CSR and the world cup


April 2002

The 2002 Soccer World Cup Tournament:

Was it Socially Responsible?

Around the world just about 2 out of 3 people watched the world soccer cup in the summer of 2002 - something like four or five billion people! Many of our readers are from the US and so apologies this month if you have zero (or even negative) interest in soccer or even sport in general. We might well ask whether it makes any sense to ask whether an institution such as sport - be it soccer, help baseball or inter-galactic surfing - ought to be socially responsible? Surely a game is a challenge between friendly but opposing forces and is obviously social and responsible otherwise it wouldn't work. Also, pharm when we think about corporate social responsibility we usually think about corporations and what they are up to. But there is no reason why we cannot apply the notion of social responsibility to any organization or institution be it public or private, large or small. The world cup is certainly an institution albeit composed of many inter-linked parts, companies and non governmental organisations.

Scandal after scandal seem to chase after major sporting events and it appears that little is being done to reduce these. FIFA is embroiled in a scandal at the top with accusations flying about payoffs and loose accounting practices. In England, football hooliganism is endemic and the worst club, Cardiff, reputation was further damaged by the revelation that Neil MacNamara, bodyguard to the Second Division club's owner Sam Hammam, was a convicted football thug who had been banned from every ground in England and Wales. Moreover, figures compiled by the Football Banning Orders Authority, which works alongside the Football Intelligence Section of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), showed that 99 Cardiff fans had received banning orders under tough new laws introduced several years ago to tackle football disorder.

The 2002 festival in South Korea and Japan was welcomed by billions of football fans all over the world. But how would these fans have reacted if they knew that some of the matches had been fixed by betting syndicates as we have seen in world cricket, or that some of the stars could only operate through performance enhancing drugs as we have seen in world cycling and the Olympics? Who is responsible for ensuring that the rules of the game are obeyed? Should a scandal have broken out during the world cup, and fans stay away in droves, not only would huge cash losses have occured but serious social problems could have broken out. We have seen in Central America and Africa bullets flying after disputed matches. As it happened only relatively minor scandals occurred - fans not being able to get tickets, referee's assistants acted incompetently to the extent that both Spain and Italy were eliminated to the benefit of the host nation's team South Korea. These latter incidents led to suspicions of 'conspiracy' but no-one has really taken that seriously.

When examining corporate social responsibility in the business world we examine the ethical behaviour of each of the main stakeholders. In the World Cup the stakeholders exist both behind the scenes as well as the better known in front of them. The former group includes top controlling management such as FIFA and UEFA, sponsors such as the major corporations and TV stations, shareholders, owners and boards of clubs and background staff from the boot lady to the tea boy. In front of the eye are the players, the trainers, the commentators and analysts, the referees, the security services and, of course the active and passive fans.

The last group includes me, simply because I don't like crowds, the poor behaviour of fans and the congestion when arriving at the stadium. It so happened that I took my then ten year old son to one of the first matches where a riot took place in Turin in the European Championships of 1980 in a match between England and Belgium. On a beautiful summer day, I saw outside the stadium some of the ugliest people I have ever seen: huge, fat, crew-cutted, spotty people we now know as hooligans with cruel sneering mouths, exuding violence and then found out they were English soccer fans. Even in England I had never seen such ugly people. Italians driving by in good humour wound down their windows to say hi, only to be greeted by cans filled with urine being thrown into their cars. The match, I don't remember what the score was, but I do remember the English fans fighting with the Belgian fans and I did smell the riot police's CS gas. In the following match between England and Italy a week later, my son and I pretended to be French we were so ashamed at being English. We were both glad, but sad at the same time, when Italy won 1-0. Neither of us has been to a big match in the more than twenty years since, and I wonder how many more hundreds of thousands there are like us?

The Governments of the respective countries are also stakeholders but few take it upon themselves to insist upon responsible behaviour not only of the fans but of the other stakeholders too. Governments should insist on not only the financial accountability of soccer clubs and their stakeholders but the social accountability as well. Many companies now produce social reports so why not FIFA, UEFA and the major clubs themselves?

