October 2003

CSR and the Beautiful Game

We have often argued in these Monthly Features that CSR is a systems concept that can be widely applied to corporations, NGOs, Government, associations and so on. By systems concept we mean, following the systems approach well known to engineers, a complete approach that takes a problem, identifies the systems boundary and then considers all aspects of importance to the resolution of the problem. The system in CSR revolves around the identification of the key stakeholders and their incorporation in a socially responsible way. Consequently, those who see CSR as essentially philanthropy (as does management guru Michael Porter misguidedly in a recent interview) miss out on a powerful business tool to make their businesses even more dynamic and profitable.

As well as providing its clients with an overall approach to CSR, MHCi has shown how the CSR concept can be applied in many disciplines. To this end MHCi runs a series of CSR Masterclasses where participants interact closely with CSR and the discipline specialists. Recently, in London, MHCi ran a masterclass linking CSR to the wider issue of sport and this is what we report on in this article. The participants, a broad group of sports business people, academics, journalists and consultants raised eight key questions on sport and CSR:

  1. Whatever happened to the beautiful game?

  2. Is CSR relevant to sport and what can it offer

  3. Who can be the leaders of the revolution on CSR in sport?

  4. Future generations: how can CSR help?

  5. What is CSR’s definition of sport?

  6. If sport cannot go it alone, what partnerships are possible?

  7. What would your message to the CEO be from this meeting?:

  8. Should sport be taken more seriously by Government?

Let’s look at each question:

1. Whatever happened to the beautiful game?

Focussing on football (with side comments on both cricket and rugby), Jonathan Metliss presented a game mired in drugs and rife with racism. A game that spawns violence on the pitch and hooliganism on the terraces and in the streets. A game that is far from beautiful. Yet sporting problems have always existed and our current view of sport is rose tinted by the Golden Age of sport, which according to social historian Dr Eric Midwinter , spanned the period 1870 to 1950. Despite extreme disillusionment, Mr Metliss outlined actions that could be taken to restore the game of football to its beautiful self. These could include: statutory action; the deduction of points from offending clubs; reduction of media money; more activity – with teeth – from the anti racism bodies such as Kick it Out. This could be further extended, as Dr Michael Hopkins pointed out, with proper codes of ethics; with sports’ people observing codes of ethics; with players and coaches working with known hooligans; transfer deals including ethics clauses and players, who do have a serious profile as role models, being rewarded for exemplary behaviour – in their pay packets.

2. Is CSR relevant to sport and what can it offer?

The tenor from the Masterclass was that CSR is absolutely fundamental to sport. So what can CSR offer? Prof. Alan Stainer stated that the positive arguments for CSR outweighed any negative ones which he outlined as follows: an improved environment; improved viability in the long run; enhanced public image and reputation; a preparedness for legislation; that prevention is better – and cheaper – than cure. He continued that CSR is key in creating and realising value since CSR:

  • Improves reputation;

  • Increases loyalty and confidence;

  • Improves the ability to recruit and retain top performers;

  • Raises stakeholder awareness and responsiveness;

  • Improves communication;

  • Fosters learning – new skills and competencies for staff;

  • Gives better risk management;

  • Improves productivity and innovation;

  • Widens the customer base

Further, CSR can help in coming to terms with changing external forces such as competitive pressures, financial pressures & sponsorship; demographic change, structural change; regulation and changing values.

It was suggested that a short, 100 day CSR programme could be set up within a company or organisation to test its efficacy and use it as a pilot for more far reaching CSR activity.

3. Who can be the leaders of the revolution on CSR in sport?

All of the participants agreed that almost anyone could be a leader of the CSR revolution in Sport including the Masterclass delegates. It was proposed that the various delegates networked with opinion leaders in their various spheres of operation to push the boundaries! Not an idle boast since among participants numbered representatives of soccer’s UK Premier League, Management of Worldwide Rugby Federation, Olympic event organisers, the world of cricket as well as media and documentary film producers.

4. Future generations: how can CSR help?

Future generations should be included within any stakeholder programme and it was the promotion of citizenship that came out as the key focus for this question. If a business or an association is to impact positively on future generations, then it has to be sustainable. Dr Midwinter argued that “the ill effects of sport, both at home and globally, are now such that tinkering is no longer an option, and heroic surgery is required” but others, such as Lord Dick Newby and Dr Hopkins feel that engagement is a better focus. Dr Hopkins’ Lazy J graph gives a model for how Values Pay. The Prince’s Trust Football Initiative (PTFI), of which Lord Newby is the Chair, is a nation-wide programme with 43 football clubs aimed at “equipping thousands of young people with vital life skills, including team-working, communication, taking responsibility, motivation and self confidence.” All of the successes outlined in the PTFI newsletter, The Result, are exemplary and some truly inspirational in bringing young people aged 16 – 25 from “despondency to hope” through sport investing in its community.

5. What is CSR’s definition of sport?

“Sport has unparalleled power to motivate and inspire both participants and spectators” is a view voiced by Lord Newby and held by many. It is this power that that needs to be focused in a socially responsible manner. A contrary view is held by Dr Midwinter who contends that sport is only entertainment “a disportment or diversion, with the false belief that it has some intrinsic meaning and purpose.” It is the fact that sport has become mainstream in our society and in our lives that has led to the ills that currently plague us. Nevertheless, sport currently supports huge business activity and it is our view that sport, as a business, is where one of the main focuses of CSR should be.

6. If sport cannot go it alone, what partnerships are possible?

Sport is already made up from partnerships as the list of sport’s stakeholders shows: owners, players, employees, suppliers, regulators, media, society, environment, competitors, sponsors, supporters/fans. It only requires a good idea and links to be made between the various stakeholders to start things off. We have already mentioned The Prince’s Trust as one avenue and another could be the KARROT Project a pilot reward card scheme set up with Southwark Borough and the Metropolitan Police to tackle youth crime and truancy.

7. What would your message to the CEO be from this meeting?

The initial response would be to go straight back and in the case of one Premier football club present, make an immediate presentation to the young players as a start in changing their attitude. The other message to the CEO would be the need to start embedding an ethical management system in your organisation. Ivor Hopkins’ presentation explored both Compliance led systems (proscriptive/legislative) and a Value Led system (self regulation): the key in self regulation is to have commitment from the top as well as organisational ownership – if the employees of a company are not involved in the inception of its values then these values will never truly be embedded. However, there is a need for Governmental legislation on CSR to help level the playing field.

8. Should sport be taken more seriously by Government?

There was a definite feeling from the Masterclass that Government does not take its responsibilities in sport seriously enough and that the communication between Governmental departments was not optimal. It was proposed that Government should be more involved in the governance of sport, that there should be more Governmental activity in CSR in Sport and that the Minister for Sport should be given a much higher profile.

Since the Masterclass, the problem in football in the UK both off the field with Rio Ferdinand and his forgotten drug’s test and on the field with the scuffle between Turkish and English players and staff have underscored both the timeliness, and the importance, of focussing on CSR in sport. Now is the time for concerted action.


[Overview supplied by Ivor Hopkins, Director, MHC International Ltd who organised and chaired the Masterclass in Sport and CSR at The National Liberal Club, London, 03rd October 2003.]