Posted in English Hockey, Opinions, women in sport on October 2nd, 2012 by John Coxon

Investec are the principal partner backing England and GB women’s hockey

(click any image for a larger view )
For me, in mainstream media, field hockey has only this year found greater  prominence and the BBC’s red button innovation, uniquely, gave the public access to  all the games, live  during the Olympics. But the success of the GB Team and indeed grass roots England women’s hockey had already been facilitated by a innovative partnership between England Hockey and Investec. Investec  extended their operations to the UK back in 1992 and began their association with England and GB women’s Hockey  in August 2011 on a five year agreement following the company’s  commitment to sponsoring its own national women’s team the previous year. The company’s Head of global Marketing, Raymond van Niekerk,  explained back then that they had expanded their backing of the sport as it “symbolises commitment, enthusiasm, skill and personal development. The range of support goes from grass roots kid’s hockey all the way to the senior national teams. We are very excited about working with the England and GB Hockey women in the years to come.”  Investec’s investment in women’s hockey broke every record for a single company’s total investment for any women’s sport in the UK.
For the host nation, London 2012, the number of outstanding performances, not only in terms of medal haul but personal bests of Team GB and GB Parlaympians broke all records as did the level of public interest and support both in terms of full venues , huge television audiences and media. Public attention and media interest very clearly was not in London 2012 , as had been previously the norm perhaps,  divided disproportionately based on gender or ability. During the games equal interview time and media attention was given to male and female athletes and now, after the games, medal winners of both genders have become national celebrities. However , women’s sport as yet enjoy’s no where near parity with male sport having a meagre 0.5% of all available sponsor funding but Investec’s support of the women’s game suggests that women sport has unique virtues that make it commercially viable and worthy of further market interest from investors.
For field hockey, as yet sadly still regarded by many as a minority sport, and for some still a “girl’s game”  produced the best performance by any previous British women’s team in the modern game (there last and previous only other Olympic medal success was in 1992) with our women taking bronze in London , more than capable of having taken gold in my view and  out performing the men. GB men lost in the bronze play off to world ranked number one Australia (their  last   gold , as GB was  won in Seoul 1988) Women’s hockey was not even introduced as an Olympic event until 1980, 72 years after England won the first men’s championship in 1908, it having begun as an international sport way back in 1885 and adopted as a permanent Olympic sport in 1928 the year that, as solely England, the men took their second Olympic gold.

Investec have broken the UK record for the most significant investment of sponsor funding of any women’s sport in history .

London 2012 delivered a great starting point for even more progress in the gender sponsor and media attention divide and and it is looking an especially hopeful bright future for women’s hockey given Investec’s unique level of support for the game which should encourage other women sports.
Bless South Africa’s INVESTEC for its ground breaking long-term integral support for England and GB international and grass roots Women’s Hockey .   Previously relatively modest amounts had been sourced , relatively short term  largely from vested interest sportswear and equipment brands.  Investec, the RSA born international specialist banking, asset and wealth management group,  is the principal partner of the England and Great Britain women’s hockey teams and the title sponsor of the Investec Women’s Hockey League and women’s knock out competitions and the innovation of a specially adapted version of the game for youngsters called “Quicksticks!” (Investec also  sponsor the Investec Derby, Tottenham Hotspur for cup competitions, Investec SA Woman’s hockey team, and the Investec Tri-nations and Investec Super Rugby in New Zealand.)

Investec also sponsor a number of other sports teams and competitions including the RSA women’s hockey team.

The company  logo is a straightforward mix of reassuringly traditional no frills Times Roman-style blue tinted text prefixed with a superscript placed cross hair target like graphic with a zebra as its pictorial emblem.The use of its  Zebra emblem as the distinctive corporate logo has an apocryphal origin back in 2000 which began not at home in South Africa  but in the Oxfordshire countryside. ( source Investec Gets its stripes back 2007 Financial Mail, RSA 2007 )

The selection of the zebra as emblematic of the Investec brand followed a remarkable set of circumstances in the Oxfordshire countryside at pivotal moment in the company’s history.

