During the second half of June, the U.S. seemed to catch World Cup fever to an unprecedented degree. The combination of a competitive U.S. team, a generational evolution in sporting preferences and viewer-friendly Brazilian time zones has given this tournament a buzz that this country usually reserves for the Super Bowl or March Madness (though the U.S. team's recent elimination may cool things somewhat).
But the World Cup may be capable of teaching people about more than just soccer. Here are five ways the World Cup resembles international trade.
1. The upstarts are worth watching
Competition is always a moving target. What seems to be the established order can change quickly, and so defending champion Spain did not make it out of group play at this year's World Cup, while lightly regarded Costa Rica advanced to the quarter-finals.
This should be a cautionary tale for both countries and companies that consider themselves world leaders in any area -- such status is a target, not an entitlement. The danger of having an upstart eat into market share may seem like a danger of world trade, but ultimately it is the competition that helps keep countries and companies from becoming complacent.
2. Bigger is not always better
The two most populous countries in the world, China and India, did not even qualify for the World Cup. It seems size alone is not enough to guarantee success in sports, and it is the same thing in trade. While size can create economies of scale, innovation and specialization can help smaller trading partners find other ways to compete, especially in niche markets.
3. Interaction opens communication
By and large, the World Cup has been an excellent display of sportsmanship. Tens of thousands of rival fans gather in one venue, but the events go off peacefully. It is important to remember that people tend to get much more distrustful of one another when they are separated. Interaction through trade increases communication among countries, and this improves understanding and can create shared economic interests.
4. Past international experience means a lot
First-time participants in the World Cup such as Bosnia and Herzegovina generally do not last long, but they gain valuable international experience that will help them in future years. The same learning curve takes place in international trade, so you have to take the long view. Early challenges should be viewed as learning experiences that can help a country or a company compete more effectively in the future.
5. Corruption is an enemy of progress
The one cloud over this year's World Cup is the revelation that bribes may have played a hand in the awarding of the 2022 tournament to Qatar. Because of its lack of soccer tradition and its hot climate, Qatar was always a controversial choice, and the accusations of bribery merely confirm what many have long suspected about how the business of soccer is conducted. This type of thing discourages participation, as does corruption in business and global trade. People don't want to play when they think the game is rigged.
U.S. fans might not fully embrace the World Cup until their guys win it (something their female counterparts have done twice before). Still, the World Cup is like global trade in one other way: Even if you do not always win, there is a lot to be gained just by competing.
Also by Richard Barrington: