Sporting values are about playing fair – that’s why they create headlines when they don’t

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Sporting values are about playing fair – that’s why sport makes headlines when it doesn’t

Whilst every sector can have a negative impact on society, each also has a superpower in relation to its potential for the positive. And for me, working in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), sport is where it’s at. It brings excitement and spreads positive values within a community like no other sector. It gets to parts of a community that other sectors cannot reach.

I encourage organisations I work with – and the students I teach at AMOS Sport business school – to reflect on what they love about sport. Invariably they talk about love and passion; pride and community. Their strong emotional bonds are usually connected to strong sporting values including fairness.

Sport is intrinsically about fairness. ‘Sporting values’ imply that everyone gets a chance and that we start at the same starting line and we all have the same opportunity to arrive at the finishing line.

But that’s not the case, is it?

Conversations about the lack of diversity in sport, corruption in sport and human rights violations by regimes hosting megasporting events hit hard because they go against sporting values.

Supporters cheer player decisions to ‘take the knee.’ Fans don’t want to watch a match in a stadium impoverished ethnic minorities have died building. Sponsors don’t want to be aligned with lack of freedom of speech. And sporting bodies increasingly see their remit as the promotion of their sport to all within a community – and their relationship with their members is changing: rather than ‘setting the rules’, members are asking them to defend their interests.

And fans, sponsors and members mean money – which means sporting values have an economic value. And with the volume of conversations about diversity and transparency within sport getting louder, there are opportunities for sport to lead other sectors in creating transparent, diverse spaces and reach different parts of its local community.

We can look at this in relation to current activity around diversity in sport.

Diversity in Sport

There is a loud and broad conversation about providing opportunities (including media and participation) to a more diverse range of athletes. This is separate to the conversation about increasing diversity of employees within sporting organisations themselves. Lack of diversity in a workplace can have a direct impact on business decisions including broadcasting, funding, marketing and in effectiveness of business.

A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and gender-diverse companies are 21% more likely to earn more revenue. It’s a complex relationship and I encourage readers to explore the article but quite simply, in my classes I make the point that if we are only hiring straight white middle-class men, we will only ever have the best straight white middle-class men working for the organisation.

British Cycling is just one organisation committed to making its sport more inclusive at every level, from pro-cycling to community cycling and in its workforce. Their Our Ride diversity strategy was launched in 2021 and is also a key pillar to its overall business strategy.

Likewise, Sport England hired its first director of Diversity & Inclusion in 2021 whilst the Professional Cricket Association, British Badminton, British Canoeing and the Rugby Football League have also made recent first-time senior diversity hires. Whilst their remits will differ they are all likely to focus on increasing representation in their business and in the pool of athletes. We can expect to see more diverse sporting role models in coming years.

CSR has traditionally mirrored wider societal calls-to-action and this call for diversity is happening against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement, of calls for protection of transgender rights and of calls for more women in the boardroom and in this context, it’s natural that all sectors are seeing increased calls for equality of opportunity and visibility on the pitch / court, piste, track.

If we build it, will they come? It’s been proven that women’s sports attract fans to the small screen and to stadia. Neilson’s 2018 report , The Rise of Women’s Sports provides data on this and also finds that running women’s sporting competitions at the same time as male competitions increases support. With this in mind, things look positive for this year’s UK-based Rugby League World Cup which is hosting the men’s, women’s and wheelchair at the first time which is ground-breaking – and also hopefully good for ticket sales. Playing fair here could be its superpower growing recognition of rugby league outside of its traditional northern heartland and of its supporter-base.

And then there’s the capacity for sport to celebrate diversity at a community level. Most of the sport organisations I’ve worked with including Rochdale AFC run programmes that support and celebrate diversity in their community either by being based within a specific ethnic community or by running gender-specific or physically inclusive community teams.

The future

It’s clear that many sporting organisations recognise that they are key to their whole community – and that their values and actions should reflect this.

I encourage all organisations to reflect on how they are living their values – and how they are reflecting the values that attract more fans to them, more backroom staff to them, more players to them.

I expect to see organisations continuing to invest in the ‘social’ side of their CSR and ESG programmes. Investment in diversity and inclusion programmes in sport is in its infancy and we have lots to learn as to what works best.

What I also see is a movement of sporting organisations and national sporting bodies committed to measuring and showcasing the positive social impact of sport. When these learnings are shared with the wider sporting community, we’ll see a further increase in activity.

Won’t that be amazing?

Our Ride – from strategy to action

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Working with British Cycling on their diversity and inclusion strategy – launched today – means that as well as sharing my knowledge, I have learned a lot about British Cycling and more about inclusion challenges within cycling and I’ve been happy to be on an action-orientated group.

At the same time as working with British Cycling, I have been working on a communications strategy for a pro-cycling client. The process has been the same – I’ve reviewed organisational goals, talked to internal and external stakeholders, considered resources, made recommendations, agreed a final strategy with the board and recommended actions to deliver the strategy and a way to measure it. Without these, a strategy is expensive wrapping paper.