An English advertising executive , working for Investec’s Ad agency, passed a somewhat incongruous zebra grazing in a field! This was at a time when Investec were new to the UK market and wanted to stand out from the competition. The Zebra was adopted and  became synonymous with the company not only here, but in the company’s native  South Africa and Australia , the three countries in which its operations are now focused. Significantly in terms of additional symbolism , the adoption of the zebra logo also coincided with a redefining of the companies mission statement at a pivotal make or break moment as it sought to claw back its business position following the grimmest period in the company’s 33 year history.
Investec always had (and still has)  a strong culture and value system, key strengths that co-founders Stephen Koseff and Bernard Kantor built into its original fabric and which both men still take a personal interest in cultivating as core values today. Those core values are credited with enabling  the company to survive what could have been the final crunch and got them through it.
“We’re non-hierarchical, entrepreneurial and transparent,” Koseff says. “We do things with integrity and morality. We encourage individual thought so people can say what they think. We have boundaries rather than rules.” With a culture like that the company was able to take a hard honest look at internal and external factors , issues  that needed addressing to turn around its sliding fortunes. Essentially, the company’s recovery was down to an honest  “let’s get back to basics”  approach to problem solving. No harm in aiming high but , of  those issues, by its own admission, over stretching itself and not specific enough in identifying its core market and likely evident  in the over-confidence   embodied in its original mission statement “ aspiring to be one of the world’s greatest specialist banking groups.” This mission statement  was to subtly change contemporaneously with the adoption of the  zebra emblem. Thus the company redefined itself as driven “ to strive to be a distinctive specialist banking group “ and the humble zebra embodied that message.

Brand logos as with national flags and emblems epitomise commonly held values but also resonate with shared identity, history and expectations of team players on the pitch as in businesses and other organisations.

Company logos always have more than face value and significance as do national flags and in a real sense they also symbolise pivotal moments in shared corporate  history, affirm confidence and group identity and unite people it employs as team players  to take the brand forward, maintain its integrity and sense of shared  purpose and ambition. Emblems and logos serve to remind us who were are and what we are about.The Zebra is perhaps the most easily recognised wild animal with  seven variant sub species, under the glorious Latin name  “Hippotigris” which needs no translation, and crucially , its distinctive stripes, which act as camouflage to help protect it against its principle predator, the lion, are like fingerprints are to humans, each individual’s stripe pattern is unique.

Kate Walsh, GB captain who famously & courageously played on following  restorative surgery to her face following a severe blow during a game during London 2012. Women’s Field hockey athletes epitomise core values it shares with Investec but also as do all women’s sport, it is commercially viable as an investment and provides unique opportunities for commercial and corporate responsible investment.


That Investec should chose to invest in women’s sport re-enforces its integrity as a business and is a overt demonstration of commercial and corporate responsible investment . “Women’s sport is a concern for both the public and the government with underfunding in relation to men’s sport compromising opportunity for elite women athletes  but also with a crippling  knock on effect on grass roots sport, perceptions of women and huge implications on the health and well being of women and therefore a significant proportion of the population. “(source : WSFF ) Women’s sport is at a crossroads and Investec’s relationship with it is ground breaking, timely and prophetic.

Investec shows its fine core values by also being the name behind  the national women’s hockey league and knock-out competitions as title sponsors showing a depth of commitment which extends throughout grass roots of the game not only elite teams and prestigious events.

Any  corporate , however ethical and altruistic, is unlikely to invest purely on the grounds of redressing parity and equality issues because putting capital into any enterprise is also a business decision and has to be seen as a win-win, mutually rewarding partnership. Investec has a wealth of financing, PR and  marketing and other core competencies backing its global operations which help drive their own business and a wealth of expertise to share with any client or partner they chose to be associated with. The association is all the more encouraging because it does not follow the common patronising and gender  dismissive route  common to many  businesses operating in  some areas of advertising and popular media contexts. Sponsor partnerships work by association  and are  mutually rewarding. (We see large sums of money paid by companies for example, to male football and other sportsmen for product endorsement but also we have seen associations swiftly terminated when for example an athlete’s or celebrities behaviour is perceived to or actually jeopardises the brand’s integrity.)  In short, England and  GB women wear the Investec name on their strip and in every department ,as role models, as athletes and individuals, compliment the brand effectively and with integrity. Women’s sport  is high on decency and sporting values in competition 
Putting your brand on a team’s shirt is a gesture of reciprocal faith ( never without attendant possible  risk ) and is a mark of trust and mutual interest. I am sure Investec take pride in  the England /GB Women’s hockey  team who are great ambassador’s for the game and that the players and the games national governing body also are proud that such a prestigious, high integrity brand want to be associated with them and help them achieve their goals.  Investec’s business altruism affirms their wish to identify with the game and the belief that the game is worthy of them.

Some of the investable qualities of women’s field hockey common to many other women’s sports

For women’s sport, especially women’s field hockey, the company’s involvement is wonderfully encouraging and self-affirming for the women’s side of the game. It is no accident the Commission on the Future of Women in Sport, set up by the WSFF – (Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation)  gave great prominence to Investec as one of just two case studies of best practice in their report based, on scientific study,  “Big Deal.” (2011) and a follow up to their 2009 report PRIME TIME (where research at first identified women’s sport as being commercially viable for investment and a virtually untapped market offering  investor’s unique  opportunities ) and then cited Investec’s commitment as concrete proof.

