When the Western Sydney Wanderers arrived on the A-League scene it promised to represent the region’s best values of hard work and honesty, rather than encourage one of the biggest problems in the region, gambling.
Its decision yesterday to partner with a western Sydney bookmaker for three years is the type of decision that goes against everything the club promised it would deliver the region when it held a series of forums at its inception.
So far the Wanderers have been fairly strong in their commitment to support western Sydney companies and institutions, and there’s no doubt it fulfilled part of that agenda yesterday by linking with another western Sydney company.
But it’s the fact that that company makes its money by encouraging more people to gamble which had caused angst among a socially responsible member base and A-League community.
While it’s hard to deny that sport and gambling are now intertwined, and gambling firms help generate some much needed advertising and revenue streams for clubs, sporting associations and the media, the Wanderers have a broader agenda.
This is a club that has done a great job over the past few years of giving the west of Sydney a united focus away from such problems.
Social responsibility and progress for the region has often been at the core of its decision-making, and there’s little doubt that the latest decision, while an obvious revenue raiser, goes against everything the club promised it would represent.
Many of us from the west of Sydney might have attended universities in the city or its outskirts, but it was great to hear the club announce a three-year partnership extension in September last year with the University of Western Sydney.
At the time it proclaimed that the club and university “share a strong philosophy of giving back to the community and creating joint programs that have produced positive change in the lives of many young people in the region”.
Two examples of this are the ‘Read with a Wanderer’ literacy program and the ‘Future for All’ initiative.
While there has been little fan-fare about either initiative, the former aims “to bring together schools, teachers and young people to improve literacy levels across the region”, while the latter aims “to given young students the opportunity to plan out potential careers and dispel certain myths about higher education, in order to change the current imbalance of tertiary education access for underprivileged areas of the community”.
They are notable causes worthy of broader attention.
Apart from featuring such programs in press releases and on its social responsibility pages, the club and others in football ought to be out there mingling more often within the community.
The FFA have recently copped a significant amount of backlash from fans for what’s seen as an over-commercialising agenda and it seems the Wanderers, a creation of the governing body, have been beset by a similar remit.
All well and good for any sports club to want to make a dollar, and the Wanderers are an example of a great success story, but do it with a sense of responsibility to the communities you represent.
Sometimes decisions have to be motivated not by what’s good for the hip pocket but by what’s good for the community, and gambling is clearly not something we want to encourage.
While Australia already has a huge gambling issue, it’s multiplied in the west of Sydney, where poker machines dominate the big gambling houses that tower across Mount Pritchard, Penrith, Lidcombe and Rooty Hill.
The fact that the firm the Wanderers linked up with yesterday is backed by one of the region’s biggest poker machine clubs only adds to the public relations red card.
The gameday experience at Wanderland is something to behold, but now the club tells us this latest partnership will have “a focus on responsible engagement with fans on game day”.
Just what everyone needs at Wanderland when we attend the Sydney Derby on Saturday night. More “gamble responsibly” messages.