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Why is sport so important in Australian culture?


Australians like to think of themselves as sports obsessives, a nation of people who play hard, are loyal to their team and passionate about sporting endeavour. Stefan Grun looks at the background to this sense of national identity.

There are three main factors that define a culture – values, environment and reminders.

Values are those things which define behaviours the group deems are acceptable; environment is both the physical and social environments of the group; and the reminders are the stories we tell, visual reminders such as signs and symbols; and physical reminders or rituals.

View sport from these cultural perspectives and you won’t be surprised why we Aussies find it to be so important.

First let’s look at the environment. If you’ve been to the MCG to watch an AFL match, or cricket test match, you will know the power of sitting in the stands of this grand colosseum watching the gladiators do battle below. The history oozes from every nook and cranny and you can hear the ghosts of legends past regaling you of their amazing feats from summers and winters long gone. Just as it does from the stands and social clubs at any suburban or country football ground across the country.

In country towns the football and netball club is often the social heart of the town. Many old timers connect the demise of their country town with when the footy club folded and there was nowhere to go on a Saturday afternoon – sport was THE social fabric of the town. In the city, going to the footy is still a key social activity, connecting friends, families and complete strangers. Seeing a grown man passionately hug a complete stranger when their underdog team beats the premiership favourites never gets old.

How many stories of Australian folklore involve a sporting legend or sports event. Even those who know little about sport know The Don averaged a tick under 100 and was bowled for a duck in his last innings, walking from the ground with tears in his eyes. Winning the America’s Cup prompted an unofficial public holiday and almost everyone knows of a mare called Makaybe Diva who won three straight Melbourne cups, and the most visited exhibit at the Museum is still Phar Lap – 80 years since he met his tragic death on foreign shores. How many countries worship horses like we do?

The new Friday ritual is submitting your footy tips or finalising your supercoach lineup. This feeds into the Monday morning office banter which still revolves around whether your team beat mine, which has now extended to include anxious analysis of how you went in these competitions. The weekend ritual has changed slightly as our society gets busier and busier, but even in this day of the smartphone we still turn up in droves to the cathedrals of our worship, decked out in jumpers and scarves or covered in war paint – proudly showing our tribal colours for all to see. You can usually tell who’s going well in finals by the footy scarves you spot in the CBD on a Monday, even nudging from under the collars of some very expensive business suits.

What values do Australian’s admire? A lot of our values seem to be derived from our favourite sporting legends – both good and bad. Is it John Landy aborting his world record attempt to help a fallen competitor? Is it Adam Gilchrist walking when he edged a catch in a World Cup semi-final when no one else knew, even the umpire? Perhaps it’s Pat Cash forgetting the Royal Rules and stuffiness when he clambered into the stands on claiming the ultimate tennis prize at Wimbeldon? Others might note Bob Hawke’s statement that any boss sacking someone taking a sickie post America’s Cup victory would be a “bum”.

Aussie’s most look for honesty. Look how we shun our former sporting identities for their misdemeanours if they take us for fools and think we can’t see through their spin. Wayne Carey was shunned, Ricky Nixon ostracised and Jason Akermanis is now largely ignored as they pretend they’ve done nothing wrong or offended no one.

However, look how we embrace the sins and foibles of Shane Warne because he not only admits to his imperfections, but embraces them. He has built the Shane Warne brand around his larrikin personality. Matthew Johns was another prominent sporting identity who resurrected a career on the back of admitting his sins.

So much of Australian culture celebrates the rituals and symbols of sport. We embrace the stories of current and past legends and pin our hopes on the next potential saviour who will rescue our struggling team. The religion of sport in Australian life touches almost everyone.

Even our Prime Ministers recognise the power of sport to connect them to the average Aussie voter. Just think of Julia at the footy or John Howard’s off spinners. Actually, perhaps let’s remember Bob Hawke’s America’s Cup order instead – honest larrikin who loved to celebrate a sporting winner. Who doesn’t?

Along with being an AFL Field umpire and passionate sports fan and writer, Stefan Grun is a leadership development consultant specialising in the areas of effective communication, organisational development and culture change programs. With almost two decades experience in elite business and sporting environments, Stefan is passionate about transferring and sharing the lessons from one field to the other.

