The last 12 months were another big year in sport – unfortunately, for as much as the bad things as the good.
At SKINS, we draw attention to the bad because we want to make a difference in the sporting world by helping to right the wrongs, helping to improve the way sport is managed and administered, and helping to bring sport back to its true base – people.
Having said that, we’re also massive sports lovers and we are inspired all the time by wonderful sporting achievements.
With 2018 now in full flow, I want to focus on two examples each of the good, the bad and the hopeful for the coming 12 months, which includes issues I think may continue to have repercussions for different reasons into next year also.
Jeff Horn. One of the things we love about sport is the fairytale element of it, and there was none quite as good as when Brisbane school teacher, Jeff Horn, defeated Manny Pacquiao mid-year.
Pacquiao is the 11-time world welterweight champion, and his handlers said the fight would be all over in favour of their man in three rounds. But that didn’t intimidate Horn who, although he was vastly inexperienced compared with Pacquiao, had proven to be effective, winning 17 of his 18-bout professional career including, of course, Pacquiao.
Horn also recently defended his welterweight crown with a win over British boxer, Gary Corcoran.
Equality FC. Equality FC is the brainchild of a real football club, Lewes. What’s good about them? They are the first pro or semi-pro club in the world to pay its women’s team the same as its men’s team.
When the local community took over ownership of the club a few years ago, they realised that both the men’s and women’s teams play once a week, train twice a week, are as professional as the other in their attitude to training, and play at the same home ground. Why shouldn’t they get paid the same?
That’s precisely what they did this year. In doing so, they have become pacesetters in gender equality in sport.
This was something we were happy to support at SKINS as it’s something we believe in. As a clothing brand, the easy bit is supplying product; but what we’re also doing is buying – 50/50 with our staff – a lifetime ownership share of Lewes FC at the modest cost of £1,000. It’s our way of saying we’re fully committed to what Equality FC is doing to bring equality to sport in a real and genuine way.
Colin Kaepernick. Remember him? He’s the gridiron player who – and many people either forget the original reason why or twist it to suit their own agenda – started ‘taking the knee’ last year as a way of bringing attention to multiple and regular incidents of police violence and injustice in black America.
He now can’t get a job. None of the NFL franchises will employ him because of his actions in 2016. In fact, one unnamed NFL general manager said most executives in the NFL ‘hate’ Kaepernick. If I owned an NFL franchise, I’d be signing him up quick smart. Unfortunately, it says a lot about the state of America that a footballer can’t get a job for expressing an opinion.
Russia. Where do we start? Last year, I drew attention to the absurdity and inadequacy of the response of the Russians to the McLaren Report. Now everything McLaren found has been proven to be correct for the second time, this time via the findings from the Schmid Report.
The IOC had no choice but to ban Russian athletes from the 2018 Winter Olympics. A lifetime ban was also given to Vitaly Mutko, the man who was the Sports Minister when all this went down. He is now deputy Prime Minister and – wait for it – head of the Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup next year.
The reaction inside FIFA? Nothing. They still think there’s nothing to see here and apparently don’t see a problem with the head of their marquee event being known to have facilitated cheating.
The reaction inside the Russian Olympic Committee? Absolutely shocking. The honorary Russian Olympic President, Leonid Tyaghachev, said the chief whistleblower in this case, scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, should be “shot for his untruths” and face a firing squad “as Stalin would have done”.
The IOC’s reaction to this threat from one of their own? Silence. If this isn’t a disturbing litmus test into global sports leadership (or lack thereof) I don’t know what is.
And meanwhile, we’re all expected to head to Russia next year for the World Cup and have a jolly good time. Nyet me.
Women in sport. I said at the beginning of last year that this was one of the big issues for 2017. I was right, and I think we ended 2017 in a better place that we started.
Having said that, in relation to pay alone, the excellent annual Global Sports Salaries Survey produced by SportingIntelligence.com shows just what an “abyss” there is between the salaries of men and women sports stars. (Obviously, Equality FC is an exception!) There’s still a very long way to go in terms of improved professionalism, pay structure, media and sponsor recognition.
However, professional sporting organisations are at least acknowledging there is an issue and employing strategies to try to address it. I know in my home country of Australia, as an example, elite women athletes are now getting paid – albeit modestly in some instances – for playing professional football, Australian Rules football, rugby league, rugby union, cricket and netball. I am hopeful that this trend will continue to grow and improve.
Fan empowerment. One of the issues I noticed on my regular visits to England this year concerned the plight of lower level football clubs such as Blackpool, Leyton Orient and Coventry City. There are copious amounts written the issues for each club, so just Google them if you’re not aware of them. The common factor for the clubs was the lack of regulatory regime around the ownership, management and operation of clubs.
At SKINS, we got together with supporter groups from Blackpool, Supporters Direct and SPORF to advocate for the introduction of a club licensing system, because we realised the FA can fix this relatively easily. Football’s number one stakeholders – as I have long advocated along with my colleagues at #NewFIFANow which includes the Chairman of the Culture Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP– are fans.
We’re delighted that our campaign to encourage supporters to #RiseUp and to exercise their ‘fan-power’ by reminding their local MP that they’re a fan and not a number, has enjoyed huge success. We are hopeful that the FA will make the necessary changes in the near future.
In the meantime, what this demonstrates to me is just how powerful fans are, and can be, if they unite in a common cause for something so positive. It’s people power in action.
Any of us involved in sport – whether as sponsors, broadcasters, media, governing bodies or clubs – ignore them at their peril.