A touching partnership 

Sports sponsorship is often viewed through a cynical prism but this week the England Touch Association announced a wonderful – and timely – new partnership with the British Heart Foundation

The relationship began last November when Touch Rugby’s  #TouchMyHeart 28-day challenge raised over £2000 for the BHF.

Then the British Journal of Sports Medicine ran a report showing regular Touch Rugby activity over a 10-12 week period improved cardiovascular risk factors, including resting heart rate and diastolic blood pressure. 

The research also showed that those surveyed experienced improvements in their rate of oxygen consumption, and the metabolic risk factors associated with the prevention of type 2 diabetes as well as the reduction in total body fat mass. 

So this year the two organisations have teamed up to, starting with a programme of home workouts designed and demonstrated by Aaron Green, the ETA’s high-performance strength and conditioning coach.

Peter Tarrant, the BHF’s Area Fundraising Manager said: “Touch Rugby was a new sport to me, but the potential of a positive and proactive partnership quickly became apparent, and we’re delighted to have come to a more formal agreement with the England Touch Association.

“As a sport it ticks all the right boxes for the BHF – it can be played by male and female players of all ages, it is really accessible with no specialist equipment needed, and the health benefits are clear.”

Equally the sport ticks all the right boxes for Sportsiders.

Chris Simon chief executive of the ETA said: “The BHF is a fantastic charity which works in an area that impacts families throughout the country, so it is an honour that they have chosen the England Touch Association as their first national governing body partnership within sport.

“By working with the BHF we can showcase Touch Rugby as a mass participation sport at all levels, and a real driver for improved physical health and the other benefits which come from that.

“This is just one of a number of strategic partnerships that we have either finalised or are close to finalising, and we are looking positively into 2021.”

It is an important time for smaller sports organisations to ensure they have other profitable partnerships in place in a week when sports sponsorship came under the microscope with the revelation of the  “biggest shake-up of advertising in professional sport since tobacco promotion was outlawed”, according to The Sunday Times.

The paper was referencing the death knell for sponsorship by gambling companies in football, which currently generates around £110m a year for Premier League and Championship clubs.

Incredibly before the 2002/03 season there was no betting company involved in any league. Fulham were first to partner with a betting brand and others were swift to follow. Eight of the 20 Premier League clubs have a betting firm as a main sponsor and only three Premier League clubs (Sheffield United, Liverpool and Chelsea) don’t have any association with a betting brand.

The government review into a huge rise in problem gamblers has led to this proposed legislation and it looks likely football clubs will be banned from promoting gambling companies on their shirts by the start of next season.

The Telegraph reported that sources close to talks with Downing Street say there is “determination at the top” of the government to “press ahead with reform”.

Over 400,000 people were found to be “problem gamblers” in 2017 according to a study by the Gambling Commission and a recent A YouGov survey of 16,000 people commissioned by GambleAware estimated that up to 2.7% of adults in Britain were “problem gamblers”.

Public appetite for the Government plans appears strong. A Survation poll for Clean Up Gambling found that 51% back the banning of all advertising, sponsorship and promotion for gambling firms. Just 21% disagreed while the rest gave no opinion either way.

But while it is easy to applaud partnerships like England Touch and the BHF and criticise Premier League football clubs partnering with gambling companies, it is important to recognise the impact that losing this sponsorship will have for not only football clubs, but many other sporting pursuits in the UK.

Darts, snooker and boxing will also be dealt a blow if the ban comes into play. 

Every player in the top ten of the Professional Darts Corporation wears gambling logos during big tournaments while in snooker, top players wear waistcoats which feature the logos of betting sites. 

The legendary Barry Hearn, founder and chairman of Matchroom Sport, who has had such a hand in making big business of snooker, darts and boxing, told The Telegraph that a ban on gambling sponsorship would be a “disaster for every layer of sport.”

Hearn, who also owned Football League club Leyton Orient until 2014, said: “It’s all very well looking at Premier League football, but there’s lots of sports – and darts and snooker are two of them – when a considerable amount of that money goes down the chain towards grass-roots, which actually saves government money.

“We’ve always looked to broaden our sponsorship, but the demand has been huge from gambling companies for our events.”

Hearn added it reminded him of the moment tobacco sponsorship was banned from sports in 1995. 

“I”m never worried, because I went through the tobacco situation. Perhaps you have to accept some financial loss, but it’s more important to think what the money does,” he said.

Speaking with SportBusiness he admitted that Matchroom would be under pressure with the current gambling sponsorship review but added that events in the world of Ten Pin Bowling or Table Tennis could be devastated if they weren’t allowed to speak to betting firms.



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