Demba Ba races to the corner flag, sinks to his knees and prays. When the devout Muslim and Chelsea FC striker scores, the importance that religion plays in his life is visible to all.
Today, British clubs’ talent scouts scour the world’s leagues looking for the best players to recruit. The Premier League is now arguably the most diverse in the world with more than 300 foreign footballers representing 68 different nationalities playing for one of the 20 top-flight teams.
The internationalisation of football reflects a tendency that can also be seen in the business world. More and more organisations operate on a global scale through global mobility, matrix management structures or expansion into international markets. And whether working in international sport or in international business how much should we find out about our partners and colleagues from other cultures? How important is it that we respect differing values and beliefs?
The Muslim world is now over half way through Ramadan. Until 7 August Muslims across the world are fasting during the day and usually only have one meal before sunrise and another one directly after sunset. During this time it can be challenging to manage Muslim footballers or athletes. How can a player who is not eating or drinking for up to 18 hours of the day perform at the highest level during the 90 minutes of a football game? Managers and clubs need to show understanding for the religious needs of their players not only during Ramadan but all the year round so that they can eat halal, shower separately and receive time and space for prayer. Managers should appreciate that the players’ religion is part of their cultural identity. When they want the best players, they have to respect their culture in order to keep them and thus benefit from their skills.
This is just as true when working with colleagues or partners in the business world with different religious beliefs. Lacking awareness of your business partner’s religion could not only lead to an embarrassing moment when for example offering alcohol to your Muslim colleague or shaking the hand of a female colleague. It could also lead to a break-down in communication or a lost deal when your counterpart’s religious needs are not respected. You should for example bear in mind that appointments should be scheduled in accordance with the daily prayer times. Muslims pray five times a day with one prayer lasting about 15 minutes. Allocate time for them when organising a meeting. Additionally, be aware of religious holidays like Ramadan. It would be polite not to eat or drink in front of your Muslim colleagues during this period. And remember that office hours could be different during the fasting period.
The holiday function in Outlook is a useful tool in order to be aware of national holidays. You can add the holidays of each country or religion to your calendar to keep you up to date when doing business with partners from abroad.
Religion is an influential factor when doing international business and you should bear in mind that your outcomes will improve if you show respect and allow time and space for the religious beliefs of your business partner. In the end, you will benefit greatly from the time you invest in understanding these beliefs.