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When Michael Lewis published Moneyball, his 2003 chronicle of Oakland Athletics baseball team who achieved amazing success on a lean budget by following a strictly data-driven strategy, it seemed that the future of sport lay in crunching numbers and swotting up on statistics. Sports teams, it was thought, should behave like businesses — getting the most out of every dollar they spent.
Fifteen years later, argues John Gapper in his most recent column, “there is no better example of the symbiosis between sports and business” than Team Sky, the cycling squad accused of bending anti-doping rules for athletes including Bradley Wiggins, the Tour de France and Olympic champion. For John, the scandal is evidence that elite sport has fallen into the trap of pushing the legal limits for profit and glory.
But the trap is sprung both ways, John adds. Business is just as in thrall to management techniques copied from the sporting world. Companies often compete fiercely, purely for the sake of winning, only to backtrack when they realise they were too hasty. Both sides need to take a time out.
Hyperactive kingdom: Roula Khalaf advises caution as western leaders roll out the red carpet for Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who visits Britain this week. The millennial strongman of the Middle East has been praised for bringing change to a nation where progress has been glacially slow. But this new kingdom is unpredictable and aggressive — dangerous qualities in a region where tensions spill easily into war.
Cheering for China: Is the US president the west’s greatest gift to China? Edward Luce argues that, for now, he might be. Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs on steel and aluminium are the latest example of how western economic and foreign policy has backfired. America’s allies will be hit far harder by the protectionist measures than will Beijing. But it is wrong to lay all the blame on Trump; responsibility for the western world’s blunders is all-inclusive.
#MenToo: From Harvey Weinstein, to harassment at The Presidents Club, the past year has been an earthquake for gender politics, says Kate Allen. But, most of all, it has been an eye-opening year for men. When change comes it can happen very fast, but to make it long-lasting we need men beside us.
Best of the rest
For two months, I got my news from print newspapers. Here's what I learned — Farhad Manjoo in the New York Times
Discounted pink beer for women? Brewdog hasn’t gone nearly far enough — Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff in The Guardian
How one proverb became a recurring part of the of the Brexit debate — Simon Horobin in Prospect
Donald Trump’s know-nothing science budget — Alan Burdick in The New Yorker
Requiem for a strike — Sarah Jones in The New Republic
What you’ve been saying
UK may risk more ‘close calls’ on the gas market— letter from Jonathan Marshall
The booming global liquefied natural gas market has removed any incentive for storing gas for a cold winter day, as the arrival of a gas-laden tanker can impede high wholesale prices that a storage owner was hoping to tap in to. As such, the returns on offer from filling Rough, the UK’s largest gas storage facility, which closed last year, with cheap gas in the summer and withdrawing it in the depths of winter were deemed insufficient to warrant life-extending investment, leaving the UK in a parlous state in terms of storing its own gas.
Comment from randomthought on The GKN debate reflects loss of trust in markets
It is indeed sad that Britain appears poised to swing from a model of poorly regulated free markets / private enterprise to one of over regulation and nationalisation that is already known to be a failure from past experience. I suppose it is the price to be paid for the glorification of market forces that dominated public discourse from the 1980s until it came a cropper in 2007. Perhaps now Britain will revisit the 1970s and rediscover the joys of state owned monopolies. For those of us old enough to remember, it feels like we should just switch off, chill out, and come back in 15 years when the lessons of the past have been learnt anew. The dialectic of unfettered markets versus public/state ownership in the UK is old, stale, and unproductive. Find a way to travel orthogonally to that debate.
Tariff exemptions need not threaten US security— letter from Bruce Couchman
It surprises me that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro would say that as soon as the US exempted some countries from the proposed steel and aluminium tariff it would be necessary to raise the tariff on everyone else. The tariff is for security purposes, not to raise revenue or pay for government services. If an exemption were given to military allies such as Nato countries, that would not threaten US security. None of them is going to withhold steel or aluminium from the US in time of war. The last time Canada and the US were at war was 1812-14, well before Canada became an independent country. Use of Canadian or other Nato steel or aluminium does not pose a threat to American security.
Saudi Arabia’s strongman is doing too much, too fast As western leaders welcome Prince Mohammed, allies would do well to counsel caution
The west is doing its best to help China US steel tariffs are just the latest in a list of blunders handing windfalls to Beijing
Free Lunch: Four questions for the City of London Financiers must understand life after the single-market passport
African governments take a tough stand against foreign investors Public-private partnerships are proving to be a recipe for discord
Tighter power network regulation will pay off for UK consumers Ofgem to push utilities to pass finance savings on to customers
Opinion today: Tit-for-tat on trade Trump’s answers to US problems turn out to be not just unusual but downright dangerous
Team Sky raced too hard to become a business Companies infatuated by elite sports teams can learn from the anti-doping affair
#MeToo has shaken up a man’s world, but now the real work begins To address gender equality means not just changing women’s lives, but men’s, too
Instant Insight: Trump administration starts to rev its engines Despite the White House chaos, global events appear to be heading the president’s way
FT View: The GKN debate reflects loss of trust in markets Free enterprise depends on a public mandate. It is not guaranteed
FT View: Bureaucratic Brussels manoeuvres in the dark Martin Selmayr’s promotion to EU secretary-general needs scrutiny
Saudi Arabia cannot achieve its ambitious reforms alone As the kingdom’s reliance on oil wanes, overseas companies can benefit
Women make the difference in Angela Merkel’s new cabinet Most of the frontrunners to succeed the German chancellor are female
FT View: Gary Cohn’s exit leaves White House globalists exposed Trump’s tariffs plan will hurt allies and American businesses most
FT View: Philip Hammond’s blueprint for the City of London after Brexit The UK chancellor is wrong about equivalence. It is the best way forward
The Big Read
The Big Read: Syrian operation: Lafarge faces probe over Isis payments Cement company is alleged to have paid off jihadis to keep a plant open