Could sponsors hold the key to stopping racism on the terraces?
So Lance Armstrong (under)stated recently that he’d had a ‘difficult couple of weeks’.
Just to recap. In the last fortnight or so (and despite his protestations of innocence), Armstrong has gone from being a much lauded athlete who overcame serious illness to dominate one of the world’s toughest sporting competitions to a discredited drugs cheat and stripped of all his titles.
A ‘difficult couple of weeks’ by anyone’s standards.
Since the evidence against him grew and former team-mates spoke out about his role in the doping culture in the US Postal team, the position of sponsors such as Nike has shifted. Where initially they stood by their man, they ultimately decided to cut the relationship, citing that he had “participated in doping and misled Nike for more than a decade“.
It’s one of the inherent dangers of sponsorship.
While your endorsee is sweeping all before them you are associated with success and glory. But as Tiger Woods sponsors found out a few years ago, if that star misbehaves your brand is associated with someone getting the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The news that cycling has/had a doping problem is both unsurprising and depressing.
Unfortunately, the same can also be said for the experiences of the England U21 side in their recent play-off in Serbia.
Racism in football
Having been subjected to racist chants throughout the game, things came to a head at the final whistle when Danny Rose was sent off for kicking the ball into the abusing crowd and punches were thrown as players and coaching staff jostled their way towards the dressing rooms.
Racism is a blight on society. It exists in the UK and while it is not tolerated in public arenas, the economic downturn hasn’t helped our natural tendency to tribalism when things are tough.
For nations that haven’t experienced the levels of immigration of other ‘races’ that the UK has, attitudes to people with different colour skin are not as liberal. Let’s not forget that it wasn’t all plain sailing and painless for us to get to where we are.
Terminology that was common just a couple of generations ago is now taboo. TV shows of the 1970’s wouldn’t even be considered now. And footballers in the UK used to have to run the gauntlet due to their skin colour as recently as the 80’s and indeed, incidents are still being reported in 2012.
None of this excuses what happened in Kruševac and nor does it excuse the lenient approach footballing authorities have taken with racist incidents in the past. In a multi-billion pound industry, fines of tens of thousands of pounds have little impact.
FIFA and UEFA are keen to cite the power of football to change society when awarding tournaments to countries like Ukraine and Qatar but plead impotence when it comes to topics like racism.
The natural indignation in England has lead some to suggest that we should pull out of international tournaments to make a point. Such an action would most likely be met with champagne corks popping in Nyon and Zurich, and would only serve to further dilute our voice in the global game.
The Serbian FA could have offered UEFA a get out of jail card. A statement recognising the monkey chants, apologising to the FA and footballing family and a clear plan of action to ensure it never happens again would have enabled the games rulers to give them a slap on the wrist.
Yet the Serbian FA refuted clear evidence of racist chants and stated that any claims to the contrary were malicious.
‘FA of Serbia absolutely refuses and denies that there were any occurrences of racism before and during the match at the stadium in Kruševac. Making connection between the seen incident – a fight between members of the two teams – and racism has absolutely no ground and we consider it to be a total malevolence.‘
Had they sent a letter saying ‘Fuck you! We did nothing wrong and we’re not changing!’ their attitude couldn’t be any clearer.
And in doing so they batted the ball firmly into UEFA’s court making the question very clear.
Do UEFA believe there was racism at the game and if so, do they consider it acceptable?
Driving behaviour change
Behaviour change and persuasion are all about understanding what motivates of the people you are trying to influence. This means putting your own motives to one side for a moment.
In other words, if we want UEFA and FIFA to impose stronger penalties for incidents of racism we need to understand what influences them.
And let’s be honest, British indignation has never kept them awake at night.
Much higher on the list of priorities are the many sponsors who provide a huge chunk of the money that powers the multi-billion pound football industry.
Just like Nike and Lance Armstrong’s sponsors, FIFA and UEFA’s backers (which include brands like Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Adidas) have a rare opportunity to make their opinion on an unsavoury topic clear.
No brand wants to be associated with racism and upsetting the sponsors is something the footballing authorities do not tolerate. Just ask Niklas Bendtner who was fined £80,000 for showing his Paddy Power lucky pants during EURO2012.
Compared to the fines given to national associations for incidents of racism, it seems rather excessive.
The sponsors are the ones with real power to influence, and maybe only a rebuke from the people who line their pockets will make finally FIFA and UEFA start taking racism in football seriously.