Culture, Corporate Scapegoating and the AFL, an expat perspective

Mahima Chaudhary
4 min readFeb 11, 2021

If we’ve learnt anything from the recent Australian AFL Club, Collingwood’s racism fiasco is that we are in the grips of a living, breathing cultural epidemic of corporate scapegoating. Let me explain how.

What does it look like?

We see a problem, we find a target to decimate, we reduce them to rubble, claim moral high ground, revel in the victory and then we move on. All in all, we do nothing to address the actual problem, i.e. the systemic cultural issues that the organisation is facing. All while feeling a sense of achievement and having completely missed the point.

What exactly is corporate scapegoating?

Scapegoating is often used as a crisis communication strategy where an organisation is struggling with a brand crisis. i.e. Present-day Collingwood. Does it have value for the organisation? Yes. When firms use scapegoating, they reduce consumers’ attributions of a firm’s crisis responsibility, controllability, and stability. i.e. Eddie McGuire stepping down. When the ‘topdog’, top management of large organisations become the scapegoats, it seems to have a positive effect as negative word of mouth intentions and interactions decrease. This type of response seems to distance the organisation’s responsibility in the problem that the scapegoating engenders ( Moisio, Capelli and Sabadie, 2020). Compared to other strategies, including no response ( The Do Better report was released on 17th December 2020) , denial (historic and proud day) , apology ( the subsequent press conference ), and justification, scapegoating ( McGuire stepping down) is most effective at reducing these attributions.

Is it an effective solution to a problem?

No, but it is a convenient solution to improving organisational credibility amongst stakeholders. To think that the racism and culture issues stemmed from and ended with Eddie McGuire stepping down as President of Collingwood Football Club is absurd. Racism is a global, sporting, AFL and people problem. It’s not just a Collingwood problem. It’s the problem of believing that there is a casual link between inherited physical and personality traits, intellect, morality and other cultural and behavioural features; and that some races are innately superior to others.

What is the problem anyway?

Systematic racism, but the number one failure is the failure to learn from failures (Farrell, 2013). Leaders are only human and it takes time to build expertise. But when an entire leadership team fails to recognise their skill gaps over an extended period of time and in turn are unable to tackle chronic organisational problems, that is a massive problem. If you cannot comprehend a problem, how do you set about trying to solve it?

What’s it got to do with culture?

Everything. People and culture issues can hardly ever be categorised into black and white. They are not easy to navigate. These are grey problems that need to be navigated with utmost care, mutual respect and sensitivity. As the President of a sporting organisation for 22 years, surely Eddie McGuire did something right. It is ok to acknowledge it. It is also necessary to acknowledge that whatever he and the entire organisation did, was not nearly enough. Comments like ‘proud and historic day’ were ignorant, out of line and cannot be condoned. Neither can systematic racism or the fact that a player within the club was nicknamed ‘chimp’ and the CEO and board did nothing to change things for years after. Racism is not, was not and will never be a one person issue to tackle. The Do Better review found Collingwood’s response to racist incidents was “at best ineffective, or at worst exacerbated the impact of the racist incidents”. Collingwood, not McGuire. It is time for the club to accept responsibility for its culture wholeheartedly.

How does a cultural shift occur?

Collective responsibility. The first step to bringing about any significant organisational change is taking collective responsibility for the problem at hand. It requires the absolute support of internal and external stakeholders. Second, laying out a systematic approach to what the change is, why it is happening, how things will be affected and why it is necessary. Lay out the information like talking to a 5 year old. Simple and effective.

What has it got to do with business or the AFL?

Everything. The first Australian country-wide census in 1891 showed 32% of all Australians were born overseas. In 2019, that number was still a steady 30%. Australia is an immigrant rich, multicultural country. Unity in diversity in sport sets a precedence of racial harmony and respecting cultural differences while promoting the Australian way of life. It also means attracting members from culturally diverse backgrounds into sporting clubs and communities which is good for business and a quintessential way of how Australians live their life anyway.

Corporate scapegoating is essentially putting a band-aid over an arterial bleed. Dangerous and often ineffective in the long run. If we want sporting organisations and society in general to do better, then we have to do better too. Collective responsibility.

References

Farrell, M., 2013. Leadership Mistakes. Journal of Library Administration, [online] 53(7–8), pp.439–450. Available at: <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01930826.2013.882198?casa_token=j4l4nlyVxTQAAAAA:HE4fWg8B1dNW4oqFoKJwpGx_MU76S7yANu4iKGEHQaLJuDusbGV2XCgSqIgzZswXNW_ulwcPHT1iWg> [Accessed 10 February 2021].

Moisio, R., Capelli, S. and Sabadie, W., 2020. Managing the aftermath: Scapegoating as crisis communication strategy. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, [online] 20(1), pp.89–100. Available at: <https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cb.1858> [Accessed 10 February 2021].

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Mahima Chaudhary
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Cultural Hybrid I Polymath I Management Consultant I Yoga Instructor I MBA I Former Actor & Miss India…..I sometimes talk about balance, culture and business.