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Going for gold in business Olympics

Regal Wallet Banner

The Olympics are nearly upon us again, and after all the controversy over the global relay of the Olympic flame – surely one of the most ridiculous pieces of shambolism ever inflicted on us – it will soon be time for the serious business of track and field, which is what the Games are supposed to be all about.

There will be more controversy, you can be sure, over what sports really constitute Olympic events. This time the most egregious new “sport” is probably BMX cycling, which should be regarded as a harmless teenage past-time, like pop music or hanging out with mates, rather than a true embodiment of the Olympian spirit.

But if BMX can get in, why not include activities from the business world? I would love to see the final of the “post credit-crisis buck-passing marathon” with Alan Greenspan taking on a Rest of the World team – and winning.

Or what about the “rogue trader sprint” with a team from the world’s financial regulators chasing after Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale  and losing.

The financial sport I would really like to see included is the “protectionism relay.” This would involve bankers and financiers from various western countries competing to see who could introduce the most bigoted, short-sighted and xenophobic piece of legislation designed to halt the global free-flow of capital.
Each country would pass on its new protectionist law, as quickly as possible and with the minimum of serious consideration, to the next competitor, who would then try to add a new, cruelly chauvinistic and utterly stupid amendment. Easy isn’t it?

The only problem with such an event is that it looks as though the Americans would win gold, silver and bronze every time.

With the US Treasury seeking to strengthen the powers of the Congressional Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States(Cfius), even as Wall Street banks are going round the Middle East andAsia with their begging bowls out for capital, it seems like a sport only the Americans could ever win, because nobody else plays it. A bit like baseball, really.

But just recently a serious contender has emerged to play the Americans at their own game, and push for gold medal position inBeijing 08.

Last week the German government of Angela Merkel made it known that it would set up its own version of Cfius with a view to scrutinizing and perhaps even vetoing foreign state-backed investment if it is deemed to be a threat to “national security or public order.” How’s that for a winning run from the Germans as they go past the USA team on the final bend?

The Americans could come back with even tougher measures, like threatening foreign investors with forced divestment if they don’t like the colour of their money; or they could reduce the level of automatic scrutiny of a foreign investor to as little as 5 per cent of a US company’s shares – the Germans are proposing a pathetic 25 per cent at the moment.

But don’t write off the German challenge. With the country’s notoriously xenophobic labour ministry involved in the final framing of the legislation, they are in a strong position to take the top position on the Olympic rostrum.
Other European Union countries – which the Germans self-righteously exclude from their own anti-foreign investment laws – might also give the Americans a decent race. The French have never been reluctant to play the game of “security interests” or “national champions” when it has suited them.

The Australians too have had a recent attempt at the existing world records with their own piece of isolationist legislation, and the New Zealanders showed they are not far off the pace with their blocking tactics over Auckland Airport.

The British, having already sold most of the national assets over the past 20 years, will not be in the reckoning for a medal, but that’s nothing new for them at the Olympics.

The only problem I can foresee is that it might be difficult to have an Olympic event in which only Americans, Europeans and antipodeans participate. But if you let them carry on with their protectionist policies, it won’t be long before the rest of the world retaliates – and the Business Olympics are called off completely.