Could there be more room for charity in sport?

Lyon Olympic football stadium

Could there be more room for charity in sport?

As the World Cup starts, this week we ask how the sporting world could be doing more to support charities. Where does their charity spend go, and could they do more to promote causes unrelated to their interests?

Ben Roberts

It’s the first week of the World Cup, and tens of millions of fans are tuning in to watch from all around the globe. But there’s a pervasive trend throughout all sport that’s been highlighted as the competition starts. We see opportunities for corporate sponsors on every surface of every stadium: but could there be more room for the charity sector in the sporting world? 


Where does the sporting world’s charity support go? 

While there are many charities using sport as a means towards fundraising, professional bodies have a way to go. Teams at the top levels are enormously lucrative, with thousands of partnerships penned between themselves and the corporate world. Here we see the UK’s most supported team, Manchester United, list their partners on their website: 

Here we can find the team’s official wine, official blockchain, and official tires (no true fan would be caught dead with Michelins). Yet despite the numerous and eclectic sectors featured on this list of partners, there’s been no visibility given to any charities, and this is a general trend across the sporting world. So where does their charity support go? 

The sector does in fact have a huge charity spend, done via their own foundations. In football alone, the FIFA Foundation and Football Foundation are some of the largest, but almost every major team has its own. The amount poured in is enormous: 2019 figures show that the top 20 most charitable football clubs all spend millions via their foundations, and almost entirely in the pursuit of bringing football to young people. 


Why is youth sport so common as a cause? 

While efforts to build new sports facilities for young people are worth celebrating, we should recognise that there is a business model at play here. Supporting youth sports is promotional, especially at a time when interest is slipping. This exact phenomenon has been identified as an intentional and lucrative strategy in the NFL, where every dollar spent on youth programmes has been shown to pay dividends down the line. 

All charity is good charity, and these foundations do engage in dedicated and heartfelt giving to their communities. But when considering that external partnerships receive relatively tiny contributions, it’s difficult not to feel that a more even distribution of the sport’s huge charity spend would be enormously impactful to the sector. 


Where charities can get involved 

Effective work between teams and local causes is possible, however. Some teams choose to support local health facilities, such as Tottenham Hotspur with Noah’s Ark Children’s Hospice, or Ulster Rugby’s support of a local project by Horatio’s Garden this season. Reacting to the cost-of-living crisis, Ipswitch Town FC have partnered with FIND, a city-wide food parcel and anti-poverty charity. If you’re a local charity, forming a relationship with your city’s sports team can be an effective way of working together to support fans in need. 

Awareness campaigns have also been successful. British Red Cross have used the English Football League and Team GB’s platforms to talk about loneliness, McLaren partnered with Mind for mental health awareness, Premiership Rugby support Movember, and the FA are linked with Alzheimer’s Society. Seeking out an opportunity to use the platform that sports provide can ensure an enormous audience at a time when getting eyes on your cause has become difficult.  

Recently, groundbreaking deals between corporate sponsors and charities have also given the sector the chance to appear prominently at sporting events. Focus Ireland’s team up with Three enabled them to launch their new homelessness initiative at the Six Nations. Similarly, MND Scotland have been given a chance by Hearts’ sponsor Dell to take centre stage and feature on the team’s kit. Opportunities like this rely on generosity from the commercial sector but have offered phenomenal opportunities to boost charities’ profiles. 


Individual giving 

There are also individuals who charities have successfully partnered with. Marcus Rashford’s coalition of charities, EndChildFoodPoverty, has been a powerhouse in enacting change in recent years, while donators such as Sir Lewis Hamilton and Mo Salah support a wide variety of causes across the UK. 

Plus, the Common Goal initiative launched by Juan Mata is growing in popularity. This encourages sportspeople to donate at least 1% of their income to charity, providing new opportunities to the sector to form partnerships with A-list spokespeople. So, while individuals seem to be shouldering the lack of external charity spend in corporate sport, at least there’s more room for beneficial relationships between the third sector and sporting world becoming available.  

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