Is sport leading the way in meritocracy?
The illusion of meritocracy is all around, “work hard and you will achieve”, ”it doesn’t matter your background you can reach your goals”. This of course is partially true, but within most business, governments, and organisations there remains a dominance of white males. If the aim is the best results and meritocracy, surely the aim is to have the best people regardless of background. Sport may be ahead of the rest of society here. In sport the result really does count the most, for all of those involved. The sports club is orientated towards the result and its failure and success judged against it. Failure and success is exposed in a very clear way. Sports cannot afford to bias the team members- the South African quota system is an example of how it may harm performance. Professional football particularly is a cut throat business, fail and most managers lose their jobs (quickly!). As a result the diversity in the premier league is well ahead of that within most institutions and businesses. When recruiting players, ultimately, very little counts beyond their football quality, with some marketability thrown in. So why is this possible in football? Perhaps it is due to a greater equality of opportunity, everyone growing up can play football, they all will have the chance to a little bit of open space and even can make a ball out of other things. Play often enough and challenge yourself enough and you can develop your own skills and problem solving options as well as physical capacity. If the entry into the top jobs in business is an expensive education, help and support from parents, and good expectations then clearly these will be biased towards those already in a strong position. If you can perform at football it matters less what situation you were born into. Football clubs also appreciate the incentive to develop players and increase their quality- to invest in their staff you could say. This improves performance but also market value, much like a good employee could boost share value. The difference in football is that the value is more tangible. You can literally sell the player for millions of pounds, one in which you may have invested only a few thousand. The clubs actively seek the whole world for potential players and generate links with less developed countries to tap into their potential. These factors make the football leagues a melting pot of many different nationalities and personalities, more reflective of the modern society than many other institutions. As such, in sport, if a bias exists it will more likely be exposed. The pressure to succeed may be showing the way towards greater meritocracy.