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C&E Lessons from the World Cup

A friend of mine posted a link to this article, titled “Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, U.S. Soccer Falls Short.”  The article talks about the prevalence of exaggerated falls (“diving” or “flopping”) in soccer, the advantage those falls gain for teams, and the impact that eschewing fake falls  has on the performance of the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) at the World Cup.  We see similar behavior in basketball in an effort to get the referee to call a foul.  The goal (haha, see what I did?) in soccer is the same – fool the referee into calling a foul, and use the call to gain some ground or even score.

The article asks the question, “Are the Americans bad at playacting?  And if so, should they try to get better?”  The reaction of most players on the USMNT made me proud as a compliance & ethics (C&E) professional.  Many quoted in the article flat out said that they’re bad at playacting and don’t foresee a time when they’ll engage in that kind of behavior.

The author of the article and Jurgen Klinsmann (the USMNT coach) would love for the USMNT to get better at diving because both would love to use the USMNT actually win a World Cup.  I think most of us would, even those of us who haven’t paid attention to soccer since elementary school when our dads forced us to play.

At the same time, the article notes that it goes against the American ethos of “fair play.”  Many of the comments on my friend’s Facebook post indicated that an increase in flopping would drive the commenters away from soccer altogether.

It’s curious to me that we seem to have a nation of soccer players, given the prevalence of soccer moms.  It shouldn’t be a lack of understanding about the rules of the game that’s kept U.S. engagement with soccer so low.  I’m sure that that a cursory Google search would turn up hundreds of articles containing analysis on why we don’t love soccer like the rest of the world does.

For the purposes of this blog post, though, let’s assume that the reason is that we’ve never won a World Cup.  Let’s also assume that being a nation of rabid, consistent, soccer fans is something we want.  If that’s the case, shouldn’t we play the game that the rest of the world is playing rather than the game that we play at home?

I’ll admit I’m on the fence about this, which troubles me, because there are clear parallels between flopping and corruption.  Our average employee would say that they are completely against corruption and bribery.  But then a situation presents itself that makes the corruption seem less like corruption, like the fact that “everybody is doing it,” and suddenly, what was black and white turns all kinds of muddled gray.

This is what’s hard about C&E.  The rules are black and white, and our messages tend to be black and white.  Easy-peasy.  We lose that ease the second that the rules and our messages make contact with reality.  Maybe there’s a disconnect between what the rules say and what our managers actually do.  Maybe we’re required to compete fairly when everyone else is cheating (or “cheating” depending on how you interpret it).  If we don’t acknowledge the gray areas and if we don’t welcome hearing about them, everyone loses.

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