negotiate international transfers and acquisitions like international organizations in global business. They are in global business. Like transnational and metanational enterprises they have to prospect the most valuable human resources worldwide and valorize them in their market as fast as possible so as to amortize the tens or hundreds of millions of investment in the most promising human resources or talents that ultimately are hoped to condition the status of the club in the globally competitive soccer environment. Right and wrong investment decisions in this respect mean success or failure of top clubs. Therefore they need intercultural management and negotiation skills, for the culture variable, the professional culture as much as societal and individual cultures of acquisitions play a role in the process. And there must be an overall cultural fit and compatibility with the culture of the acquiring club, as in the case of global mergers and acquisitions in the global corporate world.
UEFA, FIFA and IOC have to coordinate and implement global sports events taking in account internal and external security issues that are accentuated in an increasingly diverse global environment. Worldwide coordination and realization involve a steadily growing number of cultures, nations, races, ethnic groups, languages, values and belief systems together with the diversity of their behavioural manifestations. And the Paralympics represent a culture by itself. Indeed, it means that a high level of diversity management skills, in particular international diversity management skills is required at many levels.
As sports, including soccer - like business - have assumed continental, intercontinental and global dimensions, multiculturalism its he rule and no longer the exception and therefore requires intercultural skills at the levels of supranational strategic management, at the level of international strategic management of actors and clubs participating in the events as well as within clubs. Last but not least clubs have to successfully manage their increasingly multicultural active human resources in a given culture general and professional cultural context. Due to imperatives of global competition the clubs tend to be in competitive environments that are comparable to other internationally operating organizations, with the nuance that their gold may be less in the heads of the human resources as it is said with regard to today’s knowledge economy, but rather in their sports-specific professional endowment. But due to globalization, mercantilization and multiculturalization of sports culturally diverse mindsets and skill sets also require management that is one-pointedly target-oriented. And this requirement raises the cultural question at the more operative level of soccer which also needs a systematic culturally aware approach with regard to cultural strategies, tactics and styles within teams and between teams.
If a team wants to be internationally successful its management as well as the players should have cultural self-awareness as well as other-awareness, along with associated cultural knowledge and skills. Intra-team as well as inter-team cultural profiling involving relevant parameters for culture analysis in general and professional culture analysis in particular, should inform strategic, tactical, technical and stylistic planning by trainers, managers and players alike
Synergistic professional and general culture integration of a teams' natural and desirable diversity is an essential precondition for a team’s ability to access its highest potentiality that ensures best sports practice with regard to its performance as well as the clubs' overall economic, financial and socio-cultural success.
3. Soccer from an economic/political standpoint
Soccer has changed in the process of professionalization and globalization from its original rationale of a personally and socially healthy leisure time activity to assume the form of globally operating transnational organisations, coordinated at a supranational level by supranational institutions like FIFA and UEFA, in order to promote their economic, social as well as cultural aims.
Clubs and their human resources (players, coaches and manager…) are sought after at a global scale in order to increase competitiveness. It is accompanied by multimillion transfers and investments by oligarchs and billionaires. In this respect top clubs can be likened to transnational and metanational organisations and even to small states who seek to pursue parochially-ethnocentric and nationalist economic interests. Strategic advantage consists in successful prospection of innovative resources (talents) worldwide and the speed with which they can be monetized.
The Ancient Roman adage panem et circenses for the pacification and the control of the masses has been magnified by the competitive logic of cultural and economic competitiveness supported and sustained by global organisations and top clubs to assume quasi political features that allow completing the classical dictum
Politics is the continuation of war by other means
by its present day translation as
Soccer is the continuation of politics by other means
This is what one may conclude form various national cultural responses by participants of the European Championships 2012. National economic policy within the context of the EU is translated and equated to the European Soccer Championship. The financial EURO and the soccer EURO are amalgamated. They are seen as two aspects of the same national competition in the absence of supranational financial, fiscal and political integration. In the meantime the national rationale prevails at the expense of the supranational. It manifests for example as the following media echo from Southern Europe before the quarter final match of Greece vs. Germany: „We want Merkel! “ – not in the sense of admiration of the German chancellor but rather in the sense of the desire to defeat Germany in the sports arena as a response to the perceived Greek defeat and humiliation by Germany in the economic and financial arena in view of the stabilization of the EURO. It may be interpreted as a clash of economic cultural values about standards of economic and financial stability, of a prioritization of more short-term oriented quality of life versus longer-term stability and predictability in the sense of healthy budgets and spending.
