By Andreas Themistocleous, APC Sports Consulting Ltd
I saw a very cool picture, about a week ago, on my social media feed from soccer star Neymar, playing beach soccer with his friends on a private location by the sea in Brazil, telling the world how much fun it is to be back home and how his time is being usefully utilized during his social distancing, due to the pandemic of COVID-19. What social distancing? People are dying, others are losing jobs, Europe is one big complete lockdown, especially in France where Neymar resides and plays. Not so cool, I thought, afterall, especially for the French people who idolize him.
We have repeatedly discussed how athletes are global icons and people weigh in on their life, their actions and their opinions in an unprecedented manner, perhaps putting more trust and value in the athletes than the politicians themselves. There is a distinct association, which has been widely exploited commercially and has been the key success factor for the financial growth of all stakeholders in the industry. At any given point in time, let alone in a time of global crisis, athletes’ voice and attitude matter. Social Responsibility, in times such as the present, becomes even a greater necessity. It can be manifested in several ways, either as a product of personal initiative or as part of a wider campaign. It goes without saying that monetary returns should not be a top priority at this time for any athlete’s involvement in such activities.
I, personally, really like what Ronaldo is doing on the subject. His private life is well protected, he is in quarantine with his mother in Portugal and has pledged humanitarian aid in several shapes or forms, including utilization of his hotels as accommodation for doctors who must isolate themselves from their families. I also like what NBA stars have done, offering personal money to cover lost wages of the employees at arenas around the USA. I admire Steph Curry who enrolled in e-learning classes at the University of Southern California, making sure that he stays at home and making good use of the time he has away from his sport duties. This is what you call leading by example. This is socially responsible behavior that sets the example and shows the way.
If you haven’t already done so, there are several simple things you can do to join the cause of social responsibility during the pandemic. Fοr starters, the one most critical function of social responsibility is to practice what you preach. Follow the rules, respect governmental orders and decisions and exhibit your obedience in a way that eases compliance amongst the general public. For example, the USA has in the first two weeks of exposure to the virus surpassed the amount of infected people that China experienced in the last three months. What better way to voice your suggestion to the public to practice social isolation, by also doing it yourself? Another great example is blood donation. People, most probably out of fear, have stayed away from medical facilities and the blood reserves are driven down in dangerous fashion. Why not find a way to donate blood or encourage others to do the same and help people that really need it? In this time of crisis, old people seem to be the most vulnerable and are asked to stay inside the house. How about organizing a grocery service, especially dedicated to older people and the most vulnerable? Perhaps you can do this with the help of the local authorities and of course, if you can afford it, a donation towards the actual service would be truly appreciated.
One of the biggest problems the world is facing right now is domestic violence, which has abruptly multiplied due to social isolation and pressure from dealing with this enormous change of the ways of everyday life. Can sport figures raise awareness on the matter? Do you think it’s important for someone to come forward and push for action? Of course, for starters you should probably check to make sure you are playing by the book, respecting and empowering women yourselves.
Furthermore, no one should underestimate the psychological effect that this prolonged crisis and isolation will have on people. Mental health has been a prominent issue of discussion, for sometime now, amongst professional leagues and people supported and sympathized with pro athletes in their quest to deal with those psychological challenges; now it’s time for athletes to reciprocate and bring forward for social discussion the issue of psychological support for the isolated masses.
Last but not least, the pandemic is seriously upsetting the economy and the financial well-being of everyday people and small businesses. The industry as a whole, should be prepared to support communities and vulnerable groups, just like NBA stars have done for arena workers. We could go on and on discussing ideas and measures of social responsibility related to the present state of affairs. It’s truly a defining moment in world history and those who can, should play their part in helping in whatever possible way.
Remember that those who lead the way are the ones who usually get rewarded at some later point in life. It resembles an open-ended cycle, where the responsible ones lead the way, they are rewarded, they rise as leaders, they gain recognition, then it’s easy for them to be more responsible and the cycle starts all over again and keeps going. Socially responsible athletes are usually more popular amongst the fans, making them highly recruited from commercial brands. Socially responsible athletes, however, should not embark in the journey for personal benefits, but because they grasp the benefits for the overall good and for the general public. The personal benefits will be there regardless, so focus on what you can do to improve the life of those who constantly support and follow you.