My 16 year old sports mad son read a book by Ed Smith, an Anglo Welsh county cricketer, over the summer entitled ‘What Sport Tells Us About Life’, and was mightily impressed. The book’s brilliance – he tells me - stems from the recognition that sport is
life in miniature, and that if you analyse sport you find a mine of information about war, money, egos, perceptions and genius. The one issue he had with the book was its remarkable brevity. After a mere 190 pages of Smith’s impressive insight the book runs
out. However, I think I have a solution.
If financial regulation was a slightly more engaging topic to the wider public, I’m sure that the compliance community could come together and write its own chapter. I would be tempted to call it ‘What Contador and Barichello tell us about the global financial
crisis’, although this is not quite as snappy as the actual book’s chapter titles, which include ‘Zidane’s kiss’.
So what particular sporting examples from their careers should we draw on? Well for cycling fans, one of the most memorable incidents in this summer’s Tour de France was Alberto Contador overtaking Andy Schleck and then accelerating away at full race pace,
when Schleck had to stop to re-engage his bike’s chain after it fell off at a vital moment at the top of a mountain climb. Having taken this advantage Contador got ahead of Schlek in the overall race order and stayed ahead; eventually winning the Tour. Many
commentators were outraged at this breach of cycling’s “unwritten code” (he should have paused to give Schlek a chance to catch up) and the crowd, including many of Contador’s supporters, were so incensed that they booed him loudly on the podium at the stage
finish. This is a striking example of a framework of acceptable behaviour that relies on a notion of doing the right thing and cultural norms, rather than black and white regulation. There is no law in the Tour de France rule book that prohibits overtaking
another cyclist with a mechanical problem, but the collective moral decision of the supporters was that it was the wrong thing to do. Contrast this with a highly technical and legislated sport: F1 racing. When Rubens Barrichello was told to pull over and let
Ferrari team mate Michael Schumacher take the lead in the 2002 Austrian grand prix his team was breaking no rule at that time, (it was directly in response to this that “Team Orders that could influence the outcome of a race" were later banned in F1 regulations)
and as there was no expectation of self-regulation in F1, so the drivers were not penalised, and the Ferrari fans remained supportive - despite the massively negative media attention. It is, perhaps, revealing that Barrichello later says that the team lawyer
was the one calling the shots.
So which sporting scenario is a good parallel for the behaviour of financial firms over recent years? Is it Contador ignoring the sportsmanship expected, but not mandated, of him and scoring such a massive “own goal” against his own support that he voluntarily
published what was an apology - in all but name - that same day. Or is it Ferrari who exploited a legal loophole in a tremendously competitive and money rich sport and simply moved onto the next race with the F1 regulators patching up the laws after the fact?
Let’s be clear, by looking at these examples from sport we are not advocating some form of return to principles based or self-regulation, or indeed proposing indulging in a marathon session of “bash the banker”. Rather it is more fundamental. As we at MPI
found in our
risk management survey (as reported on Finextra) last year, there is a need to change the culture of a
proportion of leading financial firms and that of their supporters (also known as shareholders). Without this culture change, financial regulators are simply playing a sophisticated game of catch up.