One of the few questions often asked at work are: ‘What football team do you support?’, ‘What do you think of VAR?’ or ‘Do you think Liverpool will finally win the league?’, or even: ‘Is it coming home this summer?’
Yet Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, wants sports chat to be curtailed in the workplace, as she feels that it can disproportionately exclude women, divide offices, and result in more laddish behaviour. In particular she wants bosses of firms to crack down on sports banter.
Ms Francke told BBC’s Today programme:
A lot of women, in particular, feel left out. They don’t follow those sports and they don’t like either being forced to talk about them or not being included. I have nothing against sports enthusiasts or cricket fans – that’s great. But the issue is many people aren’t cricket fans.
It’s a gateway to more laddish behaviour and – if it just goes unchecked – it’s a signal of a more laddish culture. It’s very easy for it to escalate from VAR talk and chat to slapping each other on the back and talking about their conquests at the weekend.
Ms Franke does not want sports chat to be eliminated entirely, rather, to be lowered. She said that good managers should be inclusive and ensure that everyone in their team feels comfortable.
Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp claimed that too much football is “not good for relationships”, adding:
How many games on Boxing Day? There were maybe some men, probably, who watched all of them live. I don’t think that’s good for their relationship. It’s not good for mine and I already watch a lot of football.
Sports journalist Jacqui Oatley disagrees with Ms Francke, as she told the Today programme:
If you ban football chat or banter of any description, then all you’re going to do it alienate the people who actually want to communicate with each other.
She suggests that it is better to discuss sport in an inclusive way and identify if people were blankly ‘staring into space‘ during the conversation.
Office manager Debra Smyth worries that other topics such as Love Island, EastEnders and Game of Thrones could also be censored if sport chatter is banned:
Where would it end? Banning people with children talking about them so as not to alienate people without children. Certainly not!
Recruiter Peter Ferguson stated:
I have seen managers and staff build a more direct bond over a shared love of sport which has excluded those who don’t share that interest.
The answer is not to ban the conversation, it is to ensure managers and staff are trained to understand that those shared interests should not get in the way of management decisions or working collaboratively.
Time will tell whether topics like VAR will remain in the workplace: one thing for sure is that they certainly engage people into conversation.