Seven years ago, Nick Keller, the founder of the UK’s prestigious and highly regarded annual BT Sport Industry Awards, wrote a business plan for ‘Sport United’ – a UK-based awards concept that recognised volunteers and the positive impact of sport to inspire communities – but shelved it due to a lack of interest.
Today, after a subtle name change and International Olympic Committee recognition, Beyond Sport has a network which reaches 135 countries across the globe and is involved with hundreds of programmes which use sport as a tool to tackle social issues such as health, unemployment, conflict resolution, gang-related violence and education.
The power of sport
Beyond Sport’s vision is to create social change through sport, business and philanthropy. It aims to do this by bringing together individuals and institutions such as NGBs, governments, corporations, professional sports leagues and clubs. It recognises – and works towards harnessing – the power of sport to create change using a wide range of initiatives.
According to Keller, Beyond Sport is a result of his identifying an opportunity and also having a track record for delivering top-quality events. “I spotted a gap in the market and it seemed like a natural time to do something special,” he says. “Some of the early momentum was developed through our work with the Sport Industry Awards and the network of people we had built with that.
“People trust us, as they’ve seen that we’ve delivered with the BT Sport Industry Awards and we’ve always been true to our work. I’d like to think that if we say we’re going to do something, we go and do it. I think once you do that a few times people recognise that achievement and so it allows us to go to the likes of Barclays, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Time magazine and other great partners – the good and the great of sports sponsorship.”
Keller and his team have definitely been busy. The organisation now runs the Beyond Sport Awards and a series of events – including the annual Summit and Beyond Sport United – which bring together the world’s leading social innovators as well as influential, global leaders in sport, business and government. He has also created an online networking platform, Beyond Sport World, which allows sports bodies and organisations across the world to interact and collaborate. There is also the Beyond Sport Foundation, which has so far invested nearly US$5m in inspirational people and projects in more than 40 countries. To top it all off, Keller has managed to recruit an impressive team of Beyond Sport Ambassadors – former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, archbishop Desmond Tutu, Olympic Champion Michael Johnson and US senator Bill Bradley are all onboard.
“The interesting thing about the likes of Desmond Tutu, Tony Blair and senator Bradley is that they’re non sports people who have been dealing with issues of society for generations,” Keller says.
“They’re willing to put their name to something, which in the past might have been thought of as frivolous, but they take it incredibly seriously. Tony (Blair) is currently our chair and archbishop Tutu, who has no political gain around this, is passionate about the power of sport and how it can be a phenomenal catalyst for peace and inclusion.”
In search of legacy
In the year since London 2012, the question of legacy has commanded a considerable number of column inches and has dominated sport-related discussions in the corridors of power at Westminster and beyond. When the question of legacy is put to Keller, he says it can be defined in three ways.
“Firstly, there is the business legacy. The commercial plans for the Olympic Park post-Games and also the business which was concluded during the Games. There’s a stat which suggests that around £14bn worth of deals were made during the Olympics last year – a truly phenomenal amount,” he says.
“The second aspect is the sporting legacy and the effect that the creation of role models will have on participation figures. Thirdly, there are the efforts that will be made to use sport as a vehicle for social development – how sport is used in its many guises to drive people back into education, improve the health of the nation and help alleviate problems around antisocial behaviour and inclusion.”
But is the legacy being delivered? “To decide whether the Olympics have been a real success you can only really look at it 10 years on,” Keller says. “Also, for me, you have to take all three core points of the legacy together – I don’t think you can separate them off. I don’t think you can have success in one without delivering the other two. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t actually very much like the word “legacy” because it suggests an end rather than a beginning. If you look at the definition of legacy it is all about endings and I think we should stop referring to what’s happened, I think we should refer to what happened at London 2012 as a beginning for sport – an inception – I think we should stop using the word legacy entirely!”
Into the future
Keller says the Beyond Sport network now reaches across 1,000 organisations and its reputation is growing rapidly. The Beyond Sport Summit has grown from a one-off event to being a week-long celebration of the global sports industry’s achievements in initiating social change. There are workshops, special sessions focused on action-taking and policy strategy and high-profile panel talks. The awards are still growing in size and now attract nearly 500 applications each year.
Looking ahead, for Keller, the mission of Beyond Sport remains clear. He is looking to attract partners who are passionate about sport as a vehicle for change – and then help them take action. “Our fundamental job is to find and help leaders who can really make a change,” he says. “I’m not just after people with ideas, I’m after people who can implement. I want people who have an idea and can deliver it rather than people who can’t work on their own.
“We’re trying to attract leaders who can uplift their community and that is our main job.”