By Kate Madley
Jonathan Ford, chief executive of the Football Association of Wales, met with Wales World Wide to discuss the impact of sport in Wales and the business of football.
Part two of our feature interview discusses how Welsh football contributes to building the profile of Wales internationally as a destination of business.
You can read part one of the interview here.
How do you think the FAW contributes to building Wales’s profile internationally?
“I think all sport is part of its culture and part of our makeup. On a community basis we have a phenomenal number of people who play week in week out. In Wales, we have three times the number of people who play football than rugby every week.
“We have the biggest number of volunteers in football than in any other industry in this country, people watch football regularly. It’s part of the fabric of society.
“We have fantastic programmes for disabled people, inclusion programmes for minority groups across both male and female, with a range of ages. We talk about ‘community cohesion’ and what sport can do for that. I have meetings with the Welsh Government with regards to the health benefits sport can provide and the specific programmes we can run in football that hopefully will have a long term knock on effect and reduce health budgets.
“We have a campaign with the Welsh Government promoting the football facilities we have here in Wales, and the role that sport can play in bettering society. I think it’s something that is under utilised by short term viewpoints rather than long term viewpoints, sedentary lifestyle is a massive issue and it will be a crippling problem for this country in the future with regards to how much it’s going to cost to cure.
“My job is about prevention, if I can take some of the cure budget from the health service and put it into prevention by encouraging people to have a more active lifestyle earlier on in their lives, the likelihood is it will stay with them, they will be healthier and they will reduce the governments cure health budgets later on.”
How important do you think it is to connect with the vast Welsh Diaspora to make connections that will benefit the Welsh economy?
“The Welsh aren’t as well known in comparison to the Irish, there are 80-100 million people around the world who have got some link back to Ireland and the Italians the same.
“I think its two fold, a lot of people left, but a lot of people came home, the Welsh have a homing instinct and that’s a positive thing, go out prosper and bring it back. There are some very good examples of that, like the Celtic Manor and Sir Terry.
“It is very important for the benefits of the Welsh economy and there are a lot of legacies that have been set up from people reinvesting back into this country. It’s quite difficult for us to connect with that because we are spending a lot of our effort and time connecting with those domestically, and that’s where 99% of our efforts have to be.
“When we do play abroad we try and tap in to the communities, we played Mexico in New York this summer and we felt it was appropriate to recognise the lives lost of some Welsh in the 9/11 disaster, so we laid a reef on the new memorial at Ground Zero to recognise those fellow Welsh people.
“It’s important for us to connect with the Welsh Office when we are abroad on a business basis so wherever we go we are very conscious to do that.”
In recent years, football clubs in Wales have attracted investment from overseas investors. Do you think this has a positive impact on Wales as a place to do business?
“I think it does, the very fact that we have foreign investors in football in this country is positive in my mind.
“We have an awful lot of money being invested, hopefully the vast majority of that money is being spent in this country and, the money that is being spent is improving the product and thus galvanising greater support for that team and a greater sense of community.
“The example in my mind here is Cardiff and Malaysia, Malaysian money is coming over being spent improving facilities locally, improving the product locally. That in my mind will be a good thing and I wish them all the success, hopefully their campaign for premier league will be successful.
“It’s got a positive impact because others are seeing business opportunities here. Cardiff is being promoted as city back in Malaysia and other countries around, there are other knock on benefits and I hope that it is seen.
“I know the Welsh office is doing everything they can in hope that those business opportunities will be followed up to make them successful.”
In your opinion, where do you think are the biggest opportunities for business (sector or countries)?
“I saw Carwyn Jones speak at a presentation and he took a very clever approach of how Wales can be a leader in certain areas. He looked at New Zealand and he talked very much about innovation, but didn’t focus on a particular sector.
“A lot of people have immigrated to New Zealand, but because of their location they needed to establish good business, so they took a little known Chinese fruit and decided their growing conditions would be suitable for this particular fruit, they decided to produce and package it; and marketed it as the kiwi fruit. New Zealand has made a very successful industry off the back of that.
“What did they do next? They decided they could grow grapes, and now of course they produce some of the best new world wines. Chile, South Africa, they’ve all been successful, but twenty years ago you wouldn’t have had a wine out of New Zealand. They really have been innovative.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of saying it’s the manufacturing industry or the service industry, New Zealand have been very wise and invested in innovation and understood what they can do, and they’ve done it well.”
What do you think Wales is known for internationally?
“I would like to think there are some major things and sport is one of them, whether that’s the success we have had in rugby, the way in which we have had some fantastic successes in football given our size, or golf with the Ryder Cup.
“In history terms, people will think about our previous success in manufacturing and the nation we were on the back of the coal and steel industries. I would hope the Welsh people would be thought of as friendly, hard working and a good place to do business.”
What is your favourite Welsh export (person or product)?
“I first saw this person when I was a child and I really didn’t think he looked the part, but he has managed to reinvent himself so many times over and over again. I’d have to say Tom Jones is somebody you have to take your hat off to, he has managed to stay an extremely respected person at the top of his game.
“I think from a personality basis there is a whole host of people – the likes of Anthony Hopkins, and Richard Burton – I have an awful lot of respect for the talent that has come out of Wales, and I think they are probably the biggest exports. There are some fantastic ambassadors that have come out of this country and some fantastic products too, but I think its people I am most drawn to.”