Business, Ethics and Why I Skipped the World Cup 1

Thursday, June 26th, 2014
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The eyes of the world are focused on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but it’s not purely the game of soccer that they are watching. Recent violence and protests add to the already thick backdrop of public opposition that has rocked Brazil since last June.

As an avid sports fan, I should have been more excited to receive my yellow envelope containing tickets to one of the world’s greatest sporting events, something I’ve anticipated since my trip to South Africa in 2010. But as an active member of our local business and construction industry, I couldn’t help but focus in on the commercial versus ethical decisions driving this Cup.

Sport and passion unify people. But the people of Brazil are crying out against the extreme US$11 billion in spending on world class stadiums and other event amenities, while the country is in dire need of basic healthcare, better education, emergency services, and national infrastructure. Graffiti around Rio de Janeiro declares, “Need food, not football.”

FIFA’s long standing rotation policy (which will be scrapped from 2018) represents a commercial decision to take the game to all continents, with no respect or consideration of the impact the events would have on a country, ultimately taking away the passion and raw emotion behind the pride of a nation in a 90 minute battle.

But the World Cup has allowed Brazilian protesters to be heard: Media coverage, YouTube, social media, and even at other FIFA events leading up to the big games, such as the Confederations Cup in 2013.

I made the ethical decision not to attend because I agree with those protesting in the streets and I got their message. Despite my love of the game, despite adjusting my body clock to watch my Premier League team Arsenal play at all hours of the morning every weekend, and the local Melbourne Victory, I cannot bring myself to support something that is now tainted.

In all organisations, we face the conflict of commercial versus ethical decision making, or profits versus social impact. And while we work within the laws, there are times where business – and industry – is tested by the fork in the road.

This has been occurring for centuries and the consequences have had varying degrees of impact. More recently, in the United States, the cause of the 2007-08 financial crisis is a prime example of unethical behaviour driven by the fight for profits and personal financial reward.

Ethics is what sets us apart as a business. We have choices between what we believe is right and wrong and what defines us. There are many ethical frameworks under which we operate, but as a business, especially in a volatile market, sometimes our values can be tested and our true nature as a business exposed.

It’s important for every business to not just have an ethics policy pinned to the wall, but to have it ingrained in company culture. Unethical behaviour is not always exposed, but social media is paving the way for the smallest voice to be heard over the biggest transaction. As industry leaders, we need to make sure that we are doing the right thing and our decisions do not compromise the greater good of society.

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  1. Paul Motlif

    There is no question that we all, whether as businesses or individuals, need to live by a set of guiding ethical principals based upon a strong moral foundation.

    In respect of the World Cup, notwithstanding the benefits of holding the event, it does seem as though spending so much money on building stadiums and infrastructure was a strange priority given Brazil's needs in other areas.