Business, CSR and Sports


In the aftermath of the London 2012 Olympics Games, sports is taking center stage in many people’s lives right now. Sports has always been an influential channel in terms of reaching and engaging people from across the entire social and demographic spectrum. A growing number of organisations have implemented CSR initiatives that use sports as a means for social development.

Distinguishing it accurately, sport is an effective CSR medium for businesses. It emphasises the bond which sport can create between businesses and the communities they work for, and can involve employees and suppliers. This can enhance community connections and help to strengthen a sense of institutional belonging in addition to highlighting the sport itself. With the right input, sport can be used to help change people’s lives and can act as a panacea for social ills at local, national and international levels. Ultimately, sport can rapidly foster the creation of communities which are healthy, active and behave responsibly.

Here in Malaysia, the Government is enthusiastic about encouraging companies to adopt sports as part of their CSR through initiatives such as sponsorship to encourage participation in sport. However, in many cases, the CSR aspect is lost, as companies treat the opportunity more as a marketing ploy with little consideration for real social impact. Many companies in Malaysia park their sports sponsorship under CSR spending. One Malaysian company spent RM14 million out of its RM62 million CSR spending in 2011 to sponsor high-class professional sports such as golf, cricket and cycling aiming to produce world class sports personalities. There is nothing wrong contributing towards nation building, although I do wonder what the social element of CSR on these grounds are. Perhaps, then the numbers accounted for do not reflect accurately in its CSR spending. It is important to distinguish between corporate funding of sport for development, which is a CSR activity with a social return, as against corporate sponsoring of sport, a brand building business proposition with a commercial return.

Fortunately, other companies have found innovative ways of using sports as a catalyst of social change:

Sony used the local interest in soccer to improve the lives of youths and combat development issue such as HIV/ AIDS prevention in Cameroon and Ghana. During the 2012 South Africa FIFA World Cup, Sony funded public viewing screens, and screened HIV/AIDS awareness campaign programmes before and after matches.  Of a cumulative total of 24,000 viewers, approximately 4,800 individuals were tested for HIV, surpassing the initial target of 1,800 by a wide margin.

Nike partnered with Magic Bus, an India-based organisation, engaging children through sport by providing scalable, activity-based programmes that included safe places to play. Results of the partnership where Magic Bus operates in 2010 were impressive: School attendance for kids in urban slums and rural villages increased to 78% and 85% of participating children went on to gets jobs. The results of this have been so positive that the Indian government has made the Magic Bus curricular part of its national “sport for development” programme.

Such examples are truly inspiring, and add to the learning around effective community investment:

Focus on local needs and issues. Businesses should realise the importance and value of developing their relationship with its constituents. Ultimately, the local communities need to feel that tangible sense of belonging to the company and sports provides that platform for community involvement and breaks down the formal social hierarchies – just as long there is a focus on local needs and issues. Adding on to the Magic Bus example in the introduction, is where their intervention encouraged female Indians’ participation in sport, an increase from an initial 10% to 40%.

It’s about working together. Truth is we cannot be good at everything. Sony (case study in the introduction) may be good at producing LCD TVs, computers and digital cameras. But to they added the necessary know-how by partnering with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), FIFA and a number of other NGOs in its aim of contributing to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Chances are, there are organisations out there that are pursuing the same goals and are in dire need of something you already do well in. There is such a thing as win-win situations.

Employee driven initiatives.  In a previous article, I wrote about how companies can organise sound employee volunteering programme. Perhaps, one other point to add on is also the importance of allowing your employees to select the initiative of their choice. CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, a legal and tax service provider, began its two year partnership with the Special Olympics Great Britain last year that was selected on the back of a staff vote. The employees now work alongside the Special Olympics, helping children and adults with learning disabilities transform their lives through sport; also clocking in to a minimum 50 hours per employee on CSR activity annually.

Businesses should look at CSR programmes that use sport as the principle platform and driver of activity. All that is asked for is for businesses to look seriously at inclusion beyond the usual CSR angles. In the spirit of the Olympics happening, my message to companies will be to go “Inspire a Generation”!

By Esther Teh, CSR Asia

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr user Ben Heine.

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