Ethical Performance
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Societal benefits of sport are ‘too often overlooked’

April 2008

Too many businesses are failing to include sporting activities in their social responsibility programmes, according to the International Business Leaders’ Forum.

The not-for-profit body says programmes built around sport are still a rarity, even though they offer a ‘huge opportunity’ in the areas of health, gender equality, conflict prevention, youth development and social inclusion.

The Forum accepts that some companies, such as Barclays, British Airways and Coca-Cola, have seen the possibilities. However, awareness elsewhere is still ‘relatively low’, even though sport is widely used in marketing campaigns. Even companies selling sports-related goods and services often fail to realize the potential. Nevertheless, the Forum is optimistic that business interest will ‘spike’ during the next three years with the Beijing Olympics this year, the Commonwealth Games in 2010 in Delhi, and the football World Cup in South Africa.

Its study, Shared goals through sport, argues that sport can fit well into CSR programmes because it addresses a wide range of social problems, appeals to many age groups, can cut across cultural boundaries, and fosters team spirit.

Lesley Roberts, corporate responsibility director at the sporting goods manufacturer Pentland, said the latter benefit was particularly important for corporate responsibility executives. ‘Company employees are often passionate about sport and very happy to volunteer time to sport-related activities, particularly if there’s a positive wider social outcome associated with their efforts,’ she said. Roberts said Pentland had noted this trend with swimming events to raise money for anti-malaria programmes. ‘All our employees bought into this project as it created team spirit and a sense of competition,’ she said.

However, the IBLF says one obstacle to bringing sport into corporate responsibility programmes is the dearth of senior-level sport advocates in companies and ‘the lack of an obvious business department in which to pursue these issues’. It recommends that companies appoint a senior representative with responsibility for sports programmes who can develop a ‘robust business case’ for action, lobby internally, and develop partnerships.

The study, which will be discussed this year at a series of IBLF-convened meetings, beginning in London and Delhi, highlights a number of examples of sport in business responsibility programmes:
 Coca-Cola’s support for grass-roots programmes set up by the International Olympic Committee, FIFA and other sporting bodies
 Volkswagen’s creation of an International Table Tennis Training Centre in China, which arose from a sponsorship deal
 Barclays’ Spaces for Sports project, a £30million ($61m) investment in ‘sustainable sports facilities’ around the UK
 British Airways’ promotion of community cohesion in South Africa through football training.

In addition, Business in the Community has set up a Clubs that Count programme to advise large professional sports bodies, such as Premiership football clubs, on working more closely with community groups and others. The project is sponsored by the UK’s Department of Health.

International Business Leaders Forum | Global | Employee relations

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