Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Hockey, money and CSR

Gary Al-Smith explains, using hockey in Ghana, that pushing money into sport could not always be about instant returns but can be an issue of national pride too.

Many businesses are interested in a double bottom line. They want to make a profit, and they also want to be involved in contributing to solving significant social problems. Some people call it Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Some call it corporate citizenship and others, community involvement. I call it giving back.

For the past two weeks, football has occupied this column. This time, let’s shift gears a bit to something else that stirred my memory when I heard the President, John Evans Atta Mills, reading his State of the Nation address last week.

He mentioned that the government was committed to the development of football and heaped praise on the Black Satellites and Black Satellites for their good performances last year. That was in the open. Yet, privately there is no doubt where his personal passion lay. It is in hockey.

As the father of the nation, it is prudent that the President keeps tabs on every sport because he is, well, the father of the nation. However any realist will tell you that every human being has a direction where he leans more than most. For the President, he leans toward the hockey stick and the hockey ball.

Somewhere in 2007, the Ghana Hockey Association and the then government decided to go for the bid to host the African Cup for Nations in 2009. To the surprise of many on the continent, Ghana won the bid. And so the financial race to put everything in order began.

The race against time
The new 10 million dollar hockey pitch, a whole organizing committee, world class buses for teams and officials, government support and a motorcade leading teams to both training and match venues are not staple sights in the game of hockey in Ghana. Yet, it happened.

With the world’s credit crunching nosily under our economic feet, the hockey-eccentric President Mills gave the go ahead for the Theodosia Okoh hockey pitch to be refurbished.

And refurbished it was. Michelleti & Co - the same guys who took care of making over the Ohene Djan Stadium before CAN 2008 – put the place in shape. Also in the fray was the world acclaimed Belgium based group Edel Grass who took care of the turf. In the spirit of patronizing made-in-Ghana companies, Klogg Ghana was given the chance to see to the civil works and they did not disappoint. The result of this short-notice but high quality work ethic stands behind Accra’s Tema Station.

It is, indeed, a beauty and it got ready before the continent came to town. The facility is now a 1,200 capacity stadium with a two storey roofed VIP Stand, a 64-room three storey hostel, as well as a technical building, floodlights, a media centre and mixed zone among others.

Many argued that $10 million dollars could easily resettle the miscreants at Sodom and Gomorrah or the Buduburam camp (slums in Ghana), yet I’ll argue the psychological benefits this hockey pitch gives the nation is priceless.

Not all about trophies
For 35 years, Ghana has not won the African Nations’ Cup. In 1974 Ghana conquered Africa and a year later played in the competition for the last time. Last year’s tournament, held from July 10 to 18, was the 9th in the series and people expected Ghana, as hosts, to host-and-win.

We did not. Yet, Oko-Nikoi Dzani (pictured), President of the Ghana Hockey Association and Chairman of the Board of Directors of NDK Financial Services believes Ghanaians should not be alarmed by the failure to win gold.

“It is true to generally say that we haven’t won but we must say it in respect of the facilities we have. How could we be expected to win when we don’t have a turf? We couldn’t have hosted anything if we didn’t have the turf. We had the turf only since last year’s so surely it is the infrastructure that gives us the impetus to make an impact in the series of events.”

So the government did its part by providing a lot of money for what has been called one of the best Hockey Nations’ Cups ever and as a result the private sector is taking notice.

During the 2 week long continental tournament, a Sponsors Dinner was held where some of the large companies in Ghana were baited to put their money in hockey. Oko-Nikoi Dzani believes this is paying off.

“The companies themselves saw how serious we were and I can tell you that there would be a lot of involvement soon. They were particularly impressed with the way the games were attended and in the interest.”

Money makes sport go round
For a long time, the involvement of corporate Ghana has been on the low side but companies some companies should be given the golden handshake: IPMC, Bank of Ghana, SSNIT, Ghana Commercial Bank, State Insurance Company (SIC), Ghana Cocoa Board (COCOBOD), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), NDK Financial Services, Ghana Police Service, Ghana Army, Ghana Fire Service, Ghana Prisons Service and Customs Excise & Preventive Service (CEPS).

While interviewing Mr. Dzani, news filtered in from South Africa that Ghana’s under-17 male hockey team was playing well against South Africa. A smile of satisfaction spread across his face. That kind of smile comes only when a man sees progress.

“The Government, past and present believed in the administration of hockey in this country and so they put their weight behind us. We have not, and will not disappoint them.”

This past Monday, the teams returned. The national U-17 male team picked the sole ticket to the maiden Youth Hockey Olympics to be held in Singapore in August this year after they beat host country South Africa 3-1 while the ladies whacked their Zimbabwean counterparts 3-0 to pick the bronze medal at East London, South Africa. Now, that is national progress that instant monetary profits cannot buy.

The domestic Hockey League starts very soon and this is a time where young and emerging talent is scheduled to be tapped. It is also a time to rope in the involvement of the Corporate Ghana. Leading by example, NDK Financiers are pushing up to 45,000 Ghana cedis into sponsorship for the season.

For the business mind the question is how do they recoup their money? “We all need to have a bias,” Mr. Dzani said, adding that “we all need to support a special event in one form or the other. Why are people going in for soccer? Ask me not why NDK is sponsoring hockey because hockey is not a bad sport at all and therefore we don’t think we are the losers. Indeed we will gain. And it is a social responsibility generally as the benefits are not necessarily seen from a financial benefit. Somebody must take that sponsorship mantle point of view the social point of view.”

It is this kind of help that hockey needs to move from where we are to be true world champions. As the former Sports Minister Alhaji Muntaka Mohammed Mubarak said: “Government alone can't fund sports -an avenue which provides and engages the youth of our dear land.”

Corporate CSR: what to do
Last year’s tournament left a legacy, not only of a standing sporting complex but of a lasting memory of good hockey sportsmanship among the estimated eight thousand people (or more) who, in total, witnessed the games. Not forgetting the tens of millions who watched proceedings on Metro TV.

“The legacy is hockey. People think of it, people dream of it. They may have come for curiously but there’s no doubt we have generated interest among new and even old lovers of the good.”

That is Mr. Dzani again. But he concedes that this may not be enough to keep the hockey flames burning. According to him, for the game to develop Ghana needs pitches in all regional capitals or at least the focal towns and cities in the country.

“For a pitch, two to three million dollars should give us a decent one with a capacity of about sixty thousand. I expect us to have one in Kumasi, Cape Coast and other places”

Alternatively if your company wishes to aid in efforts in this sport, try doing what many outfits have done in the past: sponsor a hockey team and name it after your company, much like NDK Financiers did in February 2003.

Money in, money out. That’s the easiest way I can explain the principle of business to my younger siblings. Yes, the same applies to sport but as we can see, sometimes it’s all not all about making more money. Sometimes it’s about the timeless art of putting back into the community.