Investec took itself through the tough process of change during a difficult period in its history in order to consolidate, survive and thereafter prosper, a process   which, we read, meant an honest reappraisal, examining itself and its practices and setting more specific achievable goals. Field hockey in England itself  recovered from virtual bankruptcy, restructured  its governance, and employed industry professionals in media, PR and communications  but also embraced a long term centralised approach to planning and training for team success.

For  WSFF  its Commission For The Future of Women’s Sport  took an equally honest look at the current state of play. In order  to move women’s sport forward they first had to access current realities  and did so by commissioning a series of valid scientific studies , firstly engaging Havas Sponsorships Insights  and the results on analysis revealed compelling evidence of the commercial viability of investment in Women’s Sport, a foundation on which to build a brighter future.

As Commission chair Tanni Grey Thompson succinctly put it in her key points summary at the head of the Commission’s report, Prime Time ( link above),   “Women’s sport is a commercially uncluttered market, with extensive rights available at a comparatively low cost. Its quality has never been higher and it’s often a different game to men’s sport, offering differentiating benefits. Sportswomen provide a more distinctive and broader marketing opportunity than sportsmen, appealing to a wider audience of both men and women and a wider range of brands.”

Investec will I hope enjoy a long and happy association with women’s hockey but it will also go down in the history of women’s sport as the stand out pioneer and I am sure everyone involved in the hockey community nationally is delighted with their involvement in the game,

About the author. Based in the North West of England, I am a freelance professional photographer and journalist committed, on a completely unofficial basis, to helping raise the profile of my specialism sport, in particular but not exclusively women’s field hockey at all levels on social media and through contributions to Women Sport Report, a global not for profit sports news website whose mission is to redress the perceived imbalance in the attention give by media to women’s sport. As well as supporting the national game here, I have developed positive relationships with the playing community in Holland but in  particular Argentina and regularly post items of news from their Confederation (originally published by  them in Spanish) to support them in promoting their game using images from my extensive archives of national and international games I have attended.  I am also in almost daily contact with a number hockey fans in Argentina and some senior officials there. I have supplied international  players and officials with images for personal, social media and wider promotional use both in Argentina and Holland. Although photography is my principal source of income, I cherish above, all the gesture of the Argentine national coach, Carlos Retegui who gave me his team shirt directly off his own back at the end of his last press conference at the Pre-Olympic Invitational Cup , at  the Riverbank back in May earlier this year.  I have  long experience of  media and a strong interest in marketing and currently writing about PR, branding and marketing and how it can be embraced to move field hockey forward as well as supporting some forward thinking local clubs and associated businesses ( particularly coaching ) with social media and other support, principally through photography. My passion for the game and photographing it grew from following my own sons playing the game locally.


Posted in Opinions, Parasport on July 11th, 2012 by John Coxon

 Personal Reflections in the run up to my coverage of the London 2012 Paralympics : Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?  

Paralympian athletes are ever pushing the boundaries and  rewriting the record books but are such changes evident outside the stadium in terms of greater parity at grass roots for those with a disability?

We have seen awesome TV trailers beaming with impactful and positive imagery promoting the Paralympics and especially Channel 4 doing a rocking job raising public awareness and fully supporting and promoting the achievements of our exceptional para-athletes. Team GB  para-athletes have so many world class stars and set to many podium finishes and a rack of medals. We talk of Olympic legacy with anticipation of change for the better. Hopefully the Paralympics too will inspire first those with a disability to reach for their own  stars and follow their example but also “ordinary ” people with disabilities, for so long marginalised,  taking satisfaction from seeing their peers excel knowing too  that the  general public will be witnessing and admiring their achievements and wearing down preconceptions. But is there a danger that these welcome and  positive images we are going to see during the games may actually deceive us into thinking that people with disabilities in general are all now enjoying a much , much better quality of life having benefited  through legislation, adaptive technology and  social change?

My one concern is that the exciting spectacle of such impressive achievements by elite para-athletes  may also create or re-enforce the  perception that finally we have a society that fully celebrates, integrates  and empowers anyone with a disability where formerly attitudes and, for example , physical barriers in terms of access   both limited opportunity and handicapped those seeking maximum independence even in everyday things.

The  charismatic former world record breaking elite Paralympian , Tani -Grey Thompson, was elevated to be  peer of the realm, and  is an active advocate in the House speaking passionately and authoritatively on  particularly disability and women’s issues and yet, we read, had to grovel, alone ,  on the floor of a train late one night, relatively recently , having to  transfer herself and her day chair off the train when the train company failed in their obligation and promise to have assistance ready at the end of that journey. ( Report of Tani’s transport nightmare)

 Geoff Holt ,MBE,  disability ambassador, world record breaking trans-Atlantic solo sailor , a quadriplegic electric chair “bound” athlete was barred from boarding a train because his chair wheels might “damage the carpet .”   Geoff’s Story

Even champions are in a sense ordinary people with mundane everyday tasks to do which most of us take for granted but still, for those with a disability, needless handicaps are still put in the  way. Innocent or not discrimination is  alive and well overtly and covertly. Prejudice and ignorance  is indiscriminate as is officious bloody mindedness of uniformed jobsworths. London hosts the Olympics and the Paralympics soon and how ironic, as we put on our best and welcome guests from around the world,  that we read today  London Transport bus drivers are striking again , this time where it hurts , at a disabled but wheelchair-enabled pensioner,  by refusing him the right to travel on 28 separate occasions.   London Transport bus shame

We need to be creative in devising different opportunities to be active beyond simply the context of organised sport for those living with a disability..

