Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle has just announced a new fund it’s running which will give local not-for-profit sports clubs the chance of gaining a share of £30000. In these straitened times, with government funding disappearing and FA grass-roots funding being frozen, access to even a small portion of the fund could be the difference between folding and not for many organizations. The whole point of sport surely has to be promoting health, fitness and ultimately the enjoyment of exercise. Super fit millionaires on the telly should really be a sideshow compared to this main event. On that front this is a very good initiative as the help this cash would give could be invaluable in persuading people to carry on what they are doing.
The £30,000 has been provided by Wonga, payday lenders and sponsors for the new season of Newcastle United. You can see why all parties involved are doing this. Each club’s share of the pot is determined by the number of tokens collected from the newspaper by that club. So the Chronicle gets a circulation boost for free. Wonga, whose sponsorship of Newcastle has come under fire, gain both local exposure and further legitimacy reflected from the institutions they are associated with. This initiative is a clear extension of their original strategy of sponsoring the football club. Everyone’s happy.
But there’s a catch. Possibly the Chronicle’s main method of persuading people to buy the paper is their reporting of the day-to-events at Newcastle United. As often as not, if you look on the sandwich boards outside of newsagents in the city, the lead story they trumpet is club-related. As the season gets started, the story of Wonga’s sponsorship is not going to go away. More than one of the club’s players are rumoured to have misgivings about playing in a strip with the company’s name on, for reasons which include the religious doctrine they adhere to. A section of the club’s fans also have misgivings, mainly based on the fear that Wonga’s products and services will gain traction in the city due to the prominence and respectability loaned by sponsorship of the club. A credit union is a better choice for a short-term loan, not carrying with them such a risk of the sum owed spiralling out of control should repayments not be made in time, but they don’t get their name on every Newcastle United shirt sold over the next few years.
What will the Chronicle do the next time it is natural for them to cover these stories? Have they decided on our behalf that Wonga’s sponsorship is no longer an issue? If that’s the case Wonga can expect a pretty favourable slant to the copy, if the stories see the light of day at all. If they haven’t then surely the paper can see that associating themselves with a company so central to much controversy around their main daily subject of discussion puts their impartiality in question.
Maybe the Chronicle value that vital grassroots funding above all else, and are so confident that they’ll cover the stories on this subject completely impartially that they are prepared to go ahead and expose themselves to whatever scrutiny may result. But by implication, if they’ve chosen to do this they obviously see nothing wrong in associating themselves with Wonga. It would be a shame if this funding were to disappear, that’s clear. Unfortunately by the very act of Wonga’s name appearing next to the Chronicle’s on this fund, they have chosen their side.