As an Anti-Corruption Campaigner I Know That, If You Challenge the Status Quo, You Need to Practice What You Preach

24/10/2016 14:15
Blend Images - Mike Kemp via Getty Images

In my previous HuffPost blog I wrote about how vital it is to me and my business, SKINS, that we live up to our brand values. Important, everyday values such as fair play, integrity, discipline, inclusivity and more that showcase everything that's good about sport and, ultimately, society.

In the interregnum, that's been put to the test.

Like other brands in the sports industry, we sponsor sporting teams, individual athletes, and some individual events.

It was brought to my attention that one of our sponsored non-professional athletes may have cheated on a record run attempt he started earlier in the year. He didn't finish it due to an injury.

Reading through the correspondence I received was very confronting.

Here is a guy who seemed to be doing what he was doing for all the right reasons. He started running more or less as a dare and then realised he was quite good at it. He also found that it helped him to exorcise some of his own demons from an abusive childhood and he used it as a vehicle to help raise money for other children. For SKINS, it seemed like a good fit for a sponsorship.

However, obviously, there was no way that I could ignore the matters that had been drawn to my attention. If the individual had cheated, it went against everything we stood for.

I realised also that it wasn't enough for us to investigate this from within SKINS. We needed experts.

So I commissioned an investigation from two independent experts - one from the USA, the other from South Africa - who had a broad remit to seek submissions and input from members of the public who were fired-up about this issue; from the runner and support staff who were present; and to look at the evidence fairly and squarely.

They submitted their report recently and the bottom-line was not pleasant reading. Put simply, they found that they could identify "no alternative explanation" for the data that had been presented them other than the runner had received "unauthorised assistance" on his run. The evidence was overwhelming. (I should add that the athlete continues to defend himself. He maintained that he ran every step of the way, but he made mistakes with the collection and handling of data.)

This saddened me greatly.

As a brand, SKINS stands for all that is good about sport. Obviously, "unauthorised assistance" doesn't fit with our brand values.

In order to be true to those values, we had to terminate our relationship with the athlete.

However, it's interesting to note that not every sponsor sees things the same way.

By way of contrast, when Maria Sharapova's tennis ban was reduced earlier this month on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, one of her sponsors tweeted their congratulations and boasted about standing by her. That's their business of course - but let's be clear: Sharapova's ban was reduced, not eliminated.

Another example is Fifa, world football's governing body. It seems to me that it's not possible for the longstanding sponsors of Fifa not to have an idea of the 'business model' used by Fifa, and that has been referenced by US authorities as being mafia-like. The sponsors each have a whole lot of nice-sounding words about their commitment to human rights and workers' rights in their supply chains, but they are curiously silent about abuse of both in the countries that are hosting the next two World Cup tournaments, Russia and Qatar.

Of course, the scale of a Sharapova or Fifa sponsorship is far, far bigger than the one I mentioned for SKINS. However, as a brand, you live by your values not just publish them online and turn the other way when they are compromised.

If we're going to have a system of checks and balances in sport, whether it be in relation to doping, match-fixing, governance, racism or so many other areas where sport shines a spotlight on broader societal issues, then my view is that it's important we respect the outcome of those checks and balances.

We hold others to account for this, just as we hold ourselves to account.

For this reason, I was pleased when concerned members of the running community brought the potential breach to my attention. Members of the public who buy sponsors' products have every right to expect us to act responsibly and honorably.

As an optimist and a restless spirit, and notwithstanding the disappointment of the action of the athlete whose sponsorship we cancelled, none of this alters my belief that sport has the power to achieve great things for individuals and for society.

My passion for this remains undiminished and we will continue to support and work with those who share this belief.

* * *

Jaimie Fuller is an ambassador for the Investec Private Banking Restless Spirits Campaign. Read more about his approach to ethics within the business of sport here:
www.investec.co.uk/jaimieonthestand #ChallengeOrdinary @investecpb_uk

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