Maddy at Fairtrade in sport

“I’m going to a Fairtrade Ball reception tonight,”

“A what?” my flatmate replied looking perplexed.

“A reception at the Scottish Parliament to talk about sports balls that have been manufactured and distributed within Fairtrade principles,” I explained patiently.

He raised his eyebrows still not fully comprehending what was going on. In all fairness, it’s not a collection of words you commonly hear together. Fairtrade bananas… all the time. Coffee… regularly. Tea… quite often. Even Fairtrade wine and chocolate are more familiar to most people. But balls? I certainly had never heard of Fairtrade balls. So, when the COO of SSS (Scottish Student Sport) invited the Scottish sport sabbatical officers to attend a reception at Holyrood for Bala Sport Balls we were curious indeed.

The evening was a true eye opener shared with prominent figures from across the sector. Speakers from Bala alongside some of their Scottish partners explained how the balls were manufactured and described the impact their work has, on communities and individuals within their supply chain. Bala Sport pride themselves on the quality of the balls which are already used in the Scottish futsal league and the Homeless Football World Cup and was evident by the multiple samples they provided at the reception.

After the main presentation of the reception there was an opportunity to do some networking and myself and the other sabbatical officers were able to speak to Bala representatives about how student sport can do our bit to support their work.

At Strathclyde alone we have 53 sports clubs; 12 of which use traditional sports balls. If this translated across Scotland into every Sports Union and every student sports team you could have a hugely positive impact not only ethically for the athletes who use the balls but also for organisations like Bala.

So, with my new found knowledge of Fairtrade sports balls and inspired by the work that Bala does I put out some feelers to our Sports Union members on my Instagram account. I posted a poll on my Instagram story with the question,

 “Would you want your sports team to use Fairtrade sports balls?”

43 people answered the quick poll in total, with 77% responding with “yes” (33 people) and 23% responding with “no” (10 people). Whilst this is initially encouraging, nearly a quarter of respondents saying that they wouldn’t want their team to use these balls could be a significant indicator of students’ awareness of Fairtrade as well an apparent low ranking of priority.  

The benefits of this quick Instagram poll are that I could easily follow up with a few respondents regarding their answers and unsurprisingly many of the “no” respondents cited the cost as a potential barrier for choosing a Fairtrade sports ball. Many amateur sports clubs struggle with the necessary funding to run their club to its full capacity and University sports clubs are no different. Every year we have to portion up a slow growing or sometimes even static budget from the University and sadly no sports club ever gets its full financial application fulfilled. As a result of this clubs have to become increasingly resourceful often sourcing the cheapest kit they can get. Whilst this could not be considered ethical management of their clubs it does allow them to run to a fuller capacity and include more people.

Therefore, the approach the Strathclyde Sports Union will take is to promote Fairtrade sports balls to our clubs and raise awareness of the implications of their choice in these matters. We will where possible, support clubs financially to buy Fairtrade kit and look favourably on budget applications for this. On a larger scale, the other sabbatical officers that attended the reception at Holyrood and I will carry on this conversation at a national level within our sabbatical officer forum hosted by SSS regularly. Through the innovative team spirit of sport this is a path that can and will be integrated into all aspects of the sector.

Strath Union VP Sports, Maddy Watson

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