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Go with it – never against it.


Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream. Never up.

Can’t we all learn from this? Not just about kayaking, but about so many things in life. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the position on corporate social responsibility in your organisation.

I recently found a great piece on TriplePundit, where they discussed the business around corporate social responsibility in major sporting events and the impact they can have globally.

They used this equation: BUSINESS = SPORT + ENTERTAINMENT with PHILANTHROPY, CSR and GREENING as side shows…to one where: BUSINESS = SPORT + ENTERTAINMENT + SUSTAINABILITY – which really sums up how we should be looking at this.

Gone are the days of patting the sick child on the head in hospital for a good photo opportunity – now, we can be part of establishing a better life for that child and many more in the same situation.

Or instead of writing a cheque for a village in Africa, go and see what they are really dealing with and get your hands dirty in the process.

At Apricot, we are continuing our work with the North Melbourne Football Club, creating a sensational CSR program that will differentiate them from the other clubs and ultimately, become leaders of the pack.

North Melbourne community embodies a wide variety of cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. The work Apricot will do with the Kangaroos will tie them closer to the immediate community.

Joining up the recent partnership with World Vision to the community, both in North Melbourne and potentially Africa as well, will be vital to embracing The Kangaroos as game changers and begin to set them on the path for a huge program.

What we have discovered over the course of creating these programs for clients is about the massive affect it can have, locally, nationally and globally. With the right tools, knowledge and passion – it can really save lives.

The journey with CSR in sport is not one that has been broadcasted and is not commonly associated together, but significant impact they have already on the public makes CSR so much easier.

In a report funded by the UEFA Research Grant Program, Dr Geoff Walters and Richard Tacon discuss corporate social responsibility in European football and how CSR has not been reported on in the sporting industry in general until recently.

The role of sport in society has become more prominent and as sport organisations have become increasingly influential members of the global community. The concerns of transparency and accountability evident within the corporate world have transferred to sport. This has led some to suggest that sport organisations cannot ignore CSR and that they have to implement it. 

Sport organisations have, over the last few decades, engaged with various CSR imperatives, including philanthropy, community involvement and both youth educational activities and health initiatives.

Much of the research they have done led them to compiling seven key aspects to utilising CSR in a sporting organisation.

  1. The popularity and global reach of sport can ensure that sport CSR has mass media distribution and communication power. That is, the prominence of sport within the media helps to promote and communicate CSR activities to a wide audience.
  2. Sport CSR has youth appeal: children are more likely to engage in a CSR program if it is attached to a sport organization or a sports personality.
  3. Sport CSR can be used to deliver positive health impacts through programs and initiatives designed around physical exercise.
  4. Sport CSR will invariably involve group participation and therefore aid social interaction.
  5. This can also lead to cultural understanding and integration.
  6. Particular sport activities may lead to enhanced environmental and sustainability awareness.
  7. Finally, participating in sport CSR activities can also provide immediate gratification benefits.

With these in mind, the process of creating a stand-out CSR program for the North Melbourne Kangaroos will be a challenge, but we are ready to get our hands dirty for this and potentially change some lives.



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Sporting the CSR badge


Working with local, national and international sports teams is a dream of many organisations as part of their corporate social responsibility schemes – but what about the sports teams themselves?

Sporting Organisations can be a major driving force for change especially in youth issues such as childhood obesity, academic failure, violence and teen pregnancy. Familiar sport stars and their teams can have an enormous impact on not just their fans, but many people or situations across the globe.

And it doesn’t stop there. Using CSR for sports teams can also combat concerns with the environment, sustainability and other emerging social issues.

FC Barcelona is one team that clearly steps up for their efforts with CSR. A not-for-profit club is owned by their members and paying an annual fee allows them to elect members to the board, headed by a president.

Their motto is ‘més que un club’ – meaning ‘more than a club’. And they stick to this. The work they do on the field is competitive and exciting, but the work they do off is just as good.

The FC Barcelona created ‘The FC Barcelona Foundation’ in 1994 and it was established to use sport as the backbone for promoting education and the positive values of sport.

