Where defense contractors, the U.K. military elite, and army athletes mix
Defense ▶ The U.K. invites contractors to support army athletics ▶ “It’s as clean as we can make the damn thing”
Champion cyclist Ryan Perry, a British army captain, was uncharacteristically tipsy the night of Nov. 25, but no one could blame him for enjoying the Champagne. Standing on the stage of a grand 15th century hall in London, the 28-year- old cradled a crystal plaque naming him the army’s sportsman of the year. Seated in front of him was one of the British military’s most influential officers, the chief of the general staff, or CGS. “Yesterday I was riding around Burnley in the wind and rain,” Perry told the crowd, referring to his seaside hometown. “Tonight I’m drinking Champagne with CGS.”
Attending the banquet were executives from at least 20 contractors for the U.K.’S Ministry of Defence—including U.s.-based arms manufacturers Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon. They raised glasses with senior military officials, many of whom are directly involved in spending some of the $268 billion in defense procurement the U.K. has planned for the next decade. The contractors paid for the black-tie dinner in the historic Guildhall.
The corporations are sponsoring the dinner through Team Army, a charity established in 2011 after an antibribery law went into effect in the U.K. The law was enacted following a string of highprofile corruption cases, including some in defense deals. Team Army’s role is to be in the middle of what were once unofficial big-dollar transactions between generals and defense companies. “It’s as clean as we can make the damn thing,” says Lamont Kirkland, a general who ran the army’s boxing, rugby, and winter sports programs before retiring to lead the charity.
Arms makers and other contractors pay Team Army as much as £70,000 ($104,000) for memberships. The members sponsor tables or buy tickets for Champagne receptions and other fêtes. Corporate suites at premier soccer games, rugby matches, and horse races are also used to raise money. Contractors are invited to spend time at the events with the top brass who buy their wares.
The charity uses money from the contractors to fund military sports programs, Paralympics, and elite military athletes. Top-draw competitions, including the annual army-navy rugby match at London’s 82,000-seat Twickenham Stadium, are used for more fundraising. Although the official numbers won’t be public until 2016, Team Army raised a record amount this year, Kirkland says. Since 2011 the charity has amassed about $4.5 million for military sports.
When Kirkland commanded the army’s 4th Division and simultaneously ran army sports programs, he says he saw a system rife with conflicts. Generals directly solicited money from their contractors to sponsor individual sports or events, while some companies offered funds on their own.