Jaimie Fuller: It’s been a big year in sport – for the bad and the good

By Jaimie Fuller, Founder and Chairman of Skins 

At SKINS, we draw attention to the bad because we want to make a difference in the sporting world by helping to right the wrongs, helping to improve the way sport is managed and administered, and helping to bring sport back to its true base – the people.

As 2017 draws to a close, I want to focus on three examples of the good, the bad and the hopeful; three issues I think may continue to have repercussions for different reasons into next year also.

The good

Equality FCEquality FC is the brainchild of a real football club, Lewes. What’s good about them? They are the first pro or semi-pro club in the world to pay its women’s team the same as its men’s team.

When the local community took over ownership of the club a few years ago, they realised that both the men’s and women’s teams play once a week, train twice a week, are as professional as the other in their attitude to training, and play at the same home ground. Why shouldn’t they get paid the same?

That’s precisely what they did this year. In doing so, they have become leaders in gender equality in sport.

This was something we were happy to support at SKINS as it’s something we believe in. As a clothing brand, the easy bit is supplying product; but what we’re also doing is buying – 50/50 with our staff – a lifetime ownership share of Lewes FC at the modest cost of £1,000. It’s our way of saying we’re fully committed to what Equality FC is doing to bring equality to sport in a real and genuine way.

The bad

Russia. Where do we start? Last year, I drew attention to the absurdity and inadequacy of the response of the Russians to the McLaren Report. Now everything McLaren found has been proven to be correct for the second time, this time via the findings from the Schmid Report.

The IOC had no choice but to ban Russian athletes from the 2018 Winter Olympic Games. A lifetime ban was also given to Vitaly Mutko, the man who was the Sports Minister when all this went down. He is now deputy Prime Minister and – wait for it – head of the Organising Committee for the FIFA World Cup next year.

The reaction inside FIFA? Nothing. They still think there’s nothing to see here and apparently don’t see a problem with the head of their marquee event being known to have facilitated cheating.

The reaction inside the Russian Olympic Committee? Absolutely shocking. The honorary Russian Olympic President, Leonid Tyaghachev, said the chief whistleblower in this case, scientist Grigory Rodchenkov, should be “shot for his untruths” and face a firing squad “as Stalin would have done”.

The IOC’s reaction to this threat from one of their own? Silence. If this isn’t a disturbing litmus test into global sports leadership (or lack thereof) I don’t know what is.

And meanwhile, we’re all expected to head to Russia next year for the World Cup and have a jolly good time. Nyet me.

The hopeful

Fan empowerment. One of the issues I noticed on my regular visits to England this year concerned the plight of lower level football clubs such as Blackpool, Leyton Orient and Coventry City. There are copious amounts written about the issues facing each club and the common factor was the lack of regulatory regime around the ownership, management and operation of clubs.

At SKINS, we got together with supporter groups from Blackpool, Supporters Direct and social media platform SPORF to advocate for the introduction of a club licensing system, because we realised the FA should be empowered and can fix this relatively easily. Football’s number one stakeholders – as I have long advocated along with my colleagues at #NewFIFANow which includes the Chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Damian Collins MP – are fans.

We’re really encouraged that our campaign to encourage supporters to #RiseUp and to exercise their ‘fan-power’ by reminding their local MP that they’re a fan and not a number, has enjoyed huge success. We are hopeful that the FA will make the necessary changes in the near future.

In the meantime, what this demonstrates to me is just how powerful fans are, and can be, if they unite in a common cause for something so positive. It’s people power in action. Any of us involved in sport – whether as sponsors, broadcasters, media, governing bodies or clubs – ignore them at their peril.