Op-Ed: The Importance of Sport in corporate strategies

10 Mar 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

As lockdown measures begin to be relaxed, and sport begins to see the end of the pandemic's restrictions on its events, Pete Fitzboydon, the newly-appointed Managing Director, thinkBeyond, looks at why it's important for businesses to put sport front and centre as they look to support communities in the coming months.

Now, more than ever, being a responsible business matters.

The support that companies have offered during the pandemic to their employees, the public and those most vulnerable speaks volumes. Those who acted responsibly are best positioned to flourish on the other side of this crisis. 

There is a growing obligation for businesses to incorporate supporting communities into their business plans. 

Why? Because humanity has become more in tune with our individual and collective responsibility to the planet and its communities, undoubtedly accelerated by the pandemic. Businesses are no different. What a business stands for – its values, its integrity, its authenticity, and therefore its connection to the people and communities they serve – has become inseparable from their brand image.

COVID-19 has accelerated the erosion of trust around the world. There is a global crisis of leadership, epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Edleman’s study showed that businesses are trusted and when government is perceived as being absent, people expect business to step in, and address and solve today’s challenges.

The stakes are high. How can businesses manage the expectation?

Businesses both have a growing responsibility to show to their customers that what they are doing has a clear positive impact on something or someone, and not purely profiting for the benefit of their shareholders. 

Part of this growing responsibility has come to light because of global disasters, the loss of human life because of systemic inequality, or the realisation that we are in a race to protect our planet from irreversible harm. 

It has also stemmed out of the growing demand from customers and the public; for businesses to put social consciousness on a par with profits. 

Sport and physical activity are becoming some of the most popular avenues to deliver social responsibility. Not for the sake of sport per se, but due to its unique abilities to bring about change. Sport is a universal language that can be used to work on systemic issues like racism, social mobility, and poverty with incredible effectiveness. 

How can sport benefit communities?

Sport has enormous power to positively benefit both individuals and the communities. 

At thinkBeyond, we have seen first-hand the power of sport to divert young people away from being involved in gangs and serious youth violence, and instead, into sports programmes. What’s more, these young people themselves become role models within their communities, mentoring other young people away from crime and into a better life they deserve. 

We have seen other examples of former athletes talk about their mental health challenges on topics like self-harm, suicide and depression, and instead use this turmoil to help businesses develop mental health programmes that help millions during COVID-19. 

The potential is endless, limited only my imagination, and thanks to its reach and ability to engage people it can have profoundly positive effects on people and the communities that more traditional interventions simply can’t match.

How can businesses integrate sport for social good into their corporate strategies?

This, of course, will vary from business to business as it depends on their objectives, the type of work they do, and the values under which they operate. 

However, all businesses should start by exploring their values, and using them as a foundation to build a socially good strategy that might work for them. Examine challenges in the communities around you and those you serve, business challenges you are facing and identify ways to utilise sport and its reach to combat those issues.

For example, a business that prides itself in connectivity might want to use sport to bring people from different backgrounds together, to build bridges and social bonds. 

For anyone doubting the significance of why they should do this, there are countless benefits for businesses, including:

•    Brand recognition and reputation are by-products of your social good work. 
•    A greater ability to attract and retain talent because of operating in a socially conscious way. 

In direct response to implementing these strategies, we often see businesses become more creative in their thinking and operations along the way, as well as increases in their profitability. Whilst some businesses might be scared about upfront costs associated with working in a socially conscious way, those that do this work long term absolutely see the financial benefits in the long run. 

Why now?

COVID-19 has presented businesses with challenge after challenge to work through – and at all levels. But what we have also seen is that it has opened up the opportunity to think differently, consider what their businesses are doing and most importantly; how and why. 

Organisations are completely transforming overnight, with many taking a stand on systemic issues like never before. A lot of the time, this change has derived from demand from customers and employees.

The coronavirus pandemic has also exacerbated the mental health and physical activity crisis like never seen before, with 65% of Brits saying that the past 12 months have damaged their mental health. Far too often we see companies hide away from the sensitivities of topics like mental health. But they are so important, and the demand is increasing to get involved. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognises that sport and physical activity have a direct benefit for “hearts, bodies and minds”, whilst “physical activity reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety.”  

Sport, health and wellbeing will come back even stronger, and with even more of a spotlight on it, as it continues to prove its worth for people and communities, and that presents unrivalled opportunities for like-minded businesses.