At the Dies, focused on academic leadership, our rector talked about talented researchers who, as the English might say, ‘could not organize a piss-up in a brewery’ (and we’ve all experienced some of those). She made a comparison with great footballers who do not enjoy comparable success as coaches (such as Dennis Bergkamp, my own favourite Dutch footballer). Such remarks could have landed her in hot water in the UK. In the same week as the Dies and Brexit (promoted by people who also could not organise the proverbial piss-up), the head of a large, British management training institute called for a crackdown on sports-related chat in workplaces on the grounds that it excluded women. Many women like sport and many men do not, so this call could be seen as misplaced and excessive identity politics. Moreover, sport crosses other divides. The senior manager and the cleaner can find common ground on a Monday morning lamenting the missed penalty.
When I was younger I didn’t have much time for football, except maybe every four years for the World Cup final. When I moved to the Netherlands I needed a topic to talk about with the teenage boys of my partner. Football worked, and one of my first Dutch words was buitenspel (offside). I later used my burgeoning knowledge of football to connect with a rather difficult group of male students.
How could such a policy be enforced? Who decides what topics are divisive and exclusive? There are many to choose from - Brexit, fashion, babies, flying, stamp collecting. Do we want to work in a place where people cannot express their views? What would constitute too much sports-related chat? Five minutes, twice a week? Just as smokers now huddle around doorways, would football fans have to find illicit places to indulge their passions? Would people develop secret handshakes to signal to others their hobbies and passions?
Women and other marginalised groups continue to face problems in the workplace, such as the lack of promotion opportunities, unequal pay, and harassment. Listening to some men drone on about their boring hobbies is not the most pressing.
Sally Wyatt, Professor Digital Cultures at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences