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Barclays Spaces for Sports

Can a Financial Institution Change the World through Sport!?
~Global Firms Invest in the Power of Sport~

Originally via its affiliate Barclaycard, Barclays has been the main sponsor for England’s Premier League since 2004, Barclays has successfully registered its logo in the much-publicized scenes of one of the world’s most popular games. However, this top sport is not the sole stage for the internationally recognized financial institution to exert its influence. Barclays has special “space” for grass-root sports. The impact that the “Barclays Spaces for Sports” community investment programme has made on marginalized communities is surely comparable to the spectacular goals of the Premier League.

Barclays Spaces for Sports is one of Barclays’ community programs that was implemented in 2004. It originally aimed to create sports facilities in disadvantaged areas in the UK to provide communities including minorities with sporting opportunities. Since 2004 this program has created 200 sports facilities, partnering with a sports-related NPO (The Football Foundation), and 30 million pounds has been spent including the cost for sporting goods provided. This amount is equal to 4.6 billion JPY, and it is the single biggest investment in grassroots sport by a private company in the UK. As the Premier League sponsorship deal between 2010 and 2013 cost 85.2 million pounds (about 13.6 billion JPY), it means that Barclays allocated more than one third of the sponsorship for the world’s top league to this grassroots program.

When hearing the fact that a financial institution creates sports facilities in disadvantaged areas, many Japanese people might think they donate money for a charity --- they don’t.

“We are not doing a charity. We are investing in the communities in which we develop our business,”

stated a Barclays spokesperson. They clarify that they invest their money expecting a social return. In fact, their “investment” in Barclays Spaces for Sports has continued even under the Lehman-shocked economic crisis, and amazingly the amount of the investment has never even decreased. In their way of thinking, community investment is not something to do when they make extra profit, but is a must for their business.

This point has been consistently emphasized both by the head of the program and PR personnel since 2009 when I started research on Barclays Spaces for Sports. It is based on the understanding that developing communities are a significant part of their business, which is broadly understood as the concept of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility). But for Barclays, community development is not “a part” of their business. They flatly state that investing in communities is “an integral part” of their strategy, and set clear goals in implementing Barclays Spaces for Sports: Make a sustainable impact on UK communities, raise the recognition of the program, and engage the employees.

And the impact of the “investment” is remarkable.

According to the monitoring report, Barclays Spaces for Sports has provided more than half a million people including female and minorities in disadvantaged communities with the opportunity to benefit, with 60,000 weekly users on average, and it is appreciated by the communities with nearly 60% saying the site is loved and respected by the community. Amazingly, crime and anti-social behavior dropped by 25 per cent in many cases. It also served as a mediator to break barriers between ethnic groups in a country that has had a dramatic increase in its number of immigrants. For example, 76 per cent of the community surrounding the Aston Villa site in Birmingham consists of black, minority, and ethnic (BME) groups. Previously, each group played in their own individual football teams, but all groups started to play for same club created after the site opened.

By the way, Barclays does not simply give “here-you-are” money, but they start the program with consulting, sending their employees and staff to find out the needs of each community. This consulting process enables Barclays Spaces for Sports to design facilities in a way which will be most appreciated by each community, introducing the sports that are most liked (they have introduced more than 30 kinds of sports) as well as adding IT or educational facilities. As a result, many of the young people excluded from mainstream education who typically fall into
the NEET category have gained confidence to continuously join sports activities and some have even returned to school. According to Mr. Kirk Harrison, the head of Barclays Spaces for Sports, not all the programs have been successful, but it is most likely that the ones with more dialogs with more diverse local stakeholders can be sustainable. Within the company itself Barclays Spaces for Sports can be judged to be extremely successful. Some 2000 employees including senior executives have visited sites or participated in events, and a survey shows that more than 80 per cent of staff aware of the program and believe it is beneficial to Barclays.

After initial success, Barclays Spaces for Sports developed internationally to operate in
South Africa, US, Spain and Zambia in 2008, and by 2011 it will have has extended its operation to 10 countries. And finally, it advanced to China this April to start the program in Beijing for children of immigrants. Barclays is partnering with Right To Play, a Canadian-based NPO which was founded by Albertville Olympic speed skating Gold medalist Johann Koss, and which has sent more than 15000 trainers worldwide. It was important for Barclays that Right To Play already had a branch in Beijing. With regard to the background of the advancement to China, Mr. Harrison mentioned “Many of the immigrants in Beijing had been isolated, and Barclays wanted to help empower their kids by sport.” Of course it is true that China is one of the important markets for Barclays, but they invested as much as 540,000 USD(about 50 million JPY)to create sporting facilities for 17000 immigrant kids, while Right To Play sends 850 trainers in total for three years to provide sports activities, so the local operation can be owned and sustainably operated by local communities.

As well as the amount of investment and the scale of the operation, the most notable thing about Barclays Spaces for Sports is their mindset. They regard sport not only as something that gives dreams and hope, but also as a tool for social change. Not only Barclays, but the world now expects sport to act as a force to tackle various social challenges. Global sports organizations are therefore positioned to be responsible for taking leadership to encourage fans and society to face complex problems, many of which can be often ignored in daily life. At an international conference where I made the final interview for this article, Lord Sebastian Coe talked about the power of sport beyond simply giving dreams and hope, and it is still fresh in our minds that Queen Elizabeth mentioned the power of sport to change society through TV. It can be assumed that the mindset of Barclays Spaces for Sports stems from this momentum in a mature society, but it is epoch-making that a financial institution, not a sports organization, looks at the power of sport and is taking the initiative to develop a sports program to make a difference in its community.


Another thing to note is that, while Premier League stars sometimes participate in Barclays Spaces for Sports activities, the program does not rely on their appearance at all. Consistently Barclays’ goal has been to make a difference by establishing local self-sustainability. Mr. Harrison underlines that “A star player’s one-time visit to a sporting event with kids can be a big news, but it does not bring about the result we aim for. The activities should be continued for a certain period and it is necessary for local people to sustainably manage and operate the activities.” Indeed, “Don’t give them fish. Teach them how to fish.”

Japan is now forced to deal with some of the hardest situations ever after the quake and tsunami. However, it is true that even without the disaster our country had various social challenges. That is, not by the disaster but by other reasons, there were and still are more than a few people in Japan who cannot lead a normal life as modern Japanese consider it to be. Barclays has tried to provide the opportunity to regularly play sport to those who previously only had waste land to play on. The company’s program changed communities of “marginalized people ”by utilizing the power of sport to change their lives. In that sense, Barclays Spaces for Sports can be described as “Premier Level.“

In making maximum efforts to help affected areas and to revitalize Japan, we may have to recognize that, even after the Tsunami has gone, there are still social challenges which exist and deserve consideration, such as that more than 70 per cent of the children staying at orphanages in Japan are victims of domestic violence and that the Japanese economy will have to rely on women and foreign workers in the very near future. It may be good timing for us, in an era when strategic CSR is required and more Japanese companies implement various community activities, to think about how we can provide both affected and marginalized people with the opportunities to engage in sports activities as an encouragement and as an incentive for them to take the next step. I hope this article can be an opportunity for Japanese people to rethink about the core value of the power of sport, taking the global mindset and their approaches into consideration. At the same time I wish that sport can be effectively used as a tool for social change also in Japan in the very near future.