The brand as moral guardian
Tour de France winner Chris Froome came under as much heat off the bike as on it this summer, as his achievements drew suspicion from many quarters. It’s only to be expected, in a sport where the stain of past crimes won’t wash off anytime soon. Previous winners all protested their innocence just as Froome is doing. Why should we believe him?
Maybe because of his sponsor. Look at it this way. Froome came into the sport with one objective. To win. With this comes temptation. Sky came into the sport with a variety of objectives. To win, sure. But just as important for them was to be seen to be a cleansing influence on a sport in dire need of it. It can’t be win at all costs with Sky. Maybe certain brands can live with supporting cheats. A broadcaster – in a news business built on trust – cannot. That’s why I believe in Froome this time round.
Inevitably, there is still cheating going on in the peleton. No sponsor can stop that. But, as paymasters, they can go a long way in stopping it. This is why sponsors are so important to a sport like cycling. Not only do they pay for teams, but increasingly, they pay for them to behave well. It’s no different with Tiger Woods or Roger Federer. Brand ambassadors are a living expression of a brand’s values, so they’d better behave.
It’s a strange and somewhat unsettling thought that we should rely on brands as the moral guardians of the sports we love, but before we bemoan their influence, just ask yourself: who else is going to keep things on the straight and narrow?