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Lessons from footy for CSR practitioners

Bob and Sam at Collingwood

Are standards of behaviour in football declining? If so, how should Clubs handle them? And can CSR practitioners learn anything from footy?

Besides what we see in the news, a “List of Australian Rules Football incidents” on Wikipedia gives some clues about problem behaviour in football. Incidents could be anything outside the expected behaviour of footballers.

The ‘incidents’ listing shows a steady increase in incidents and decline in decorous behaviour by footballers overtime. For example, no “incidents” are recorded prior to 1910 are listed (even though the first Australian Football Club, Melbourne, was established in 1858), and in the seven decades from 1910 – 1980 there are only 17 incidents listed, with the decadent 80s producing 12 incidents alone. But it’s from the 90s onward that we see a steep increase from one to four listings per year, with an explosion in ‘incidents’ from 2004.  In 2010 alone, there are 52 recorded incidents. There have been 21 listings so far this year with the season only a third of the way over!

Why the dramatic increase? Granted, Wikipedia is not a source of academically rigorous information, but clearly a trend is emerging here. Has reporting become all-pervasive, or has there actually been a decline in standards in football? And what does this say about the industry, those who play footy and its influences on our society?

Late in the 2008 season, there was a highly publicised drink-drive incident involving three Collingwood players, compounded when the players lied to the Club (This incident happened after Collingwood lost its sponsorship from the Traffic Accident Commission due to problems with player behaviour, so clearly no lesson was learned from losing a sponsor) There were calls for the players to be sacked. However, the Club did not abandon the offenders, instead choosing the more difficult path of suspension (which also meant an end to any realistic chance in finals that year), rehabilitation and education. Subsequently, one of the offending players was traded and two have gone on to become vital members of the 2010 premiership team. Interestingly, there have not been any further traffic related incidents from the Club since then.

Lesson learned?

It seems education and rehabilitation worked better than the loss of face and income from the TAC sponsorship. Is there a message in that for CSR managers trying to drive consistently high standards of corporate behavior? Does the Collingwood Football Club’s response suggest that we may benefit from taking the time to invest in ‘difficult’ responses, as opposed to the easy way out?

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