When CSR and sport don’t mix

Businesses across the world are being challenged to become more socially responsible

Often this is legislated and increasingly companies are being challenged by their customers to be more socially responsible. Consider the recent outcry at Starbucks taxation regimes and 1990s boycott of Nike products that, successfully, forced increased transparency of factory workers’ rights. Or the international boycott of South African banks and produce in the 1960s and 1970s (protesting against South Africa’s apartheid regime).

Sport has not been exempt from this treatment either. The sporting public has been consistent in its abhorrence of anything unfair, unjust, or simply “not right”. Lance Armstrong, Mike Tyson, Ben Johnson…All vilified and stripped of their honours. The list of doping allegations and controversies is (sadly) a long one with most either banned for life – or at least for long enough to feel real financial pain and potentially ruin all that they sacrificed their lives to achieve.

Tiger Woods was dropped like a stone by corporate sponsors as soon as his private life started to unravel. He has had to climb back slowly from his disgrace. (And he actually started with the positive corporate social responsibility ‘balance’ having made significant donations to worthwhile causes through his Foundation).

For decades, people have voted with their feet to achieve an aim. No matter how much they loved and supported that product, country or individual.

So what is it about a football sports team that makes us think that savage acts like that (allegedly) committed by Luis Suarez are something to laugh about? Biting people (no matter how much you earn or how well you can kick a football) is nothing to be proud of. Not even once…let alone repeatedly …and let alone on the World Cup stage.

And yet, we read it, are a little appalled and then shrug our shoulders and move on. Almost condoning the behaviour. And so the clubs and governing organisations give him a little slap on the wrist (akin to 5 mins on the ‘naughty step’) and then welcome him back with open arms.

Why the different treatment? Why is Suarez’s very public misbehaviour more acceptable than Tiger’s private misdemeanors? They both play sport, they both earn fortunes from it, they are both great entertainers, they are both idolised by the kids and the adults alike. They both commit a few stupid acts. But one plays in a team and the other (mostly) for himself. One would think you would cut the individual a little more slack – he’s on his own, he has more to lose….we have more to lose by not having his sporting prowess to watch and fascinate us.

Suarez is a good footballer and arguably single handedly allowed Uruguay to progress in the World Cup. But he is one of several on the pitch and the team should be better than the individual. If they aren’t, they should not be in a team based competition.

Is it not time for the fan base to start some self regulation of their clubs and hold their club management to account? If they don’t, they are condoning the behaviour and suggesting that taking a chunk out of someone when you don’t get your way, is the only way to get even. It makes each of them no better than Suarez. No better than the uneducated, uncouth animals of the wild. Perhaps even worse, as the wild animals are fighting back only to survive.

Political, business and individual sports careers have been lost in the matter of a few reckless hours. That is right and proper. Anyone who has been given the privilege of experiencing success, has obligations. That might be as basic as being a role model for future generations.

And breeding a generation of inarticulate, cannibalistic kids who are above the law cannot be right. However much you and your football team depend on his or her talent.

By Carla Stent

About the Author

Carla Stent serves as NED for Christian Aid and Deputy Chair of the Young Women’s Trust and has co created several start ups, including Little Fish Foreign Exchange and This is the Big Deal. She spent 20+ years in executive, international banking, private equity and retail roles (including Barclays, Thomas Cook and Virgin), operating at Board level.

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