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Management body warns over football and cricket chat in the office

Kalila Sangster
SHREWSBURY, ENGLAND - JANUARY 26: Shrewsbury Town's Aaron Pierre vies for possession with Harvey Elliott of Liverpool during the FA Cup Fourth Round match between Shrewsbury Town and Liverpool at New Meadow on January 26, 2020 in Shrewsbury, England. (Photo by Richard Martin-Roberts - CameraSport via Getty Images)
Sports chat in the workplace can be “a gateway to more laddish behaviour,” a management body has warned. Photo: Richard Martin-Roberts/CameraSport via Getty Images

Chat about football or cricket in the workplace should be cut down on as it is “a gateway to more laddish behaviour,” a management body has warned.

Ann Francke, head of the Chartered Management Institute, said sports chat at work can exclude women.

“A lot of women, in particular, feel left out,” she told the BBC's Today programme.

“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,” she said.

“But the issue is many people aren't cricket fans,” she added, calling for bosses to clamp down on sports banter.

READ MORE: Men are more emotional than women at work

Francke is worried that discussing football and, for example, opinions on video assistant refereeing (VAR) can divide offices and leave those who aren’t interested feeling left out.

“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,” she said.

“It's a gateway to more laddish behaviour and — if it just goes unchecked — it's a signal of a more laddish culture.”

However, Francke did not suggest that sports banter should be banned entirely, just moderated.

She said that a sign of a good manager was ensuring that everyone in the team feels comfortable and included.

Responding to the suggestions, sports journalist Jacqui Oatley said cracking down on sports chat at work would be a “terrible idea.”

READ MORE: UK 'generations away' from equality for women in top jobs

“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 told the Today programme.

“It would be so, so negative to tell people not to talk about sport because girls don't like it or women don't like it, that's far more divisive.”

She said the secret was to discuss sport in an inclusive way and to notice if people were blankly “staring into space” during the conversation.

The debate has drawn a number of responses. The majority of people responding to a LinkedIn post from the BBC seemed to think that sports chat at work should not be prohibited.

Office manager Debra Smyth was concerned that other topics such as Love Island, EastEnders, and Game of Thrones could also be censored if sport chat was banned.

"I personally think companies should not dictate what people talk about, as not talking about it will alienate those with similar interests," she said.

"Where would it end? Banning people with children talking about them so as not to alienate people without children. Certainly not!"

READ MORE: Poor mental health costs UK employers £45bn a year

Some people acknowledged that sports banter in the workplace can leave some people feeling left out.

Recruiter Peter Ferguson said: "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."