On the field itself, some players behave superbly well in the tradition of the great names such as Bobby Charlton, Di Stefano and Pele. Today's stars display a mixed bag of behaviour. England's current star David Beckham is now a role model for millions of young people around the world. Yet, it was just four years ago that his petulant behaviour, aided and abetted by shameful sportsmanship by his Argentinean opponent, led to his expulsion and probably cost England the championship. There is no doubt that, in today's highly visible world, players have a special responsibility, in fact a social responsibility, to a wider audience than just scoring or stopping goals. Perhaps one way to encourage this would be for referees to award green cards for good behaviour, and two green cards would cancel out a yellow. Watching the Manchester United vs. Arsenal game on television in a Dubai pub the other night I tested my idea with some of my fellow football watchers. An Arsenal player retrieved the ball for a United player not just to gain time for his team and my idea caught on - he should have got a green card for that someone shouted!

MHCi, has developed a questionnaire for rapidly working out the social responsibility of companies and organizations - known as CRITICS (Corporate Responsibility Index Through Internet Consultation of Stakeholders). CRITICS has twenty questions about each major stakeholder that allows people, inside or outside, of corporations or institutions to rapidly self-assess their corporate social responsibility. It has been online in English for about two years on our website that attracts about two hundred thousand hits per month. Responses from institutions in dozens of countries have been obtained. Each question is graded, added up and averaged to arrive at a score between zero and one. The highest score recorded to date has been from the oil giant Shell at 0.85, with British Petroleum-Amoco not far behind - both these corporations have made major strides in the last couple of years to re-engineer their companies to become models of social responsibility. Poorer performers include the United Nations Development Programme at 0.50 and the International Labour Office (a UN agency) at 0.49. Few responders come lower than 0.4, so it was a surprise to see that the World Cup as an institution only scored the very low value of 0.25.

The reason for the low score was poor transparency of operations, the lack of a code of ethics that has both been produced and distributed and read, the hint of corruption at the top, the lack of any initiative to prevent socially irresponsible use of its products and the absence of a social audit at any level of the game. However, there were some positive points such as the growing number of attempts at being socially responsible toward local communities - punishments handed out to the likes of Eric Cantona that include community service has helped here - remember the famous incident where he leapt over a barrier into a braying and obnoxious crowd to dish out his own brand of retaliation. Good wages and profit participation are also a growing positive trend as is the obvious lack of racial discrimination in recruiting players. Remember it was only four short years ago when France's winning of the World Cup did more to enhance race relations in that country than anything before, or since. The disgraceful verdict in the first round of the recent French elections shows how short people's memories are. Nevertheless for racial harmony reasons alone we can hope for a French win again since FIFA and its acolytes don't seem to have any other socially responsible ideas up their sleeve.

So, we have seen that the World Cup is one of the most socially irresponsible organizations on the planet. Yet most of us love the game and the Cup. Is there a contradiction? What could be done to make future World Cups more socially responsible? A suggestion could be to have a World Cup charter that looked something like:

  1. Code of ethics written for each of the main interest groups, distributed to all involved in the game and its observance be independently monitored.
  2. Footballers observe code of ethics, since they are role models, and be pro-active, as many are, in helping the local community. One can think of Eric Cantona's work with deprived children in Manchester, Tony Adams work with football alcoholics. On the negative side we see too many footballers adopting the 'Maradona' syndrome, not by exercising their feet but by abusing their heads with coke. Sven Eriksson's stand not to include some Leeds United players in his squad because of their criminal behaviour in beating up people after a wild night out, should be the rule not the exception.
  3. Codes of ethics should start at the top with the management observing best practice.
  4. Managers of clubs should encourage their players to 'play the game'. Winning through skullduggery should be punished.
  5. Sponsors should not deal with clubs that have poor disciplinary records and should withdraw television coverage.
  6. Players and coaches should work with known 'hooligan' organizations
  7. Players as role models should have exemplary conduct and this should be rewarded as part of their pay packet.
  8. Transfer deals of players should have ethics clauses in the agreement.
  9. Obvious good behaviour on the pitch should be awarded with a 'green' card. Two green cards nullify a yellow card.

[Contributed by Michael Hopkins of MHCi]

* information on MHCi's regular Executive Forums with our subsidiary CSRFI. We have seminars on social responsibility for the sporting world.