Clubs, owners and players in sports around the worldwide are doing different things to help their communities during the coronavirus situation. Whether you’re a Chelsea fan or not, it’s worth noting that such goodwill is the norm, not the exception.
Chelsea FC and Gary Neville made similar announcements yesterday that the hotels they own would be open free of charge for health and medical workers. Last week, Cristiano Ronaldo converted his hotel into a medical centre. Other clubs in England, like sports teams around the world, are doing what they can to help their employees – particularly event staff – through this time.
A lot of the responses to these stories feel upon sadly predictable tribal lines. Non-Chelsea fans couldn’t believe that the man who “broke football” would do something so socially-minded – as though Roman Abramovich wasn’t already a major philanthropist and benefactor for causes important to him. As much as we questioned Chelsea’s friendly against the New England Revolution last May on football grounds (especially after it cost the team Ruben Loftus-Cheek), the purpose of the game was rock solid and of a piece with much of Abramovich’s life work.
Similarly, a few nitwits on Twitter expressed surprise that Phil Neville was a “proper bloke” or something, based on their assessment of his punditry.
Over here in the United States, it seems we’d rather fight each other than the virus currently having its way with our economy and way of life. “Muh billionaires” was common sentiment on Twitter as National Basketball Association players announced their efforts to help out team employees before the team owners publicly unveiled their plans.
On the subject of NBA owners, the late Paul Allen once owned the Portland Trail Blazers. Yesterday I received an e-mail about a Kaggle competition to deploy data science in the search for a coronavirus vaccine. As Coleen Rooney would say, the sponsor of that competition was,………….. Paul Allen’s foundation.
Sports are not a good place for millionaires to become billionaires or billionaires to approach Croesal levels of wealth. John Matthews co-authored a report on billionaire wealth for UBS and PwC, and said “the fastest way to become a millionaire is to become a billionaire and then buy a sports team.”
The report said:
Yet owning a sports club is more than a prestige project or business venture. In the US and to a certain extent in Europe, this is a chance to promote your community, to establish a legacy as the person who took the community’s sports club to great success… One billionaire told us that you do not really buy sports clubs for financial returns. – Business Insider
The coronavirus crisis is producing an outpouring of community support and philanthropy by those in the sports world. But we should recognize that the only new here is how much more public it is due to the nature of the crisis. The publicity, more than the amounts involved, is the deviation from baseline.
A few weeks ago we covered the London Football Awards. The awards is the largest and highest profile annual fundraiser for the Willow Foundation, founded by former Arsenal goalkeeper Bob Wilson. Each year they honour a club’s community involvement, and they are never short of nominees.
Chelsea players make regular trips to children’s hospitals and the Chelsea pensioners’ home as part of the club, and many do similar things on their own that we may never know about.
So don’t act so surprised the next time you hear about a football club, owner or player doing something good in the community. Whether you stan for him on Twitter or think he’s a plonker, wear the colours or throw banter at the owners, more likely than not, they’re always out doing good things when not on the pitch.
This is just the first time you’ve noticed it.
If you feel inspired, check out the links in the article to learn more about the Willow Foundation, the Asmir Begovic Foundation or Sporting Chance.