Global Head of Sport, Entertainment and Culture
As the 2023 Rugby World Cup draws to a close, the Final should definitely be a spectacle. It has been a great tournament and France have been terrific hosts.
With so much upheaval in the world, major international sports events are a welcome reminder that we all have more in common than not, from the players on the pitch to the fans in the stands. As Nelson Mandela, whose beloved Springboks will contest the Final against the mighty All Blacks, famously said: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”
The question for those of us working in and around sport is whether the same sentiment can be applied to companies who invest in sponsorship, and whether we can leverage all the positives about sport to drive wider benefits in society.
Prior to the tournament, I was asked about the sponsorship of TotalEnergies and whether, as part of a solution, we should ban companies who are widely seen as part of the problem. While my opinion is that dialogue, rather an ultimatum or a ban, is the only way, I appreciate that can be seen by many as naïve or wilfully ignorant.
Allow me to explain.
We live in a complex world with complex problems. Solving those problems, especially when it comes to something as significant as climate change, will require dialogue with energy companies on whose services we will continue to depend for many years to come.
When it comes to engaging with them, we have a choice. Either we ban them from sport until we feel they’re doing enough to address climate challenges or we engage them and leverage sport as a vehicle to co-create positive change. My suggestion is that we should focus on the latter. In fact, the opportunity to collaborate extends beyond sport to arts, culture and entertainment sponsorship too.
We should absolutely be unequivocal about our expectations around commitment to sustainability and ensure our commercial partners clearly demonstrate what they’re doing to address the challenges we face. Let’s allow for them to do that and do so without prejudice.
We can set high expectations while at the same time leaving room for dialogue. These elements should not be mutually exclusive. We need to ensure that the focus is on finding solutions, not on headlines or positions that don’t get us to the outcomes that we are after.
So, as we reflect on the past few weeks of the tournament and the turmoil around the world, let dialogue and our common interests be the foundation of everything that we strive for. As for the Final, may the best team win!
- Misha Sher is a Board Director of the European Sponsorship Association (ESA)