Why football needs more philanthropy

One man’s charitable gift may just have changed the culture of football for the better, writes Stuart Smyth

Some people can’t wait for it to start the day after it has finished, whereas others would be unperturbed if it never started again. I refer to the new football season and whichever camp you are in, one cannot get away from the fact that the new season dominates the back pages of the papers in August. Stories abound of the latest transfer rumours, the deals made, the fees paid and, inevitably, the ever unreliable pre-season predictions.

However, there is one football related story that may have gone under the radar this August and which perhaps did not receive the coverage it deserved, possibly because its impact may not be felt for years to come.

The story alluded to is the announcement by Manchester United and Spanish midfielder, Juan Mata, who has pledged to donate 1 per cent of his salary to charity.  He will make this donation to the ‘Common Goal’ movement, a collective fund that is run by the German based NGO streetfootballworld that supports global football initiatives for disadvantaged children and underprivileged areas around the globe.

Mata is reported to earn in the region of £150,000 a week which would amount to an annual donation of £78,000.  Nothing extraordinary to note here, you might say.  Merely a very well paid, professional individual (and some would argue too well paid for trying to kick a round object between two sticks) giving away a sum of money that would, in any event, not make much of a difference to his life. A drop in the ocean which is not going to change the world.  Many may be sceptical.  Surely this is just a Public Relations stunt? An attempt to sway favour with the fans or increase the number of Twitter followers when a thunderbolt from 35 yards is not an option during the off season. Indeed, many football clubs are already involved in charitable projects and therefore there is no need for Mata to get involved. Many would agree. But Mata goes on.

It is Mata’s desire to put together a ‘starting XI’, made up of 11 players who each pledge 1 per cent of their salary to charity that is of most interest. A team consisting of men and women, players from the English Premier league through to League Two as well as players from international leagues. Mata does not stop there. His long term desire is to ‘unlock 1 per cent of the entire football industry’s revenues for grassroots football charities that strengthen their communities through sport’. He is challenging all of his peers to make the same pledge and to change the culture of his profession. That is ambition.

The average Premier League club’s wage bill is roughly £125 million per annum. With 20 clubs in the top division of English football, that makes an annual wage bill of £2.5 billion; 1 per cent of which would equal an annual donation of £25 million. If the football industry went one step further and added a 1 per cent levy on the billion pound broadcast revenues and million pound transfers and agents commission, you can start to see that a substantial amount would be raised each year. And that is just from English football. No longer a drop in the ocean.

There are of course established ways to give to charity – one off lump sum or regular monthly donations, founding your own charity or giving part or all of one’s estate to charity on death. Each method of giving will be different for each individual depending on their circumstances. But just imagine if Mata could create a new way of charitable giving that changed the culture of football, making it the norm for every footballer to donate 1 per cent of their salary to charity. We encourage children to emulate their sporting heroes.  Such a commitment, if established, would be another to add to the list for youngsters to look up to and seek to replicate.

You might consider Mata a dreamer, unrealistic. But then again, when he was a young boy he probably dreamed of playing for his country and winning the world cup. A dream that became reality when he was part of the Spanish team that lifted the world cup in 2010.

Just last week, a current world cup holder, Mats Hummels (of Bayern Munich and Germany) joined Mata in making the same pledge. Is this the start of another achievable dream?

Stuart Smyth is an associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP.