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Understanding the Impact of ESG for the International Sports World


Sport is one of the most challenging, complicated, enthralling and exciting areas to work in. It means walking on a knife’s edge. On one side, there are thousands or even millions of fans willing to show their support, admiration and love for success and achievements. On the other side there’s a fickle base demanding success, complaining at the slightest hint of a hiccup, and willing to criticise anything they perceive as going against their values.

Social media hasn’t made it any easier. There is almost permanent and very public criticism of players, teams, organisations and events. The Rugby World Cup is on at the moment; negative stories include complaints about schedules, refereeing, the competitiveness of some of the matches. And that’s before we even look at what people say about teams, players and their coaches.

It’s a high-flying balancing act. And the best way to stay safe, as acrobats know, is to be fully prepared for all eventualities. That’s why it’s so important to have a communications strategy in place: hope for the best and plan for the worst.

The Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) framework is an excellent start-point. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking it is just about environmental sustainability. A wide variety of ESG focused issues have the potential to emerge in the sports world, ranging from athlete doping and performance scandals, to corruption and abuse of power allegations, and, of course, to sustainability issues. Air-conditioned stadiums, anyone?

Whether it’s caused by a specific incident, or the culmination of long-standing issues reaching a tipping point, the crises that sports organisations face are of course varied and not always predictable. Generally speaking, people will always make mistakes, questionable decisions, or cause problems, often serving as the spark.

Fundamentally, the way people react to these issues is about trust. If your fanbase sees you’re acting in good faith, despite an issue arising, they will react differently to news that something has been covered up or is emerging months or years later.

Some issues can be difficult to foresee. But some are more predictable: poor performance, unacceptable behaviour from athletes or fans, or perhaps an infrastructure failure.

The point is that a reputational issue should not be surprising. And therefore, the communications processes should be in place to monitor the situation thoroughly to help decision-making, to develop and distribute appropriate statements and, ultimately, to minimise the impact of the issue.

At Leidar, our collaborative process is based on several key principles that give organisations a strong base for dealing with any issue that may emerge:
  • Know yourself: Having an in-depth understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, using the ESG framework to develop the strategy and tactical plan
  • Develop a North Star: Having a clear vision, mission and narrative will help define what sort of communications you aim to have
  • Identify your objective: What is the desired impact of your actions? How can your communications be aligned to make the biggest impact?
  • Know who you’re talking to: Stakeholder and audience analysis is critical – it changes how you frame your message and what key talking points to use
  • Understand the wider issues: ESG issues are generally not one-off crisis issues. They are most often part of a wider societal discourse that encompasses more than just sport
  • Build a solid foundation: Ensure that supporting materials, employee training and detailed plans are in place. The more prepared you are, the smoother any unforeseen issues will go
  • Don’t hide: Sometimes, the best way to communicate is to discuss a failure to meet an objective or standard. Taking accountability, and avoiding the potentially negative future disclosures, is a way to build trust and credibility

We have worked with international sports organisations on a variety of subjects for many years, from crisis preparedness and training, to sustainable event planning and management, to reputation building and protection strategies. Our experienced team of public relations professionals and ESG experts is ready to support you with the most complex issues you may face.


More than a reactive response

Reputation management in sports
Should you have any queries contact us
Jake Simon

Senior Consultant, International Communications, based in Geneva

Jake is a senior consultant at Leidar’s Geneva office, focusing on strategic analysis and development, digital engagement, and campaign execution for clients. He has been a part of the Leidar team since 2015.