Is football living up to its social responsibility?


By Caspar CT

Football has undoubtably transcended its humble beginnings. It is a game now played across the world, with millions of fans and has become a multi-billion pound industry. 

Professional clubs are now no different to any other medium-sized, multi-national company: ‘they consist of intangible, tangible and financial assets that are professionally managed and marketed’.

But with this increase in investment and worth, should the football industry be doing more for the society around it?

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Summer 2018 brings us the Zenith of international football - the World Cup. However, ask your friends, family or neighbours how they feel about the upcoming World Cup and there seems to be an underlying consensus that it has become somewhat tainted before it has even begun. Host nation Russia has been at the centre of criticism for its fan’s racist and derogatory chants directed at players, while the organised hooliganism that occurred in France during the Euros seems to have also left many not relishing the chance of travelling to Russia.  

Let us not forget that England fans, just two years ago at the Euros, were arguably as much in the thick of it as Russian fans were and our own hooliganism seems to carry its own undercurrent within the beautiful game. Recent reports in England have also shown that racism at youth level still remains an underlying issue that has not been properly addressed and at times simply swept under the carpet.

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Furthermore, the 2022 Qatar World Cup seems even less of a highlight on dedicated fans’ calendars. An Amnesty International report highlighted that migrants working on the Khalifa International stadium have been subjected to a range of exploitative practices, including high recruitment fees, false pay promises and passport confiscation, to name a few. 

The question then arises, is football living up to its social responsibility? 

In England most clubs have foundations that offer a range of social benefits, bringing them closer to grassroots and their communities. For example, the “Arsenal Double Club”, a programme that combines literacy and numeracy with football in after-school, holiday and curriculum-time classes, highlights the societal benefits multinational clubs have.

For almost three decades the club has had an ‘‘Arsenal in the Community’’ department, with racism on the top of the agenda, while being engaged in anti-racism campaigns. 

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With sponsorship from Dubai-based airline ‘Fly Emirates’ this programme has the capacity to create further long term benefits within society, showing just one of the many positive impacts investment and collaborative work between football and corporations can have on the surrounding community.

Moreover, players also hold and furthermore utilise, the capacity to change communities and the society around them. Mo Salah’s inspiring season on the pitch has inspired others off it.

His role in an Egyptian ‘Say No To Drugs’ campaign was said to have increased calls to drug rehab hotlines by 400%, while his presence as a Muslim in an age  of rising islamophobia underscores the impact players can have within a team’s community. Therefore, the utmost should be done to maintain an open and accepting landscape that attracts players from around the world to play wherever and whenever.

Nonetheless, the underlying question surround football social responsibility remains. Racism, homophobia, antisemitism and hooliganism have no place in football, yet they still remain.

Monkey chants directed at France players in St Petersburg, no openly gay players in the 4,000 professional footballers in the UK and recent reports stating that football fans have used the Holocaust to insult their rivals, show that change is needed in the world of football.  

Undeniably the likes of ‘Kick It Out’ and ‘FARE’ have done tremendous work in bringing these real issue to the forefront and praise must be heaped on those who have stood up and not allowed for these trends to continue.

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It must be said that these issues do not represent the majority of football fans, and the positive change in football over the last two decades has rejuvenated the love for the game for those outside the sporting community and the media. 

However, football must and can do more to educate and work with the communities around them in order to improve not only the circumstances of their players but also the society they play such an important role in. 

The advantages of investing in social issues will not only create societal benefits but may also stimulate a growth and competitive advantage for teams. More investment in grassroots football and stamping out racism, anti-semitism and homophobia will leave less players deterred from joining academies, which, in the long-run, will benefit the quality and level of players that come through the academy system.

Even if these players did not remain at their academy clubs, improved quality and ability within the industry will only benefit the market and leagues through sales and TV coverage. 

Furthermore, were the football industry to be a more open and equal a growth in fan base and safer circumstances for travelling fans could be expected which may also create long-term revenue growth within the industry, appeasing the profit driven side of the football, which by all means also plays a vital role in the sport.

Football is now a multi-billion pound industry that is becoming less introspective by the season and should continue to increase its concern with the world around it. Social responsibility is not just an issue of governments and charities, but for industries and corporations.

It is therefore imperative that football associations throughout the world, as well as FIFA, invest in ensuring that these issues are stamped out of football for good, to not only improve the beautiful game but the society and community they operate in.

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