OPINION: Footballers are changing society in ways politicians just can't
- Credit: PA
Grounded, empathetic, passionate to make change and effective campaigners.
Fired by a verve to make their country fair and great with a clear vision of social and racial injustice and authentic experience of living in and trying to navigate this British system.
Sounds like the perfect personal statement for a prospective politician.
Whatever your view about sport and politics mixing, the character, effectiveness, humility, conviction and achievements of England’s young footballers has wiped the floor with our current politicians.
Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho and others have demonstrated qualities we look for and need in our leaders.
Rashford’s simple yet powerful – and totally unnecessary - apology for making a mistake when it mattered to so many with his missed penalty was a small measure of his integrity.
In a few well-chosen words, the 23-year-old shamed a House of Commons full of individuals forever refusing to apologise for getting anything wrong – or to answer simple questions, instead embarking on farcical circuitous tangled muddles to avoid a straight answer.
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For any parent teaching children it’s not what happens to them, it’s how they deal with it that marks out a character, there are no better role models than these young men.
And there are no better potential politicians with a small ‘p’ either.
The transformation of footballers from the empty vessel deities of excess to emotionally intelligent, motivated, articulate leaders offer us rising political leaders for when injury or age forces retirement.
These people are already making the difference to divisions in our society, attitudes and inequality by using their position and fortune to make lives better.
Most importantly, they have lived the life of vast population and are qualified to make decisions on people’s behalf. As Rashford said about his motivation to help feed 6m schoolchildren: “As a family, we relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals, and the kind actions of neighbours and coaches.”
They have felt what it’s like to be children and young people in austerity and the full force of government cuts on the working class
When Raheem Sterling launched his foundation to help disadvantaged young people which will include providing university scholarships and work placements, he said: "I'm not really fussed about having this million and that million. What will make me happy is seeing I am able to help. Even if it's five people, even if it's one, at least I have helped someone come out of their bubble and experienced that there is something better to England."
At just 25, he wanted to create something "humongous" for the people he was helping with the organisation which would focus on social mobility.
These are the people we want in Parliament. We’re done with the public school Oxbridge never-had-a-real job model, thank you.
What they can bring is authentic understanding about what inequality and prejudice feels like and how to go about changing lives.
They might leave football with £60-odd million pounds in the bank, but they appreciate that this came because they were lucky and want to help those not so blessed with talent and fortune.
In one tweet, Tyrone Mings conquered the high ground calling out home secretary Priti Patel when she expressed disgust at racial abuse directed at the England players after accusing the England team’s action of solidarity as being “gesture politics” and acceptable to boo.
Boris Johnson too said taking the knee in protest was ineffective, adding: “When it comes to gestures and symbols, I’m more on the side of practical action to combat racism and make life better for everybody in this country.”
The horrific aftermath of the Euros final showed exactly what the knee stand was against, and how any action being taken now to combat racism is clearly making no difference.
It’s not about a political statement, it’s about wanting decency and fairness in society. Who cannot understand that motivation?
The rhetoric is borne out by the data illustrating how structurally racist our nation is.
Home Office data shows BAME (Black, Asia, and Minority Ethnic) people are four times more likely to be targeted to be stopped and searched than white people, with black British nearly 10 times more likely to be stopped.
Nearly 93% of national police force are white. No chief constables are black, there are no BAME permanent secretaries of the civil service, only 2% of academics are black and 95% of journalists are white and there are only 9 BAME chairs of FTSE leading companies.
It will take to 2044 to get 13% of the country’s top leadership positions filled by BAME.
There are no black owners, chief executives, or chairs at any of the 92 Premier League and Football League clubs. Of those national sport governing bodies that receive public money, just three per cent of board members are black, and 64 per cent have no board members who are black at all.
With that clear picture of our society, with the vile abuse the footballers received this week, why would anyone object to anyone taking the knee in an expression of the need for urgent radical change everywhere?