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How ESG became an ‘urgent’ topic in sports

Climate change and broader ESG implications have increasingly become a focal point in the sporting and events industry, and in-house counsel has a crucial role to play, according to a lawyer.

user iconMalavika Santhebennur 23 January 2023 Corporate Counsel
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Emily Jackson, head of legal at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023, said ahead of the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023 that the sporting and events industry has paid increasing attention to climate change “given that you have to have an environment in which to play sports outside”.

She told Lawyers Weekly that she has seen more resources being allocated towards understanding how the industry could obtain more sustainable outcomes and suppliers, and how the industry could encourage and incentivise suppliers to transition towards more sustainable business models.

“I think, as a whole, the industry is moving towards [sustainability] at different paces,” Ms Jackson said.


“I think that it’s been quite a gradual and slow uptake for the sporting and events industry, but something that’s certainly an increasing focus. Over the past five years, I’ve definitely seen it become more and more of a concern.”

While the priority was on a positive financial outcome in the past, the sporting and events industry is increasingly carrying out a “fact-finding exercise” on understanding the gap between how to implement more sustainable outcomes and the cost impact of that, Ms Jackson observed.

Her comments preceded her session at the upcoming Corporate Counsel Summit 2023 in May, where she will discuss what approach businesses are taking with their ESG policies and what they are doing well, what level of reporting businesses should be undertaking, and the role of in-house counsel in helping their organisation with ESG reporting.

The role of in-house counsel

When asked what role in-house counsel can play in assisting their organisations with their ESG policies and reporting, Ms Jackson said in-house counsel sits across a range of different functional areas and helps them communicate with each other.

“At the FIFA Women’s World Cup, quite a crucial role we play is ensuring that the sustainability team is looped into all of the contracts we are negotiating to ensure that where there’s a high-risk component from a sustainability perspective, it is alerted to the sustainability team,” she said.

“This ensures that they can then work with that functional area to try and get a more sustainable outcome.

“The primary role we play is, first of all, ensuring that the right people are talking to each other. But second of all, making sure that whatever outcome is determined is documented appropriately with the right level of rigour and detail to ensure it’s enforceable.

“This way, everybody understands the deal they’re getting into and understands what their obligations are.”

Ms Jackson said that as a member of the executive leadership team, she and her team, as well as her organisation, have a strong emphasis on sustainability from a top-down perspective.

She explained that she has a dual role in ensuring that all strategies and priorities are implemented at a contractual level during the initial stages of any commercial arrangement while also escalating any concerns or issues to the appropriate level in the hierarchy and communicating with the leadership team.

This allows them to adapt strategies or reallocate funding to ensure that they are making the appropriate risk calls in relation to sustainability, she said.

When asked about the level of ESG reporting an organisation should undertake, Ms Jackson said that it would depend on the specific sustainability issues that arise in different industries and organisations.

She highlighted that in her industry, sustainability is a broad umbrella that includes environmental sustainability, diversity, inclusion, human rights, accessibility, and safeguarding.

This falls under the remit of the sustainability team, which reviews and assesses ESG reporting, she added.

The in-house legal team assists in ensuring that the content in the reporting has sufficient detail and includes all the information, metrics, and granular level of data that is appropriate to the contract in place, Ms Jackson said.

“This is so that there’s no ability to manipulate the reporting in a way that would disguise the reality of the situation,” she concluded.

To hear more from Emily Jackson about the top priorities for an organisation’s ESG agenda and how in-house counsel can help with their ESG policies, come along to the Corporate Counsel Summit 2023.

It will be held on Thursday, 25 May 2023, at Sofitel Sydney Wentworth.

Click here to buy tickets and make sure you don’t miss out!

For more information, including agenda and speakers, click here.

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