At the origin of the financial and economic conflict there is a clash of cultural value preferences manifesting in the economic domain. And this only secondarily economic/financial conflict translates as a political issue. And this political issue is dealt with in turn culturally within the European sports context: The same cultural issues are being translated backward and forward to changing battlefields awaiting a supranational cultural identity that works on integrative rather differentiative and disintegrative premises. It is about cultural values harmonization; culture change in the EU that conditions political/economic/financial solutions. The call for Chancellor Merkel by the media. “Bringt uns Merkel (Bring us Merkel) reminds of St. John the Baptist in the sense that the daughter of Herodias, who the latter liked very much, wished to be given the head of St. John as suggested by her mother. Herodias’s promise to grant his daughter any desire let to the sacrifice of St. John as reported by the Scripture.
That historical, biblical episode seems to be reenacted metaphorically 2000 years later. In both cases the apple of discord is of cultural nature in the sense of contradictory cultural worldviews that cannot be integrated and call for the annihilation, physically or symbolically, of what is considered a contrary position to one’s own cultural interests; it is a time enduring syndrome based on a culture clash that cannot be reconciled due to the seeming incompatibility of attitudes, values and beliefs systems that is shifted here and there as in a psychological labyrinth without finding an exit. Culture management would be about showing the exit of the values clash prison of man. Sports could be one of those activities that in addition to heating up the prison and escalating its conflict processes can help opening the door of that prison in order to gain freedom at last.
So far one might already conclude that soccer culture is as a fractal replication of culture. Its socio-political and economic aspects confirm in particular the business culture rationale that underlies the various choices by soccer management. And the diversity rationale in the various socio-cultural environments can only by harmonized if integrative culture change can be brought about at fundamental values level. This would entail a more specifically culture-transcendent culture-integrative transcultural approach that is complementary to the more differentiative intercultural approach. Yet, in games terms, that would be the meaning of playing the whole game of culture sustainably, rather than only competitively.
Strategic players‘ attitudes - those displayed by top clubs - indicate that those have polycentric and geocentric attitudes while the national cultures in which they operate still display ethnocentric attitudes. This culture clash of strategic attitudes also promotes the emergence of the substitution of battlefields. Sports professionals have moved beyond ethnocentric attitudes due to the imperatives prevailing in globally competitive sports environments, while they still serve or rather are instrumentalized by ethnocentric attitudes. Here a culture change towards an alignment of strategic attitudes can lift the conflict laden ethnocentric siege of sports that maintains and prolongs the ersatz battlefields and it can help sports to return to its roots of an integrative and integrating human activity.
In that sense sports can be reengineered form a cultural weapon to a cultural integrator in our global era; from a national cultural sword into a global cultural plough that conditions the planetary humus for a human family instead of the sword that only cuts natural human ties of transcultural affinity and understanding and that ultimately cuts a hole in the common ship of humanity on the sea of time that may think that ship in the turbulent waves of untamed cultural identifications. Imperative culture change in the interest of mankind consists of that of the cultural sword into the cultural plough, here and now. And the European Soccer Championships or the Upcoming Olympic Games are belated starting points for the management of the imperative culture change process. UEFA, FIFA and IOC should be aware of the global cultural stakes inherent in their transnational sports culture management institutions that are vehicle that carry mankind either backward into the past or forward into the future. It greatly depends on how culture is managed.
If one endows sports in general and soccer in particular with political empowerment, in particular by the presence of national leaders and statesmen among the spectators, one has to be aware of the globally mediated message of an implicit amalgamation of the political and the sports environments and functions. The perception of sports as the continuation of politics by other means may be reinforced. Its compensatory function for the ventilation of engrained intercultural wounds may be underlined. It is that perception which promotes, beyond a natural need of cultivating and expressing human cultural identities, the shift, the substitution and the maintenance of obsolete battle fields in the third millennium. A purposeful disconnect of sports and culture policy could therefore allow transcending the John the Baptist syndrome of destructively reinforcing national cultural animosities. Thus the sports EURO may be instrumental as a catalyzer rather than as a relay and reinforcement of culturally diverse preferences within the context of the economic EURO.
The symbolical spherical ball with its brindle leather conveys the idea of unity as well as diversity and antagonism within global unity. Awareness of and accountability with regard to this ambivalence would also entail historical coherence and awareness when in particular, for example, German national teams play in the region where much of the WWII battlefields were located and where the soil still transpires the blood of friend and foe alike shed through national cultural military excesses of that war. But what applies to Germany in particular applies to other national cultures and teams in general. The visit of a German sports delegation to a concentration camp in Poland could therefore be completed by the commemoration of those wider battlefields, so as to transcend the national cultural faultline at least beyond this world and not to amplify it. The culturally indiscriminate paying of respect to all men that were victims of the sword of culture and its excesses might thus be a symbolical act and a starting point for the learning of culture transcending attitudes and behaviours, of true world and geocentric orientation beyond the business rationale.