The Olympics legacy theory aims to justify the incredible expense of the show, by  seducing us with what is actually in my view , the feint  prospect of a huge surge of active participation in sports when  a nation, predominantly ( percentage wide statistically corpulent, that is overweight through lack of adequate exercise and diet), will  largely content themselves with simply watching it sitting down ( often wearing leisure sports wear! )  gathering additional calories and possibly inspired with additional light-weight dressing of  national pride which actually takes no effort the nearest they will get to a beam.

In my view the individual Paralympian’s achievement is yes , totally on a par with the Olympians  as they are of the same noble metal  that medals are made from, but  in a real sense  greater because of the additional effort needed just do the ordinary things we take for granted , and then to prepare and eventually qualify and get to the games. This  may  include the given overcoming of the initial disability as a starting point , but, for example ,  every day barriers  in the physical environment, extra hidden costs  and, even still ,  social attitudes which include a tendency to patronise and sympathise (and in some cases ostracise or even vilify) rather than empathise.

RSA’s sprinter Oscar Pistorius will be in London competing and will make history, the first and only athlete ever to achieve parity in competing in both the Olympics and the Paralympic athletics and that in the face of great controversy and objections which he had to face and also overcome to secure his right to compete against “able bodied” peers.

Olympic qualification criteria are based simply on benchmarks of various commonly shared units of measurement and Palaympians enjoy parity of opportunity as those parallel (hence “para” prefix) games represent various sports with their own measurement benchmarks subject to often  minor adaptions of the sport, enabling rule variations , the use of some specific but controlled adaptive apparatus and technology  and, in  addition, an  internationally agreed system of classification criteria so that athlete’s compete on equal terms with others in the same event.  Thus to achieve full potential, adaptions ( not concessions) are necessarily built into the system but also the arena so to speak whereas , back on the  street, all athletes and non athletes are not assured of an even playing field despite advances and legislation.

Triathlete Paula Craig fought the London Met to protect her employment rights when she became disabled and brought about the institution’s revision of its policies to embrace genuine equal opportunities.for those with a disability.

The Paralympic legacy will  I hope at the very least be that  kids with disabilities , at grass roots, will have those athletes as role models and heroes to inspire them in various fields of life not just sport but all the  evidence points to a decline in grass roots participation in disability sports at a time when the elite paralympic athletes are enjoying unparalleled media exposure and success. (A similar   decline is also evident in the “able bodied” world and in both “ genres “  that is anticipated to further decline.) It is also a hope that the general, public witnessing what is possible will also do much help change attitudes to disability and further raise awareness of outstanding, that is, remaining issues.

You can have legislation in place and enforcement procedures , lower curbs, have pneumatic lowering of bus entrance thresholds, ramps , preferential spaces on public transport,  to enable, for example , wheelchair users but that movement has lost some momentum because of government austerity and cost cutting which should have seen such developments protected and remaining a key priority with further investment. I say that  because even before the “crash”, the majority of the disabled community remained struggling for basic entitlements let alone any sense of equal opportunity and that also includes those children and adults with learning and communications difficulties who could not and  still cannot rely on adequate support and provision or advocates able to assert their rights for them.  Typically for any successes in getting  full and appropriate provision for example in education is the domain of assertive, articulate parents able to fight the establishment.

I am in no way knocking the Paralympics or the Olympics because they show case what can be achieved with the highest endeavour by the best of us up against those from other nations and thereby announcing , in the case of the Paralympics,  that  the means are there , and if also there is the will , former limited expectations are being constantly extended.  Sport is just  one of the contexts in which , with best practice,  and crucially, intelligent and informed decision making and investment, those with disabilities can enjoy a better quality of life that’s currently on offer for the majority and yet which still is an ambition rather than a reality for most ,sadly.  I so wish that this Paralympics will be a springboard to turn admiration into  raised awareness and positive action.

DICLAIMER. I am not an active participant in any sport nor working directly for any disability group or  organisation and here offer my own views   – I do photograph professionally full time and report  on Paralympic events with a background of 26 years as a specialist educator of inner city youngsters disadvantaged by a wide range of learning difficulties compounded by physical and other disabilities and thus committed to  helping raise awareness and celebrating para athlete achievement as a continuation of that profession in retirement. )

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