Commentary Box: The charity shield

MOST major football clubs today have some form of charitable foundation or set of initiatives aimed at “sharing the love” in the community. Some might argue this is no more than a club should do given the vast sums of money players earn. Likewise, given a football club depends, to a large degree, on the support of the public in order to make it a going concern, giving something back is the right thing to do.

But the cynics among us might dismiss the charitable efforts of corporates and football clubs as an attempt to make virtue signalling  – the overwhelming fascination with the military is one example – part of a community strategy. Football clubs might just be a little embarrassed by the amount of money being channelled into wage packets and look to tip the balance a bit by portraying themselves as “really good guys”.

Association with charity is something that has been building in the corporate world for some years, but mostly since the global financial crisis of 2008. Financial institutions that helped tip the world into crisis have made extraordinary efforts to resposition themselves as quasi-philanthropists. In the workplace, ambitious professionals insist on platforms like LinkedIn they are seeking “volunteering opportunities” or will include examples of their own “goodness” in their CV. Potential new recruits from universities are told to include some “CSR” element in their resume to indicate they are well-rounded people who “care”.

Corporates go to great lengths to publicise their CSR efforts, often to disguise or play down their real raison d’etre – i.e. making money. They will plaster images of their staff feeding children in Africa or walking among townships in some deprived part of the world. In short, companies are so red-faced about the enormous gap in wealth they make themselves feel better by suggesting, “look what we are doing for these people.”

From a personal perspective, I was once told that if I wanted promotion, I should perhaps “do some things that I might not naturally want to do”. In other words, enter into some charity work that people got to hear about. I did it, reluctantly (not because I don’t like charity, but because I want to choose my charity) and got promotion. Afterwards, I stopped, just to make a point.

This is an example of how it works, and it may just be that football is going down this same path. While the major clubs have these quite effective foundations, giving the impression they are caring, sharing people, they are are also asking fans to pay ludicrous prices for match tickets, pushing for more broadcasting money and, in the case of the European Super League drama, possibly holding the game’s governing bodies to ransom.

Greed on one hand, philanthropy on the other – surely hypocrisy at work? Also, football is supposedly the game of the people, so how do you explain a certain high profile club trying to squeeze people out of their homes in order to gain ownership of everything around their ground so they can expand or leverage the property market? Charity clearly not beginning at home!

Charity is, without doubt, a good thing for any institution to be involved in, but where it goes wrong is when it becomes part of a marketing strategy, and some football clubs are in danger of doing just that. Britain has always been good at charity, but I have always believed that the really decent folk are those that do not talk about their charitable activities or advertise their virtues. Genuinely “good” people do not tell you how good they are, you come to that conclusion about them naturally. It’s a similar story around diversity, which is not just a vehicle for high profile events that get a club publicity, it is a frame of mind as much as something to fly from the flagpole.

Some clubs have a strong CSR ethos running right through them. Watford, for example, have long developed links with the community. Some players also have a genuine desire to give something back and these individuals should be applauded. Importantly, charitable initiatives should not be a way to provide great marketing opportunities, they should be confined to providing help and not expecting kudos in return. Football has to avoid following the path of so many misguided corporates who believe that one good turn does not compensate for a multitude of sins.

Photo: PA


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