Sport can be a powerful platform for teams and athletes to create change within their respective communities and local economies and Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City football club is at the vanguard of this arena.
“We believe that football can bring about positive social change. Today, our commitment to community in Manchester and around the world is stronger than ever,” says Tom Pitchon, director of City Football Foundation at the City Football Group, part of Abu Dhabi United Group, which owns the English Premier League leaders.
Time and again, an athlete’s voice and actions can generate positive experiences for people globally. There are multiple examples of how certain players and teams either stand up for their beliefs or go beyond their means to help the communities they are part of.
Recent research conducted by New Economy Manchester found that there was an overall return on investment of £1.63 per pound (Dh8.35) earned from Manchester City’s City in the Community disability football programme – which is aimed at raising awareness of issues faced by individuals with disabilities.
The same research also found that the group’s Kicks programme (with the primary objective of reducing crime and anti-social behaviour among youth) provided an overall social value of £1.98 per pound.
A report by EY on the economic benefits provided by EPL clubs states: "The Premier League supports a broad range of employment opportunities across the economy. The Premier League and its clubs supported over 100,000 full time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the UK in 2013/14. The majority of jobs (95,483) are supported by Premier League clubs across direct (6,140), indirect (60,145) and induced (29,198) impacts." This shows the significance of the Premier League and its clubs’ supply chains in supporting a large number of jobs, EY said. This is, in part, because a large part of this supply chain is made up of labour intensive sectors such as those supporting matchday revenues (eg hospitality and catering) and retail.
In addition, to the industries which are supported through the Premier League and clubs, their supply chains and employee spending, there are also other parts of the economy which indirectly benefit from the EPL’s success. The league attracts tourists from across the globe, helps to stimulate demand across the hospitality sector, supports a growing media and high-tech industry, represents a significant proportion of gambling revenues and is a key pillar of the UK brand and image abroad.
But it's not just the top EPL teams that generate local economic gain. This season Stoke City began its 10th consecutive Premier League campaign.
The success of the Staffordshire club, in the midlands of England, on the pitch has led to impressive local economic and social benefits off the pitch, with a recent report by Ernst & Young (EY) finding that the club contributed £132 million (gross value added) to the economy, and directly contributed £61m of tax to public finances in 2015/16.
Over the last 15 years, Premier League funding via the Football Foundation and Football Stadia Improvement Fund, has contributed to 99 projects worth a total of £25m to the region.
David Sidaway, City Director, City of Stoke-on-Trent, believes the role Stoke City has played in the health of the local area should not be under-estimated. "Having a Premier League club in the city really puts us on the map and means the city is talked about globally.
"A strong international profile is crucial in attracting mobile investment."
Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise at Salford Business School near Manchester in north-west England, says football also has a central role to play in helping local societies address issues of cohesion and division.
“The sport has a long history of bringing communities together, and of providing common identity and understanding among sometimes-disparate groups. However, football can also be incredibly divisive too; hooliganism remains an issue in some parts of the world; corruption continues to undermine public trust in the sport; whilst the avarice of some players, clubs and leagues accentuates division rather than healing it,” he says.
By placing the game at the heart of its plans, Manchester City’s Foundation has continued to use the power of football to create opportunities and build better futures – by focusing on three key themes of health, education and inclusion.
“During the 2017/18 season, 40,000 young people across the city will be positively impacted by the Foundation’s programmes, through the delivery of over 50,000 sessions, the equivalent of 1 million contact hours. As well as this, £3m is being invested back into the local community, helping people across the city get a better shot at life,” says Mr Pitchon.
However, it’s not just in Manchester where the club’s community programmes continue to go from strength to strength. Equally important is City Football Group’s Cityzens Giving football project - all run by Young Leaders in 18 cities around the world, designed to address the local social issues that affect their daily lives.
All the young leaders are connected by a common goal - football - allowing them to share experiences and methodologies, encouraging peer exchange and learning across programmes and cultures.
“As the programme develops, members of staff have observed young people go on a journey of personal growth. It’s amazing to see the changes. Young people have commented that they have gained leadership skills, confidence, insight into how football can be used to address social issues, and skills which they can put into practice,” said Mr Pitchon.
In the UAE, 2018 has been distinguished as the Year of Zayed – honouring the nation’s late founding father Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan – aiming to highlight his role in unifying the nation into one that is accepting of other cultures, tolerance, advancement and charity.
Community outreach had primarily been initiated at the club level, with efforts ranging from arrangements with club athletes to visit children at local hospitals to certain clubs honouring orphans during a half time of any given game.
However, in the past few years, UAE’s primary football league – the Arabian Gulf League – has undergone a significant change of direction on its approach towards social initiatives.
Mohamed Ahmed Al Bahri Al Hammadi, an Arabian Gulf League's Pro League Committee executive office member and chairman of the Community Committee, describes Year of Zayed an opportunity for everyone in the community to express their love for the late founding father, a century from his birth.
“It offers us the chance to showcase his role in creating a young nation that has become an example in development, prosperity and growth. A source of giving to the people of the world and a model for tolerance and peaceful coexistence, which made the UAE a preferred destination to live and work for all nationalities,” says Mr Al Hammadi.
A few examples of such initiatives include the “Our Father Zayed” initiative in which the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) managed to fulfil the dreams of three orphans in collaboration with the UAE Red Crescent. Then there was the MD15 dedicated to the "Our Role Model Zayed" initiative, where the league expressed gratitude to the longest-serving media professionals in sports media.
“It is important for us to engage all walks of society in football and involve players in humanitarian and charity work," says Mr Mr Al Hammadi. "Football is more than just a game; it is a message to the community delivered by every member of the AGL system. Last season, when we engaged various sections of our community in the ‘Year of Giving’ initiatives, we were delighted with the joy of a child, the smile of a participant and the emotions of a player. We sent a message that football isn’t just about scoring a goal or winning a trophy. It is a humane message above everything."
The general aim of any organisation interested in genuinely and positively impacting a cause is to do so while amplifying the notion of shared value from top to bottom, involving all stakeholders.
The elements driving football clubs to pursue a social agenda are fairly similar to those in the corporate world, although there are differences in the setting strategies and implementing core objectives with goals structured to reach those.
“At the PLC, we are keen on connecting communities through football, building more channels of communication in line with our 2017-2020 strategic plan in terms of boosting professionalism, engaging followers, including all parts of the community, spreading the culture of sport and many more objectives,” says Mr Al Hammadi.
Similarly, Manchester City’s core objective when it comes to social responsibility is to use the power of football to bring a positive change to communities and the local economy in Manchester and around the globe.
“With the support and engagement from our passionate fans, we are using the ‘football effect’ to promote health, confidence, safe spaces and pathways into training and jobs for young people in Manchester and around the world,” says Mr Pitchon.
Social outreach efforts across football clubs have significantly increased over the past decade or so and football clearly performs a social role, something that clubs should acknowledge and embrace, says Prof Chadwick.
“In terms of football's roots, clubs need to remain aware of their social origins and moral obligations; in commercial terms, most 21st century corporations see corporate social responsibility as a keystone of their operations; and in political terms, football is widely seen by governments as a positive influence on relations with other countries. All of this suggests a new, more important role to come for football clubs in the future."
Manchester City will continue to take a lead role in social change, utilising its local and global brand power and financial muscle for further growth and development of the game and the local economy, as well as communities around the world, says Mr Pitchon.
“We will continue to grow our impact and empower young people’s lives through football.”
And that really is the name of the game.