After two years away, Sport Relief finally hits the tracks running on 23 March. It’s turned out to be one hell of a time to be launching a major campaign, as the charitable sector is still reeling from the recent revelations about the actions of some of its workers.
I’ve been with Comic Relief for 27 years now, and feel incredibly lucky to have seen so many of the astonishing projects funded by Red Nose Day and Sport Relief.
In my work as an interviewer, I’ve glimpsed the inner workings of many industries in this country – and the aid sector has more integrity, purpose, dedication, and unsung heroes than any I’ve encountered. But in recent weeks we’ve heard shocking reports of some people in the aid sector exploiting the very communities they are meant to help – which is clearly unacceptable.
The wrongs need to be righted, and stringent measures need to be put in place to make sure they never happen again. It’s crucial that charities rise to this challenge – and it’s something Comic Relief takes extremely seriously. In recent weeks we’ve written to all the organisations we work with to discuss how we can be completely certain we’re safeguarding the vulnerable people we serve.
However – and this is a big however – we can’t let the recent news stories lead us to abandon those who need our help. It would be a tragedy if charity money goes down or the country becomes wary of charitable organisations.
The sector does extraordinary, difficult, complex, life-changing work, and the people whose lives are the hardest shouldn’t end up being punished because of this scandal.
Kevin is an ex-soldier with chronic PTSD from his active service. He attends a project that is funded by Sport Relief and about which he says, “If it wasn’t for this place I would be dead. It’s given me something to live for.”
One of our projects in Peru found a nine-year-old girl working for 12 hours a day in a brick mine; she’s now only working for six hours a day… at school. In the time it’s taken you to read this far in my article, two people will have died from malaria.
These are the people we serve, for whom we are permanently trying to find new ways to raise money. These are the people that Radio 1 presenter Greg James was raising cash for when he fought through the Beast from the East to conquer Snowdon and Scafell Pike.
And these people are the reason Zoë Ball agreed to cycle from Blackpool to Brighton, during which she publicly opened up about what she’d lived through since her boyfriend took his own life last year, sparking one of the most honest debates about mental health I’ve ever heard. These are the kinds of people whose lives will be changed by your TV donations.
I believe the charity sector is now going to do everything it can to get its house in order. Meanwhile, I know that the money we raise during Sport Relief this week will be spent on important projects – half at home, half abroad – to help people living unimaginably tough lives.
Charities owe it to us all to show they always put the people they seek to help first – but meanwhile it’s great to have your support fighting to solve the problems of the people on the planet who have been dealt the toughest hand.
That’s what Sport Relief is and always will be for.