Tobias van der Valk
editor News and Co
Tobias van der Valk
editor News and Co
The observant football fan has probably already noticed. Football clubs like to show off their social commitment on and around the field. From charities as (temporary) shirt sponsors and benefits in the stadium to football clinics in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Utrecht University (UU) notes that clubs are taking these projects more and more seriously.
An annual report that the university publishes in October with the premier league clubs shows that the number of people within the clubs involved in social projects has increased by 33 percent, from 82 to 109 jobs. The UU is now starting a collaboration with the Kitchen Champion Division to also help smaller clubs with corporate social responsibility.
“Corporate social responsibility is becoming an increasingly important part within clubs,” says Jan-Willem van der Roest, project leader from Utrecht University. “There are still major differences between professional clubs. Some have already come a long way. Others have half an employee on this. We want to help get a clearer line in this.”
One of the clubs that have made great strides in recent years is Roda JC from Kerkrade. The club went through a deep valley, both sportingly and administratively. One of the low points was a legal conflict in 2017 with Russian businessman Aleksei Korotaev and relegation from the Premier League.
In 2020, the club took a new direction under the leadership of a group of regional investors. Jordens Peters was appointed as general manager. “We started thinking about what our right to exist as a club is. It turned out that we had to become more involved in the region again,” he says.
Peters brought in former footballer Ard van Peppen last year to head a new department within the club. Together they organized almost a hundred activities in the area last season, including football clinics in disadvantaged neighborhoods and a school tour. “We do this with trainers and materials from the club. But we also look for connections with local workers and the police officer, for example.”
Roda JC believes it can make a serious difference with the projects. The Parkstad, the urban region that includes Kerkrade, is considered the unhealthiest region in the Netherlands. On average, people die six to seven years earlier. Peters: “Our objective is to bring perceived health to the Limburg average.”
Make good decoration
They are beautiful words. But these must also be made measurable, says Jan-Willem van der Roest of the UU. That is why he will help clubs keep track of the impact the projects have. “Monitoring is important, but also complicated for many smaller clubs. They have a small organization and little knowledge about how to do this. We will train them in that.”
An important question is whether clubs do not mainly use the projects to make a good impression. A valid point, according to Van der Roest: “Of course, clubs also do this for their image. On the other hand, we sometimes forget that many football clubs are small organizations. They have to organize a major event every two weeks with few people. “And then running a social program is not something you just do. At many clubs there is real motivation to do something good.”
One club that proves his point is FC Groningen. The Pride of the North was relegated from the Premier League last season, but the social branch actually grew. “We have our own foundation that currently employs twelve people and a budget of approximately 1.25 million euros,” says Simon Cageling, corporate social responsibility manager at the club. According to Cageling, his work is widely supported within the club.
The foundation has dozens of projects, including football clinics in disadvantaged areas and a ‘social skybox’. Cageling: “We clearly choose a theme that we can influence: lack of exercise.”
The football club often travels with that theme. “As FC Groningen, you can get to many places more easily than, for example, a municipality. A village like Pekela is often poorly portrayed, but when we come there to give a clinic, we have a fantastic day.”
“Do you know what you can buy for that?”
Jordens Peters of Roda JC also says he receives criticism about his club’s social ambitions. “We don’t have a gambling company as a sponsor because we don’t think it’s appropriate. That just saves 20 percent on our budget. Then you are told: ‘do you know what kind of players you can buy for that?’?”
According to Peters, this means that new doors will open. “We now have partnerships with companies that think it is important that we do something for the region. They probably would not have come to us otherwise.”
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