And now we act.

The actions will deliver the strategy’s pillars: creating an inclusive culture; making decision-making more reflective of society; developing a more diverse workforce; framing a powerful marketing and communications strategy; adapting the membership offering; developing an inclusive talent pathway and forming purposeful partnerships.

I’m encourage my cycling contacts to read the strategy and to see where they can support it through your actions. And I am encouraging all my contacts – cycling and non – to consider how you can mirror the strategic aims in your own organisation.

I am looking forward to helping British Cycling achieve their goals. They are my goals too – I have worked in diversity for two decades! I’ve not worked in cycling as long – and that has been a strength. My freshness means I am open to learning and bring other learnings to a group.

I’ve learned a lot from the other members of the Diversity & Inclusion External Advisory Group (can we call it D&I EAG?), just as I have learned a lot from my pro-cycling client over the last few months. The lack of current diversity in pro-cycling means female pro cyclists lack personal and professional protection – experiencing bullying, sexual harassment as well as lacking contracts and equality in pay, race opportunities and representation in broadcasting and print media. It means lack of racial diversity and lack of openly gay pro riders – which leads to lack of opportunities and mental wellbeing. And it means lack of race opportunities and support for disabled pro cyclists. I like it when my work is connected.

Developing the strategy with British Cycling has impacted my work with Greater Manchester charity sportive Tour de Manc – I am their diversity lead. When British Cycling launched their Transgender and Non- Binary Consultation we reviewed Tour de Manc’s practices. And of course I used my learnings from Tour de Manc to advise British Cycling. We’re being especially welcoming to women, to the LGBT+ community, to black and Asian riders and to riders with disabilities through our marketing and outreach so that the sportive better reflects our diverse community.

One of my big reflections this year has been of the importance of ‘the welcome’. This is for small clubs, community groups, sportives, the pro-circuit, the press. I’ve often been the only woman on a team, on a ride, at an event – and different things (words, greetings, attitudes) have made me feel welcome – or not. There are so many ways to make people feel more welcome: we tell them they are welcome; we visit their spaces to invite them to things – events, races, groups, to apply for jobs, to be a volunteer; and we listen and act when they are talking. We give them space to ask questions.

You will see British Cycling advertising jobs and volunteering opportunities in new spaces. You will see them inviting people from underrepresented groups to apply for positions. You will see British Cycling’s marketing (including the D&I strategy) showing diverse representations of cyclists. And you will see continued opportunities to respond.

I am looking forward to working with British Cycling on their marketing – to make sure they welcome opinions and then take these into account. They are committed to doing this – as an external advisor one of my roles is to hold them to account.

Please take a look at their strategy. Please contact them for queries on it. Please feel welcome to contact me about my own work and knowledge of diversity in action. I’m proud of being well-connected to a diverse range of people.

I’m very proud of my listening skills.

It’s what leads to action.

Engaging webinars

We’re delivering our third webinar for Trek Bikes this week. Here’s why Trek are doing it. And here’s the value we’ve added. And that’s why they’re working with These Four Words.

The more you do of something, the better you get.

We’re delivering our third webinar for Trek Bikes this week.

Lockdown led to a big bike boom. We’re working with Trek to share the love of bikes. So far, we’ve inspired mountainbikers to get out on their bike, engaged in the very current topic of diversity in cycling. This week we’re helping cyclists to plan routes.

To a non-cyclist this may sound dull. But if you cycle, not knowing how to plan a route is the different between staying in or going out. It’s the difference between feeling safe. If you lead rides for groups, planning a route can take hours.

No wonder the free event booked-up so quickly.

So – good topic.

Each event takes a lot of planning – liaising with speakers, producing an outline, getting visuals, promoting the event and making sure each event is engaging.

So – good event.

What we’ve learned so far: drop-off rates are higher with online events than with in-person ones.

We keep people engaged with polls, with preparation of speakers and with visuals.

So – good delivery.

Not once will we encourage people to buy a Trek bike.

By curating and hosting an interesting event we’re showing how much Trek cares about cyclists.

By choosing knowledgable speakers, attendees can ask questions and can decide whether it’s worth investing in a planning app.

By having a gender diverse panel we’re showing that Trek values and cares about female voices.

By showcasing a speaker from Trek’s Bath store, we’re advertising they have a store there and can care knowledgably for cyclists in Bath.

And These Four Words measures how many people enjoy it, how long they stay connected, ensures it is promoted to inner-city cyclists, long-distance cyclists and more.

That’s how much we care.

Regeneration Brainery

New client – and what a client. I admire their values so much that it’s a pleasure to work with them!

Regeneration Brainery brings together young people with leaders from the property and construction industry – and you can take a listen to John, Mohamed and Melanie as they interview Ged Couser from architecture practice BDP on Wednesday 19 August at midday via the Movers & Shakers-hosted webinar.