Wimbledon 2012 pick-ups for Lanka
Wimbledon is special to me not because I played the tennis circuit during my schooling days but for the insights that I get into life and business in general. The 2012 edition in particular was unique, given that a Brit was in the finals of the men’s singles game, that was happening after 74 years. Let me pick up the key moments and insights that I linked it to.
When Roger Federer came into the tournament he was statistically forecasted of winning the Wimbledon crown at a 17.5% chance, way behind Nadal and Djokovic. When he reached that last 16, the probability of Federer winning Wimbledon in 2012 edged up to 23.5% statically with Djokovic still the favourite, but he proved all statistical forecasting wrong and went on to beat Andy Murray at an age of 31 years to claim his seventh Wimbledon title.
My parallel pick up is the tourism industry of Sri Lanka. Whilst the statistics show that arrivals this year registered 17 percent plus growth, the tourism industry on the other hand is voicing that the numbers are not reflective in their occupancy. Some senior stalwarts have been voicing their concern on the aspect of a global promotional campaign that is required to attract 5-star tourists into the country.
Whilst accepting that 99.9% of the industry is private-sector led, I feel a private-public think tank needs to come to play so that a clear way forward strategy can be mapped out. Critics can argue that this will not bear fruit but being part of the team that is launching the 10 million dollar global campaign on Ceylon Tea, I see how a private-public partnership is working very well under the leadership of the Sri Lanka Tea Board. So, we must now move out of the game of statistics and understand what is behind the numbers so that Sri Lanka can move to new growth agenda.
It’s true that Andy Murray was not able to secure his first Wimbledon crown in the 2012 edition but those who watched him play will never forget how hard he tried to win. His fighting spirit was a cut above the games he played and I would rank it to be one of the best matches I have seen him play.
I guess the only words that he was able to say at the post match interview “getting closer” before breaking down said it all. After all, the fact is that he made it to four grand slam semi finals before crashing out.
To me the pickup is the Sri Lanka stock market. After having catapulted globally as a best performing stock exchange, we have now spiralled to a bottom-of-the-pyramid status, which does not augur well for an economy that is registering 8% GDP growth.
It’s true that only one fifth of the companies are listed in the stock market of Sri Lanka, however the profit numbers have been at double digit level in the last three years, which means that growth in the stock market has been more ‘sentiment’ led than numbers.
This has to be corrected by bringing to book the market manipulators and those who have violated the law. But to date, Sri Lanka has not seen this coming to light even though as Andy Murray says, it is “getting closer”.
I guess what makes Roger Federer being classed in the league of Muhammad Ali, Pale or Tendulkar is the respect he shows to his opponents. Even after being garlanded as the greatest tennis athlete in the game, he went on to comment on the exceptional talent of Andy Murray and his passion for the game that will make him a worthy winner of a grand slam tournament in the near future. It is said that showing respect to a competitor is one sure way of building strong relationships in today’s world.
To me the parallel was when Sri Lanka won the war on terror. Being part of the wider team that achieved this feat in my capacity as the Director for Economic Affairs of the Government Peace Secretariat, we were elated as it is only a person who has constantly travelled under armed escort in war-torn areas can feel what real peace is.
Today, when a parent drops a child at school, he is sure to see him in the evening at home, when during the last 30 years, for some it was not a reality. Almost 70,000 people lost their lives, which included the Central Bank bombing, the city attacks on buses and attacks on villages, to name a few.
Now that this is behind us, the challenge is what has gone wrong for Sri Lanka to be under the scrutiny on the world stage. Was it that in some point of time we did not respect the world order that we are being chased after now? I am not sure what the answer is but we have to pick up the pieces and as a nation build a picture that is favourable. The private sector in particular must play an active part in this new high priority agenda.
Just weeks after winning the French Open title and coming into Wimbledon as the world’s number one, Maria Sharpova crashed out of the prized tournament in the fourth round, losing to Sabine Lisicki.
My parallel to this is Ceylon Tea. Sri Lanka is known all over the world on this premise. Wherever a cup of tea is served, there is some association to the brand Ceylon Tea and the Lion Logo.
But the issues for this noble industry are crazy. There are supply chain issues due to the ageing stock tea bushes that are affecting productivity, whilst from a demand side there is a brewed-out debate on the tea hub that is leading to unpleasantness in the fraternity, which is in fact working together well in the launch of the global advertising campaign.
In my view we need to revisit the agreement of the privatised management side of the tea industry and take the bold move of agreeing to a wider lease period. If it should be 66 years or 99 years needs be discussed and agreed with the legislator so that investment can happen from the takers of profit rather than a concessionary arrangement. But for this to happen, the portfolio also must be allowed to be diversified with minimum bureaucracy, be it agriculture, tourism or renewable energy.
I feel 8 July is the day that Britain really cried with their tennis ace Andy Murray. A record 17 million viewers watched the Wimbledon grand slam final that was played on centre court. Research revealed that 11.4 million on average watched for the total duration of the match on BBC whilst it peaked at 16.9 million when Andy Murray burst into tears when he lost the match 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 to the Swiss champ.
In my view the parallel to Sri Lanka was the boom time period of 2010-’11 whilst Sri Lanka pegged itself in the World Economic Forum from 79 to become a top 52 country whilst on many other global ratings Sri Lanka shone outshone regional partners. We failed to understand the real sentiments behind the numbers from a private sector investor perspective.
We could have used the upward swing to do the necessary reforms that was required (even if it was painful) so that we could give space for the private sector to drive the engine of growth. As the Ceylon Chamber Commerce 2012 summit keynote speaker said, when reforms are not done in a country, the corruption level increases. I guess it’s not too late for Sri Lanka to instil the drastic reforms required even now.
Seventeen months after a life-threatening blood clot in her lungs almost ended her glittering tennis career, Serena Williams overcame the mental and physical scars to climb back in life and go on to win the fifth Wimbledon women’s single title.
The apparel industry is my parallel on this pick-up. An industry termed as ‘mere tailors’ has now made Sri Lanka’s garment industry to be the ‘World 1st Ethical Sourcing Destination’ targeting five billion dollars in the near future and to be the regional hub for the industry.
But now the challenge is the 40% wage increase the industry is up against, which was reported in the weekend papers. This needs to be managed given that Sri Lanka is competing with price-savvy competitors especially at a time when the world is sliding towards a recession and purchasing power will be more under pressure.
Whilst Britain mourned the loss of their Wimbledon hope after 73 years, Andy Murray reassured that he would aim towards his challenge, which would be an Olympic Gold in August this year.
Sri Lanka needs to do the same and focus on the next challenge. If it’s tourism that is emerging as the next wave, then we must spruce up all related value chain activity, which includes sewerage systems, storm water management and connectivity, if we are to drive the total value chain.
Whilst Wimbledon had its own moments that were memorable to me, the pick to the Sri Lankan economy was more valuable. Now the challenge is how the pick-ups can be auctioned.
(The author has a black belt in karate and is an alumnus of Harvard University, Boston. The thoughts expressed are his own and not the views of any organisation he serves in Sri Lanka or internationally.)