THE BLOG

Not Just A Different Sport Business, But A Sport Business Making A Difference

16/09/2016 11:46

My dream as a kid was like many young boys: I wanted to be a sportsman. It didn't really matter which sport. Maybe the opening batsman in an Ashes Series for Australia, or a fly-half for the Wallabies, or a 'false 9' for the Socceroos.

The fact that you've never heard of me tells you all you need to know. It goes without saying that I wasn't good enough at any sport.

But I suspect what I am good at is business. I think I have a head for what works in the marketplace and what doesn't. I hope I can spot a trend. I believe I have the patience and persistence to build something out of nothing. I'm confident, I'm driven. I like to take risks. And I'm definitely prepared to rock boats.

All of these traits helped me develop and build my business, SKINS. Loving sport as I do, it was natural that I would look at the sports industry. We make sports compression wear for men and women, as well as other performance sports wear.

I also wanted SKINS to be more than just another challenger brand in a crowded market. I learned long ago that the true metrics of our life are how each of us lives it, in other words: how we can make a difference. So how could we, through our business, combine my inner, enthusiastic 'wannabe' sportsman and my natural entrepreneurial, extrovert spirit with making a difference?

It was obvious. Use the brand to show what sport is all about - or should be about.

Along with music, sport is one of the few intergenerational touch points we have. It's a way of influencing children and demonstrating our values, that is, the great values of sport that are the reason we loved it in the first place: fair play, integrity, discipline, inclusivity, hard work, team work, commitment and pure competition.

This is the framework from which we approach what we're doing at SKINS to advocate for the proverbial 'level playing field' both on and off the field. It is reflected in everything we do, starting with our principal brand value which is to 'fuel the true spirit of competition'. From a commercial perspective, I know that the brand will only benefit from highlighting our values, especially when those values set us apart from the big brand competitors.

Through this journey, the more I've got to know different sports and what makes them tick, the more I am disappointed at how we're let down by the people at the very top of sporting organisations.

The easy thing to do would be to shrug my shoulders, say c'est la vie, and head to the golf course. But that's not who I am, it's not what our business stands for, and it's not how a restless spirit works.

Where other organisations sponsor various sports through scandal after scandal, we've called out sport. We've also called on the sponsors - big brand names - to live up to their corporate values of business integrity and human rights. It's a badge of honour that we've really, seriously, annoyed them.

While I am happy that SKINS occupies this space, the real question is why other brands aren't doing more of it. We are not only in a unique position to demand real change, but I've yet to hear a reason not to do so. Fundamentally, if good companies are run by good people, then standing up and fighting for what we believe in is a 'no brainer'.

It is why we launched anti-doping and governance campaigns in relation to cycling, athletics and cricket, why we campaigned against anti-LGBT laws in Russia during Sochi and declared ourselves as the first 'Official Non-Sponsor' of FIFA. It is why we've worked with civil society organisations to address homophobia and religious stereotyping in sport. And it's also why we called out FIFA sponsors for their lack of respect for human rights by giving FIFA huge sums of money while it makes corrupt decisions to award World Cup tournaments to countries where human rights are practically non-existent. (We've still got some work to do!).

It is this last point that formed the basis of a mini-campaign we ran in conjunction with Playfair Qatar and the International Trade Union Confederation last year prior to the FIFA arrests. We highlighted the hypocrisy of the sponsors' stated corporate values on business integrity and human rights, while funding an organisation which has such flawed governance that it made a decision to host a World Cup in Qatar.

Fortunately, four of FIFA's sponsors did hear what we were saying. It took a while, but Coca-Cola, VISA, McDonald's and Budweiser demanded reform from FIFA. Eventually, FIFA responded - although I would argue not in a meaningful enough way, but that's a story for another day.

For me, using a business in this way is not only the right thing to do, but it makes good business sense. We need to be leading sport on the right side of history. Regardless of the sport, or the issue involved - and, let's face it, world sport is sadly rife with hot issues at the moment - sponsors may be reluctant to upset longstanding relationships. But if they fail to act they will ultimately be on the wrong side of history, as they betray their sport and their fans.

The harsh reality is that the world is rapidly - and rightly - losing faith and confidence in those who govern sport. The extent to which sponsors promote integrity in sport is a persistent challenge, and whether brands heed the message or not, time will tell. Fans are more knowledgeable, more demanding, and more vocal than ever before.

For me, the challenge for brands that sponsor sport is not only to espouse societal values, but to also to live them. A restless spirit requires it.

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:

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