Edward Thomas Jones
Senior Lecturer in Economics
The transformation of the FAW into a modern, progressive governing body holds important lessons for businesses across Wales.
In January, I had the opportunity of attending a presentation by Ian Gwyn Hughes, who discussed his role as the Head of Public Relations at the Football Association of Wales (FAW). Hosted by the Bangor Branch of the University of Wales, the event delved into recent moments in Welsh national football, including UEFA Euro 2016, UEFA Euro 2020, and the 2022 FIFA World Cup. In his role, Ian has been instrumental in reshaping the FAW into an organisation that fosters unity, building a genuine connection between players and supporters. His efforts epitomize the FAW's mantra: “Together Stronger.”
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there existed a negative culture towards representing Wales in football. Many players, predominantly affiliated with Premier League clubs who boasted superior facilities, viewed international breaks as opportunities to rest for their clubs rather than donning the red jersey and give it all on the pitch for it. To address this cultural issue, the FAW embarked on a transformative journey, investing significantly to elevate Wales into a top-tier team with better facilities, more staff, and high standards so that players were looked after better. Moreover, the FAW undertook initiatives to instil a deeper appreciation for Welsh history and culture among the players. Activities such as visiting Hedd Wyn's grave in Belgium and Aberfan, the site of the 1966 mining disaster, were pivotal in fostering a sense of connection. This strategy was successful in reshaping the ethos and mindset of players, igniting a newfound passion for representing Wales and instilling a steadfast commitment to giving their all for the nation.
An important lesson for businesses is the importance of cultivating a strong company culture. While many businesses believe that simply displaying core values on a wall suffices, the experience of the FAW underscores that crafting a dynamic company culture demands more. It encompasses the atmosphere employees encounter upon entering the workplace, the dynamics of team interactions, and the methods by which a business achieves its goal. A vibrant culture instils employees with confidence in their work and keeps them motivated and inspired to do their best. Nurturing company culture involves equipping teams with the resources they need, fostering an environment of openness and collaboration, and offering avenues for growth. A strong culture that champions teamwork and inclusivity increase engagement and improves business performance.
The FAW is innovative in its efforts to promote football within Welsh communities across the country and strengthening the bond between players and supporters. One way it has done this is by embracing the country's bilingualism and actively advocating for the Welsh language. For example, the FAW has adopted ‘Cymru' to refer to the national team, moving away from the conventional term ‘Wales'. This journey began with Gary Speed, who insisted that all players learned to sing the national anthem. Through its partnership with the National Centre for Learning Welsh, the FAW ensures that all players and staff have opportunities to learn and enjoy the Welsh language. Tailored learning programs are provided, ranging from beginner levels to confidence-building sessions, with fans also encouraged to participate in these courses. The FAW has set the pace with its modern, inclusive personality.
Businesses across Wales should recognize the advantages of having bilingual employees and the positive impact it can have on workplace productivity and performance. While the practical benefits are evident in a bilingual country like Wales, there are additional advantages beyond the ability to converse with a wider range of people. Research has shown that bilingualism makes employees smarter as it has a profound effect on cognitive abilities not related to language and even shield against dementia in old age. Proficiency in both Welsh and English enriches the brain's executive function, the cognitive mechanism responsible for directing attention processes essential for planning, problem-solving, and executing mentally demanding tasks.
Wales doesn’t have a seat at multinational entities such as the United Nations (UN) or the World Trade Organization (WTO), as it is indirectly represented as part of the UK. However, the FAW holds full membership with UEFA and FIFA, affording Wales a distinct presence on the international stage. This membership has allowed the FAW to engage with people all around the world and build informal networks, which has, among other things, helped it sell its coaching courses across the globe. The recent success of the national football team in major international events has generated substantial global interest in understanding the Welsh approach to player development. In response, the FAW developed a coaching programme aimed at improving coaches understanding on the technical, physical, psychological, and social aspects of modern football. The fact that Thierry Henry, Mikel Arteta and Patrick Vieira are among those that have graduate from the programme is testament to its quality and high standards. These programmes are now being sold around the worldwide, including in countries such as the US, China, and Japan, enhancing coaches' capabilities to support and nurture players in those countries.
The FAW experience shows the vast potential of global market expansion for their products or services and that this can be done successfully from Wales. Exporting to other countries presents an avenue for businesses to improve sales and profitability. Technological advancements are simplifying the process of exporting and selling abroad is no longer restrained by physical location. Venturing into international markets enables businesses to diversify their customer base, reducing reliance on any single market. While the Welsh economy stagnating, other economies worldwide are experiencing growth, with consumers willing to spend their money on new products and services. International markets have the potential to drive increased production, resulting in economies of scale and improved profit margins. In addition, varying consumer needs and expectations across different countries present opportunities for businesses to adapt existing products to cater to new markets effectively.
The insights given by Ian Gwyn Hughes and the transformation of the FAW offer profound lessons for all businesses. The success of Cymru is a beacon of inspiration, demonstrating how culture, language, and a global perspective can help propel businesses towards success in Wales and beyond.