Sport and its Social Responsibility
A closer look at the impact sport can have on society.
I was recently invited to participate in a panel to discuss the role Sport plays in society. Here are some of the thoughts I shared.
On the meaning of social responsibility in Sport and what makes the Sport sector unique in terms of its social impact
The Sport sector is unique because of the responsibility it has towards different actors: both active sportsmen and women or professional athletes as well as passive Sport consumers or fans. And sometimes the impact is even felt on a societal basis.
Federations or clubs need to think about the people playing their Sport. They have a responsibility to provide equal access regardless of gender, age, race or sexual orientation. Equality is key in Sport. But not just when it comes to athletes but also the fans. Think about the current discussion about letting women watch football games in certain middle Eastern countries. Sport has a responsibility to treat all humans equally. And because of Sport’s unique, global visibility that responsibility is further amplified.
History has shown that Sport has the power to impact entire societies. It can help countries find new self-esteem through success in Sports. Take the two German Football World Cup winning teams in 1954 and 1990 and how they changed the country’s identity. Or remember what happened in South Africa when the local squad won the Rugby World Cup in 95. Sport can sometimes even help overcome political conflicts, at least short-term. North and South Korea sending a women’s Ice Hockey team to the 2018 Winter Olympics or the US playing Iran at the 1998 FIFA Football World Cup in France when their political tensions were felt globally are just two of many examples.
On the characteristics and measurement of a successful social impact project in Sport
A successful social impact project is one that addresses the fundamental needs of an underdeveloped or undermined society and improves its situation.
If a hockey team in Sweden manages to improve the job situation of young adults by offering internships and job opportunities through its partners and this in return helps not only to keep this group in the region but also the club to attract more fans to its games, that’s a successful initiative.
A lot of successful social impact projects in Sport affect (school) children. Sport clubs but also NGOs like “Right to Play” provide opportunities to children to be active, offer them perspectives and keep them from illegal behaviour; that’s impactful. Or if athletes visit schools to teach students about fair play, respect, equality, team work, discipline; that’s impactful.
Measuring the success of this can be difficult. But it’s important. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t change it” is a saying that holds a lot of truth. One practical approach is quantifying the number of people reached with a campaign. How many hospital visits took place? How many special-purpose jerseys were sold? How many school children participated in a game day? How many new registrations did a club have? Or even: how many more attendees from a certain age group came to watch the games?
On the biggest opportunities in Sport to create a social impact
Using high profile players, athletes or coaches presents a huge opportunity. They are role models who can have a positive impact on anybody. If these stars live by the right values it will rub off on their followers. That’s why it’s important to use their brainprint, use their reach and fame.
But the beauty of Sport in terms of its social impact also lies in the ability to have an impact both at home in one’s own front yard as well as far away. By using local suppliers or collaborating with schools or homes for disabled people or by providing free access to one’s facilities a club can strengthen the local community. More and more organizations are going down this route. They realize that if they don’t have a strong community, they will soon not have anyone going to their games anymore. At the same time one can of course still support initiatives or NGOs related to Sport that are doing most of their work in developing countries.
On particularly impactful and responsible social work in Sport
A lot of the good examples can be found in the grassroots area. On an amateur level you can feel the social impact and importance of Sport the most. Especially in these times. It brings together different backgrounds, different types of people for a common cause. You can overcome social inequalities in Sport and teach the fundamentals of our living together as humans. And think about it: if everyone is wearing the same uniform, no one can tell who is who, everyone’s the same.
On a professional level it’s more about leading by example, using one’s own platform/brainprint to make a positive difference. I see great ambassadors in Sport who are speaking up on topics such as racism, discrimination, violence, even on environmental issues. We all know Colin Kaepernick’s story and have seen Lewis Hamilton or Lebron James but there are many others such as Dominic Thiem, Michelle Gisin or Kelly Slater.