Football: “Do as I say AND as I do”
Many agree that football is a mirror of society; that sport’s ills are simply a reflection of the issues that are embedded in wider society and that the origins of what happens on the pitch can be traced back to what is happening in the streets, at the work place and in schools.
While this may be true, those in sport should by no means feel helpless to react to these incidents. In fact, it should be quite the opposite: they should see them as an opportunity to engage with their fans, communities and society-at-large because this is often the point at which their benefit to society can be most broadly felt.
Economic value can also be realised here too. Thinking proactively about these issues is a necessary form of risk and reputation management because history has shown us that they will surface and can affect the business if it is not sufficiently prepared. Regardless of whether or not sport is the root cause, it would be needlessly naïve to ignore them.
As we’ve mentioned recently [xxxxxxxxxxxx], football in particular has the great advantage of possessing a huge communication channel that penetrates society on many levels, including those hard to reach groups. The challenge must now be to focus on better using this channel to the benefit of society and of football itself.
Racism and other forms of discrimination, such as homophobia, have been unarguably the most prominent issues to be cast under the spotlight by football in recent months. With the upcoming World Cup in 2018 in Russia, recent incidents on and off the pitch have led to very public and far-reaching questions over the country’s suitability to host the biggest single sport event in the world. As many experts have commented, education on these issues is what is needed.
Health is another issue to which football can add value by helping to convey educational messages to target sections of the population. Last weekend, a match between two top English Premier League teams, Tottenham Hotspur and Everton, featured an incident in the late stages of the game where Spurs’ goalkeeper Lloris was knocked unconscious after a collision with another player, but rather than heeding to the advice of the medical team to be replaced, he insisted that he wanted to see the game out.
The news headlines the next day featured the brain injury charity Headway labelling Spurs’ reaction as ‘irresponsible’ for not responding properly to a head injury. Headway has been right to take advantage of this platform to raise awareness of dealing with head injuries. Unfortunately in this instance, Headway’s communication triumph comes at the expense of Spurs’ reputation—and potentially the health of its first choice goalkeeper—as it was not prepared to deal with the issue.
Often it takes a couple of high profile incidents to bring about much needed improvements. A number of high-profile players—otherwise assessed as being healthy—have suffered heart attacks on the pitch over recent years. This finally led to a number of improvements in and around the game, such as medical emergency bags being sent to all football associations, FIFA urging that a defibrillator be needed at every football match, and general awareness raising about emergency medicine, and more precisely, how medics should administer first aid in the case of sudden cardiac arrest.
The examples given above demonstrate why this is absolutely an area where football’s community work can be most beneficial. Football must identify those issues that are most relevant to important groups—such as players and staff, but especially fans and other members of the communities in which they are based—and then work alongside experts to raise awareness of these issues, deliver educative messages, promote understanding and exemplify good practice.
Unless clubs practice what they preach, they will lose credibility and the impact of the initiatives they support will be drastically reduced. This is where the dots must be joined. It is only through implementing it’s own policies regarding such issues as employee recruitment, waste to landfill and healthy eating that football can avoid calls of hypocrisy by unintentionally sending out the message, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Football may not be the reason for society’s ills and it is not responsible for providing the answers of how to deal with them. What it can be expected to do though, is to lend its communication channel to help those better equipped to solve them, and ensure that, internally, its management is forward looking, proactive and exercises good judgment on emerging issues.