Are football clubs fulfilling their obligations?

Supporting football feels like it’s a pastime with many duties associated with it. The duty to cheer loudly, the duty to stick up for your club in arguments, the duty to travel to away games no matter where they are; they might not be considered a conventional duty, they might come naturally to you, they’re also (hopefully) enjoyable. But what about the duties and responsibilities of the football club itself? When you think about the responsibility of a club people talk about ensuring the club’s future, building a team capable of winning trophies and one that plays attractive football; but, in reality, all of those responsibilities are self serving anyway, which makes them less of a responsibility and more of a necessity for survival. So what else is there? What selfless acts should be the norm at football clubs? What I’m talking about is a responsibility to the local community, and recognition of the potential to use the club’s brand for the greater good.

I can’t speak for all clubs because I don’t experience the way they interact with their fans and local community on a regular basis but with Arsenal there are a few things I have noticed. Firstly, I feel as though by supporting Arsenal you automatically sign yourself up for a football experience that comes equipped with its own marketing campaign that constantly tries to get you to spend more money on the club, through conscious or subliminal means.

However I have also noticed that Arsenal do orchestrate a lot of events with local charities. In fact each year they choose a charity to support for an entire year and raise considerable amounts of money for that charity. On top of this there are regular events involving Arsenal players visiting local schools and hospitals. You might look at this and think they are going above and beyond their responsibilities. Whilst that may be true when you compare them to the average football club I don’t think, as a sentiment, it is necessarily true. After all, everything that the club has is from the pocket of its fans. Therefore to give something back to the local community that has given it so much is the least we could expect. So what is the most?

Do our football clubs perhaps have greater moral obligations than they like to admit? People might say that football clubs are just sporting organisations, that they’re just teams, but those people are not fans. For fans the club is a pillar of local communities, it’s entertainment, it’s a haven from reality, it’s a place when you can come together with 60,000 likeminded individuals on a weekly basis and indulge in watching a form of art that can leave you feeling anywhere from ecstatic to enraged, it’s a cultural phenomenon that brings together people of all different backgrounds for a few hours a week; and with that kind of influence and importance to so many people comes an opportunity.

The only thing that seemed to demonstrate class better than Barcelona refusing to have a shirt sponsor was when they allowed Unicef to be their sponsor for free. They made a statement, they used their global brand name to raise awareness for a better cause, they understood the potential that their club had developed and used it for the advantage of others. Even though they then did the opposite straight after, Barcelona raised an issue that is an important one to consider. For all that their local community and local fan base gives them Barcelona understood that their financial and sporting support extended to all corners of the globe and by taking Unicef as the sponsor they demonstrated a level of gratitude and self-awareness that is largely absent from the sport itself.

Clearly not all clubs are in a financial position to do this, some clubs may rely heavily on their sponsorship deals but there are two points to be made here. Firstly clubs are hardly run as though they are the most efficient of businesses. They haemorrhage money from a variety of different areas and with so many clubs seemingly happy to run at a loss then more should consider the possibility of occasionally taking charities on as their sponsor free of charge. The second point is that even if they didn’t want to do it free of charge they could still offer charities considerably discounted opportunities to be sponsors. In doing so they could help set a trend for charitable consciousness, which is currently uncommon in football. Clearly, as I said before, not all are in a position to allow this kind of generosity but when you really consider how much you, as a fan of your club, have given financially over the course of your life it doesn’t seem so unreasonable that these clubs should be looking to offer a little more back to the communities from which they have received so much.

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