One of the first questions I am asked in relation to my interest in, and advocacy of, good governance and sportsmanship is whether we’re doing it as a branding exercise for my company, SKINS.
The short answer is yes. I make no apology for that – because the point is, these are our values.
When we started talking about brand development and brand-building in a serious way at SKINS, one of the first things we did was to define what we stand for. We’re a small company; we’re a challenger brand; but we wanted to articulate a set of genuine values that reflected what we think about sport.
The notion that we came up with is to ‘Fuel the True Spirit of Competition’.
It’s not just a tag line, but a mantra about what we do, how we do it, the communications framework within we operate and flowing through to what or whom we sponsor as an entity or club or individual.
There’s so much that’s good about sport. Next to family, I see sport and entertainment as the two most important cultural influences on children. But the difference between the two is that the love of sport, the love of a team, the enjoyment to be derived from it can be shared between generations. It’s very rare to see a grandparent, parent and child all enjoying the same music.
Yet what shocks me as a sports lover is how we’re let down by the people at the very top of sporting organisations time and time again. It is what motivates me, both as a father and as part of SKINS’ brand values: sport should not be something in which we have little-to-no trust, and I do not accept – as so many unfortunately, do – that it has to be like that. I can’t tell you how many people have said to me: ‘Jaimie, we know cycling has its problems but what can we do about it?’ or: ‘We know FIFA is corrupt but we love football and we love the World Cup, so what do we do?’
At SKINS, we’ve taken a stand on anti-doping; we have views about athletes’ behaviour; we’ve withdrawn sponsorship when a club was proven to have contravened competition financial rules; and we have taken a leading role in addressing governance and leadership issues in world cycling (the UCI), and are doing the same again now in world football (FIFA).
While SKINS’ role in football is not as strong as it is in some other sports, such as cycling or skiing, we were moved to get involved in football after meeting with and hearing from so many friends in the football world who shocked me with some of the tales of how business is conducted and decisions are made by those at or near the top of the sport.
I think I have something to contribute. I know that the SKINS brand can only benefit from highlighting our values. And, under the banner of #NewFIFANow, I am working with a good bunch of people – politicians, current and former football officials, government officials, football whistleblowers and others – who want to collaborate, effect genuine, long-lasting systemic change, and be on the right side of history.
Sponsors as change agents
I have twice made contact with FIFA’s major sponsors because I hope that they’re good companies run by good people. Certainly the extensive documentation on their respective websites suggests that is the case.
Whether it is adidas, Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Gazprom, Hyundai, Kia, McDonald’s or VISA, they each have a code of business conduct that requires the highest levels of integrity, or words to that effect. The majority of them espouse a commitment to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and many specifically require that the rights of workers in their supply chain be consistent with their values.
But when it comes to their relationship with football and FIFA, it apparently doesn’t mean a lot.
I’ll give just one example to illustrate my point – there are many more.
Human Rights and the workplace
Sportswear company adidas has workplace standards and policies that apply to its own employees, its supply chain and its business partners. It includes statements in relation to forced or bonded labour, wages and benefits and treating people with dignity and respect. [i]
In May, I wrote to adidas, along with the other seven sponsors, putting them on notice about the joint campaign between #NewFIFANow, Playfair Qatar, the International Trade Union Confederation and SKINS in our Official Non-Sponsor capacity, around the kafala system operating in Qatar. Amongst other things, I wrote:
“Too many lives have already been lost constructing World Cup facilities and infrastructure in Qatar. Too many more are forecast to be lost. While Qatar has recently announced it “hopes” to replace the kafala system by the end of this year, I note there is no firm commitment and no timetable to such reform – which they have also announced previously.
“In the meantime, the workers – who are mostly drawn from the very poorest parts of Asia and the sub-continent – are denied basic human rights, as well as the fundamental humanity, morality and decency that you and I, and the people we employ, are entitled to take for granted.” [ii]
It’s worth nothing that the FIFA-adidas relationship dates back at least to 1970 when its founder, Horst Dassler, was an ally of former FIFA President, Joao Havelange, who was forced out of the IOC and resigned from FIFA in the wake of the ISL revelations which showed that Havelange had accepted more than a million dollars in bribes. Dassler also owned ISL and he mentored the current FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, whose first role in the FIFA organisation was as a ‘development officer’, distributing funds to FIFA’s 200+ football associations.
At the time of typing this blog, I have not heard back from adidas or six of the other sponsors. However, I’m encouraged that we’ve heard from Coca-Cola and will hopefully arrange to meet with them in the near future.
Soon after the #NewFIFANow meeting in Brussels in January, I announced that SKINS was appointing itself as the first ‘Official Non-Sponsor’ of FIFA.
This is a bit of fun – but with a serious point. Once again, we differentiate our corporate values from others because we don’t just have them written on a document on our website, but we live them.
We referred to the Official Non-Sponsor status as a “global anti-association of FIFA … an anti-association which represents everything we stand for: sport played with fairness, flair and sportsmanship.” Being a non-sponsor is characterised by paying FIFA nothing; focusing on grassroots and making football great; speaking out on issues of importance to the game; and ending corruption.
Neither SKINS nor #NewFIFANow will be deterred from continuing to advocate for what we seek – and that is an independent FIFA Reform Commission led by an eminent person to review, development and implement FIFA’s statutes, policies and structures and to conduct fresh Presidential elections.
FIFA’s partners have been invited to be part of making football what it should be. They’ve been encouraged to stand up for their stated values to ensure FIFA operates in a way that ensures football, like all sport, is a vehicle for positive social change.
The fact that they have not yet shown a willingness to be part of the solution not only compromises the authenticity of their values, but it also means that, ultimately, they will be on the wrong side of history.