Highlights of the Beyond Sport Summit, London, July 9th 2009.
It’s been well over 3 years since I left Everton Football Club and the England Amputee Squad to set up Coethica and sport has been something of an absent friend. The worlds of professional sport and embedded CSR have never truly been properly introduced. There are pockets of excellent community engagement but much room for improvement.
On the top floor of City Hall in London during a beautiful summer’s evening I stood surrounded by the great and the good of sport, government, business and charity. I was at the Beyond Sport London Legacy Awards as part of a inaugural Beyond Sport Summit. The highlight of the evening, apart from Ebony Horse Club winning the £60,000 prize was the vision that was the handshake between the eccentric Mayor of London Boris Johnson, a slightly hunched figure with bright blond hair dried in a wind tunnel and Dikembe Mutombo, an ex-professional basketball player standing at least 7ft 6in wearing shoes that were a length a clown would envy.
The next day was my focus but the third in a programme of events aimed at highlighting the role that sport does and could play in society. I wasn’t really sure what to expect as I’d never heard of the Summit until I was directed to the website and found myself hopefully impressed with the format, the partners and especially the speakers. With brands such as TIME, Virgin, Barclays and UNICEF paired with personalities like ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, Desmond Tutu, Lord Puttnam CBE, Ian Thorpe, Michael Johnson, Kofi Annan and Richard Branson as only highlights, I had to find out more!
The main conference day was introduced by Beyond Sport supremo Nick Keller and compared by the wonderfully passionate Kevin Carroll. The day began well with Tony Blair coming over confidently and nailing the theme for the day with “Sport has the capacity to transcend your own personal environment” which was a much welcome breath of fresh air over the old ‘power of sport’ cliché, even if it is true.
I love the film Chariots of Fire, and its Director and ex-President of UNICEF UK, Lord Puttnam, offered jaw dropping statistics from a global perspective such as “93% worlds problems are caused by men” defining the need for the education of women & girls through sport and making half the room feel guilty. I was eagerly anticipating his opinion of the relationship of Barcelona Football Club and UNICEF, with their at the time unique shirt sponsorship agreement. Lord Puttnam found it hard to hide a wry smile when stating that in many ways it was “The greatest investment Barca ever made” and even more so when gloating “the Barcelona players were proud to wear UNICEF on their shirts. Were the players at Manchester United as happy with AIG on theirs?” I wonder if we’ll ever find out how much indirect additional revenue was generated by such a relationship for both parties? Not so much “show me the money” but more of “show me the way to the money” (with a nice added twist of morals).
Having broken 22 world records, Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe obviously knows how to get through water, quickly. Although the success in the pool was stunningly impressive, I was even more astonished to learn that he set up his own charity at the meagre age of eighteen called Fountain of Youth. His passion and eloquence shone brighter than any gold medal as he set off like a ‘Thorpedo’ on a 15 minute mission to educate the audience about the plight of Aboriginal life expectancy against a backdrop of Australian politics.
Throughout the proceedings, and it was refreshing to have them spread out in bitesize chunks, there were many commendable projects receiving gongs. Amongst the list was the ‘Best CSR in Sport’ Award going to Deloitte’s for their Disability Sport Programme, which didn’t exactly impress from the information provided, but then it’s an area I know a little about and I’m not easily impressed without thorough evidence. For a full list of winners and nominees please take the time to visit the Beyond Sport website for inspiration.
Doug Ulman, CEO of Livestrong brought a more sombre moment to the event with a very personal account of the ‘3 scariest words you can hear – you have cancer.’ A brief word from the man himself, back in the saddle to raise the profile of cancer awareness once more, was relayed via recorded video as he was a little busy with a race or something in France.
After an embarrassingly botched introduction that almost had Lewis Pugh introducing Lewis Pugh (including stern command vocally projected toward those in charge of the media), The Human Polar Bear gave us a fantastic story of his record 1km swim (in just Speedos!) at the North Pole. If you think you could do that I’d like to give you a few example temperatures; your local indoor swimming pool is about 27 degrees, the English Channel is about 18, the water around the sinking Titanic was 5 and the North Pole is minus 1.7! ‘That’s fucking freezing!’ the environmental campaigner announced to wake up the crowd after lunch.
The man with the most infectious chuckle in the world, oh, and also one of modern day’s most prominent spiritual leaders Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, obviously enjoyed his interview by Sir Michael Parkinson. The rapport was wonderful and the discussion covered both rugby’s and cricket’s part in apartheid ‘biting the dust’. In 1995 the South African won the rugby because they had an extra player (God) with ‘90% of the crowd cheering Nelson Mandela. The same people used to call him a terrorist.’ Considering this man played such a crucial role in overcoming one of humanity’s most darkest regimes his almost childlike (especially for a man of a very respectful age) sense of fun was captivating, even for a religious sceptic such as myself. ‘I think I look like Bono’ he quipped about the stage mic along his cheek.
Many well known names played their part appearing like cameos in movies including Michael Johnson, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, HRH Prince Al Hussein of Jordan, Lucas Radebe, Rt Hon Tessa Jowel MP, Dame Kelly Holmes, Richard Branson (absent), and Kofi Annan (picking up the Humanitarian Award via video). Overall it was a fantastic inaugural event. It definitely would have benefited from more emphasis on environmental considerations, especially with Copenhagen around the corner. I for one can’t wait to find out where the next host city will be for such an entertaining and intellectually challenging summit. Well done Nick and all at Beyond Sport!
Beyond Sport Update
Want to change the world?
Today saw the launch of the new Beyond Sport World network – to join the party go to www.beyondsportworld.org