The Foundation has been an endless source of participation in numerous social, cultural and sporting activities organised through the club. Players and coaching staff also donate 0.5 per cent of their wages to the Foundation.

‘FC Barcelona Foundation’ and Pies Descalzos Foundation (Columbian charity founded by pop star Shakira in 1997) are working together on the ‘Football for youth development and a healthy life’ project which includes the construction of sporting and recreational areas of Cartagena (Columbia) and Miami.

It is to benefit children most vulnerable in Columbia and Hispanic community in the U.S who are at risk of social exclusion.

Their work has been picked up globally and they have partnered with many different charities to conquer different world issues.

Work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been used to begin the eradication of polio, connections with UNICEF which began in 2006, using projects to fight AIDS.

There are also organisations that are utilising the sports industry to improve their environmental impact. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is America’s most effective environmental action group and they started work with NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2004 for their ‘Go Green’ efforts. Since then MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, MLS and USTA have jumped on board to action their efforts too.

It has a web-based resource that helps teams what areas of work are available in their region to pursue environmentally superior operations and supply chain options. From their website they state, “One of the many ways NRDC has been helping stadiums and arenas reduce environmental impacts is by commissioning energy, waste, and water efficiency audits — many of which result in significant cost savings.”

Apricot Consulting, who has extensive experience in working with elite Sporting organisations in Australia (Australian Football League and Australian Cricket), has recently been appointed by the North Melbourne Kangaroos to work with them on their corporate social responsibility strategies.

Over the coming months we will be working closely with the Kangaroos Board, CEO and Senior Managers to critically analyse all elements of the current CSR program and to help design a world class strategy. These discussions will provide deeper insight into potential operations of what CSR programs could achieve and a future vision for the Kangaroos. It will also lead to bringing about major social change as a result of the engagement of Sport.

Areas of work will also cover employee, fan, media and player engagement, marketplace perceptions, commercial partnerships and game development initiatives.

As things progress Apricot will keep thorough updates of our work and progress via Twitter, Facebook and the website.


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Little League for Social Change


Uganda Little League Team Champions in Poland

The Little League World Series was first held in 1947 and throughout this 64 year history there has never been in African team in the competition. Chinese Taipei/Taiwan has the most wins, proof that international representation is not missing, but Africa’s lack of infrastructure and general inexperience with baseball has prevented it from participating in the one of highest honors for a young athlete.

This year, however, a team that had been on the rise for the past few years was finally on its way to America. Uganda beat Saudi Arabia on July 16th to qualify for the trip to Williamsport, but shortly after returning home, they were informed that their visas to America were denied. The issue was largely because of the inconsistencies in birth dates with many of players, something very common in Uganda. Though their journey may end this year with some disappointment, it is an inspiring one that can set the stage for other similar initiatives throughout the developing world.

The story begins eight years ago when Richard Stanley, part owner of the New York Yankees’ AA affiliate Trenton Thunder, introduced baseball to Uganda. Baseball was quick to catch on, but communities lacked many of the facilities and equipment necessary to take the sport seriously.

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CSR Spotlight: Sport for Social Change


Sport has grown to become one of the most common tools for bridging cultural, ethnic and socio-economic divides. Sport is especially effective with younger generations because it can unite an impoverished community, while simultaneously taking kids out of potentially dangerous environment by promoting positive values and education.

Beyond Sport is an organization that has risen within the past few years to help people and organizations more effectively use sport to create social change. By providing a variety of outlets to interact with thousands of other sport-for-good focused people around the globe, Beyond Sport effectively showcases best practices and successful programs in the space.

The Beyond Sport organization functions in three ways: Beyond Sport Awards, Beyond Sports Summit, and Beyond Sport World. The awards section consists of various sport-for-good programs throughout the world that are nominated for categories such as the “UNICEF Sport for Education Award,” “Sport for Health Award,” “Sport for the Environment Award,” and many more. This award system not only honors programs who are doing a fantastic job in their field, but it also generates more publicity for these programs, making them more popular and possibly attracting the attention of other organizations that can help or use a similar strategy in their area.

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