No connection without social responsibility
The football World Cup will be upon us in November 2022. There'll be no garden parties, Bavaria dresses or neighbourhood barbecues to mark the occasion; for the first time, the World Cup finals will be taking place in the colder months of the year. That planning schedule was an emergency measure: playing football in the summer, in the heat of the desert in Qatar would be wholly irresponsible.
When, for the first time, the proposal to defer the FIFA World Cup to the winter months was discussed, I thought it inconceivable that we would be getting out the orange bunting during Advent. And yet, although moving the tournament from summer to winter has wide-ranging consequences, not least for all other competitions that are running at the time, it is not nearly the largest flaw of this World Cup.
We now know that the allocation of the tournament to oil state Qatar was all down to corruption and bribery. Even issues like human rights seem to be subservient to the money passed under the table at FIFA HQ. All that means that there will definitely not be a carefree, celebratory atmosphere around this World Cup. Any football fan with a moral compass has, at the very least, an uncomfortable feeling at the mention of Qatar 2022. And that is precisely why I think that in ten years' time it will be unthinkable that a large-scale sporting tournament will be organised in a country that takes such liberties with human rights.
As a community, we have become a lot more critical of the role that organisations play in society. We expect companies to take their responsibility and to speak out on issues that affect society. So that applies to sports’ governing bodies and sporting events, too. To connect with the public and maintain that connection, even sports organisations have to make the right moral choices. The fact that people get excited about World Cups and the Olympic Games can no longer be taken for granted.
In this series of columns I have previously described how important it is for sporting events and sponsors to create a connection with consumers. To convince people to buy a ticket for a football match or to buy sponsored merchandise, you first have to build up a connection. When people start looking critically at the social responsibility of organisations, a feel-good advertisement is no longer enough to spark a positive feeling towards a particular company. Where, as an organisation, you are on the 'wrong' side of the social debate, you can pretty much forget that connection with the consumer.
As a result, sports organisations that fail to recognise their social responsibility lose the connection with their fanbase which, in turn, has implications for their success. For instance, I've had the mascot of the Olympic Games in London on my key ring for more than ten years. For me, that represents a good memory of the event in 2012. I find it hard to believe that there are many people who, in the coming months, will voluntarily pull on a Qatar 2022 T-shirt with a sense of pride.
Sponsors, too, understand that public expectation is that they should take their social responsibility. Research among sponsorship professionals earlier this year shows that more than eight out of ten expect that social responsibility will be an ever more important part of sponsoring in the near future. A sponsorship must reflect the social agenda of the organisation in question (corporate social responsibility), for example in the field of sustainability and inclusivity.
The public has an increasingly strong opinion on the role of sponsors in the social debate. Nearly three quarters of people in the Netherlands believe that sports sponsors must do or say something, at least, in response to social issues. Among sports fans - the single biggest group with which sponsors want to make a connection - that proportion is even higher (over 90%).
So the pressure is high and, naturally, social issues will make up an important topic of conversation when future contracts for sporting events and sports sponsorships are agreed. It's not for nothing that the boss of Formula 1 says that he expects that a race will never (!) again be organised in Russia. He understands that not a single sponsor would be prepared to pay to have its logo associated with a Grand Prix in Russia.
Tournaments such as the World Cup in Qatar jeopardise the connection between sport and sponsors, between sport and fans, and between sponsors and consumers. To secure its own future, sport must ensure that it makes the right moral choices. FIFA, the world governing body for football, cannot permit itself another World Cup in Qatar. To me, that seems to be a healthy development whichever way you look at it.
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