• Andy Marston

Networking with Grahame Paterson, CEO Field of Dreams and Football Aid

For the latest edition of the Sports Pundit Networking Series, I caught up with Grahame Paterson, acting CEO for Field of Dreams and Football Aid who believes that sport has a key role to play in achieving real change, maybe more so than any other mechanism, due to its global reach and abiding popularity.

When did your journey (in the sports industry) start? And how did you get to your current role?

Pre-industry, like many, I grew up surrounded by sport and that clearly has had a major influence in my career pathway. My early years were spent outside on a pitch with a ball, in a swimming pool, running or on a bike. When I was dragged into the house, then it was playing Subbuteo or watching boxing, football, athletics, and anything else sports-related every opportunity I got. I was fortunate that my schooling encouraged physical activity and I ended up variously being the Butterfly Stroke Swimming School Champion, Badminton Team Captain, Volleyball Team Captain and playing scrum-half for the School Team. After school, it was all about Tennis (24/7), before I left home to start a career in the third sector.

That’s the total of my sporting achievements ‘on the pitch’ but through serendipity, I got the opportunity to help set up and run Field of Dreams and Football Aid in 2000 with my brother, Craig, who founded the organisations. So, I guess that’s the starting point and working closely with stakeholders in the footballing ecosystem was incredibly insightful. Now I find myself back as CEO 15 years after having left the role. So, those 15 years (spent mainly in the adventure sports sector) feels like I have been out ‘on loan’! Does that qualify me for a Guinness Book of Records entry?

Who inspired this journey? And who continues to inspire you today?

Muhammad Ali and Nelson Mandela both demonstrated how powerful sport is in addressing the world’s challenges and aspirations. Celtic’s Lisbon Lions, managed by the immortal Jock Stein, and who were the first British Team to win the European Cup in 1967, all were born within 30 miles of Celtic Park and every one of them showed an amazing commitment to community and fans. Stein was part of an era, where he, Bob Shankly and Sir Matt Busby, achieved truly remarkable feats in sport on the pitch, but for me, they also represented decency, a social conscience and a concern for others that made them true greats. It’s no coincidence that their backgrounds shaped their values, and they are three Scots who I still take inspiration from today.

I have come to realise over the years that the combination of sport and social purpose is incredibly powerful, and I am fortunate to have seen this bring about massive positive change in people and communities across the globe. Nelson Mandela, encapsulated this for me when he stated;

"Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all types of discrimination." Oliver Percovich, the Founder & Executive Director of Skateistan is doing incredible things, and I hugely admire what Jürgen Griesbeck, Co-Founder of Common Goal - Game of our Lives is achieving. Khalida Popal, Founder & Director at Girl Power Organisation and Amber Clarkson, a Substance Use Worker with Alcohol and Drugs Action, (who used to work for me as my ‘Youth Work in Sport’ Manager at an extreme sports social enterprise in Aberdeen). Just Wow! Saving lives, changing lives, inspiring people every day. Not all heroes wear masks.

But more than anyone else, my brother Craig whose vision for Football Aid and his compassion for others shines out like a beacon every day, and I get energy from that light.

Besides Sports Pundit, where do you look for insight?

Beyond Sport, The Sustainability Report , The Assist, LinkedIn, Unofficial Partner, Daniel Geey at Sheridans Sport, Laureus.

What trend in the industry most excites you for the future of sports? And why?

If I may, I would like to mention a few, which are connected. I can perhaps tag this as ‘Sport for Good’. For me, that includes the rise in sustainability in sport which is now linking to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals; how grass-roots communities are using sport to achieve positive change; the growth in women’s sports and the reduction in inequalities and how the soft power of diaspora engagement can be used within the sports industry.

To use the metaphor from a famous beer advert, the idea that only sport can reach those parts that others cannot is widely held within the sporting ecosystem but is perhaps less well understood by others. Whilst the same influence to engage people on a wide variety of social, economic, and environmental issues might well be claimed (with justification) by culture, science, faith and other themes, what seems to be true is that these are all powerful catalysts for change, and I believe sport has the potential for leadership in the space. Of course, these need not be mutually exclusive. Indeed, that's kind of the point, in that we are looking at a whole system recovery imperative for the world and it must be inclusive. One hopes this leads to the self-evident truth that collaboration and connectivity will be key if we are all to finally come together to address the globe's most pressing needs and highest aspirations. So, sport isn't the only determinant in addressing the common challenges we all face, but it will be a key facet. Without wishing to upset the purists amongst us, for the purposes of this answer, I include play, physical activity, esports, fitness and active recreation activities within the term 'sport'. No silos for me! Ultimately people may say only outcomes matter, whatever route we take. Perhaps. But the way in which we get there is important if we are to build consensus, fairness, and a resilience to face strong headwinds together. No simple 'the end justifies the means' for me, but rather that a Corinthian Spirit should endure. Therefore, I believe that sport has a key role to play in achieving real change, maybe more so than any other mechanism, due to its global reach and abiding popularity. Since 776 BC, when the Olympic Truce was enacted to allow athletes safe passage, to the creation of the Refugee Olympic Team for Rio 2016, sport has demonstrated an ability to influence change, inspire, bring people & planet together and build a movement for purpose.

Who is an example of someone that is well positioned to take advantage of this trend?

Every one of us – individuals, corporations, clubs, leagues, governing bodies, Government. If we have a mind to do so. After all, if we in sport can’t represent the T.E.A.M ethic, who will?

It also makes great business sense – people need to read the room and see how these issues are becoming keys to success, how brands and rights holders, investors and consumers are changing the dial. One piece of advice though – make it real – people have a funny habit of seeing you coming if it isn’t authentic and integrated within long-term architecture, including measurable and verifiable impact. Then watch the ROIs rise!

If I were to suggest anyone, I would say have a look at Aileen McManamon at 5T Sports Group, who is very impressive. I also like what DAZN, Sport for Development Coalition, and Ellen MacArthur and her Foundation are doing.

For insights about how to connect sport & diasporas together, Kingsley Aikins of The Networking Institute in Dublin is the go-to guy.