Soccer and sports in general must not be a prolongation of those cultural battles and battle fields, though in homeopathic doses, for we know that even those have an impact. The return of the youth as national cultural representatives to where their peers of another generation were sent as soldiers provides a unique historical occasion of cultural reengineering of the planet. Stalingrad (today Volgograd) where hundreds of millions of soldiers and civilians were killed and Chernobyl alike are in the wider region of the soccer locations of the EURO 2012 in Eastern Europe. Both are symbols of unsustainable cultural value preferences in diverse domains. That is their common denominator. And we are leaving out the historical cultural values choice of the opening and the closing of the ideological cultural values choice in the shape of the iron curtain on the world’s stage. They illustrate how cultural choices can truly sink the ship of humanity in its ravaging cultural waves if they are untamed. And the rendezvous of international soccer culture with that culture and its consequences can influence the cultural world of the future.
So much about the globalized, politicized, high profile and top business version of what once was a social exercise of mental and physical restoration and the cultivation of human virtues, which has turned into an affair where 22 multimillionaires kick a leather ball, while countless people are dying of hunger or rare killed during the short time of the match due to the diverse cultural conflicts that simultaneously rage on the face of the earth and that resist rules, codifications and arbiters. Global media play the game as well as the millions. The ruthlessly competitive game is their value preference which is antagonistic to more humane values that are also thinkable and even required if our values are not to sink the ship of mankind on the waves of its pleasure-motivated idiocentric values, collectively and individually.
Based on the age-old principle panem et circenses the masses and their leaders ravel in the anaesthetizing spectacle. If only some of the attention and the resources the spectacle with the ball attracts could be channeled towards the ball of the earth and its state a new chapter of the book of culture could be opened. How can this display of human prowess and resources be civilized so as to bring about culture change towards a sustainable global culture? Brief it can be a wonderful sport as most of the others provided it promotes civilization instead of reversing it. And is it possible to leverage the integrative aspect of the competitive spectacle for the sake of the smooth progress of the ship of mankind on the uncertain waters of human civilization and time? In the meantime we celebrate and cater for both human needs that of cave man and that of space age man, while we hope for their reconciliation in the interest of the survival of man.
Though representing an old idea of amateur sports, much of the said about the professional soccer sports UEFA highlight applies to the upcoming Olympic Games. Depending on an underlying values set they are either promoting cultures of peace or of conflict. This fundamental ethical ambivalence is not spared to the seemingly innocent world of sports either. Intercultural encounters can reinforce cultural antagonisms or help transcending them, depending on how they are managed culturally. Those who want to ride the wave of sports must be careful not to create destructive cultural tidal waves in which they might perish themselves one day
4. Soccer from a socio-psychological perspective
Soccer is a natural complement and extension of walking that is learnt from infancy and the game with the ball can be dated back to ancient cultures. Kicking a ball is a natural physiological reflex in our latitudes and the cultures which have been exposed to European influence such as Latin American ones, where soccer is an element of socialization of boys in particular. It is part of culture in the sense of culture I and culture II alike, i.e. it is supposed to contribute to the ennoblement and edification of the young generation and it embodies a learning process of cultural values. It sums up complementary cultural values of joy, fitness, leisure time activity and human relational experience in the general cultural sense on the one hand as well as social conditioning in the sense of learning cultural attitudes, values and behaviors in the social anthropological cultural sense on the other hand.
It may be argued that soccer in its original meaning allows its young practitioners – just like walking – experiencing their body and its relationships to other human beings and the environment and thereby cultivates natural human endowments and needs. Therefore the medium of the ball in its variable designs is omnipresent in the human social and private environment. The diversity of its forms, shapes, materials and colours is unified by the roundness of its design, which has to comply with certain dimensional and technical norms, while it servers the unique purpose of one’s own personal psychosomatic experience in relationship to others. So, soccer is, in addition to its pleasurable aspects (which may also include the pain involved in losing matches and thereby entail emotional learning) and those of physiological learning, a process of individual and social psychological learning; a school of life and relationship. Relationship being the cause of most human joys and challenges it is a non-negligible human socialization experience. As such it is a natural and desirable human activity and experience as other forms of sport in diverse degrees that contribute to structuring adolescents mentally, physically and relationally as well as their time.
By becoming a team player the adolescent learns to relativize his individualistic self in relationship to teammates and opponents and thereby to society at large. He learns that personal success and group success are interdependent. It is a socialization to socially compatible behaviours that does not exclude personal creativity, individual decision making as well as personal freedom. Yet, at the same time the individually and collectively competitive self is promoted, as the purpose of the collectively enhanced individual performance consists in the victory over another team with similarly competitive values. And this early socialization to competitiveness – in particular in more individualistic and masculine cultures, where winning is not the most important thing but the only thing, as the saying goes - becomes a building block of the human psychological architecture that is replicated in the diverse spheres and walks of life.