Sport can bring us all together

    Sport can bring us all together

    Last week came news that football fans in Brazil, and around the world, had feared ever since the word came that Selecao legend Pele was nearing the end of his fantastic journey.

    The passing of the greatest footballer to ever walk this earth sent waves of emotion around the planet as millions of, possibly even a billion, people mourned the only player ever to win three World Cup medals, in 1958, 1962 and 1970. That the great man was black never particularly registered with most football fans, who also marvelled at the achievements of Portuguese maestro Eusebio; but to thousands of black children he was an inspiration and reason they dreamt of becoming a professional footballer.

    Pele was included in the Time Magazine list of the 100 most important people of the 20th Century and was credited with connecting the phrase, ‘The Beautiful Game’ with football.

    More so than ever, in these times of tension around the world where war and conflict rages and people are separated by political ideology, we need something which can bring us all together. In the UK some of us are still at loggerheads over a referendum conducted seven years ago, despite the life and world changing events which have occurred since, so the unifying power of the great Pele has been, and always will be, vital.

    Sport can do so much to bring communities and society together, and to give people opportunities and hope which are otherwise hard to come by.

    In 2021 the England football team brought our nation together with its presence off the pitch as much as its performance on it. The diversity within Gareth Southgate’s squad represented society more than any before it and their stance against intolerance won admirers throughout the country, if not around every part of Europe.

    Then, in 2022, the Lionesses brought football to a brand new audience with their brilliant performance at the Women’s Euros and inspired girls throughout the land to play the beautiful game.

    It always surprises me how female sports stars who compete successfully alongside men don’t seem to get the coverage their achievements deserve. Darts star Fallon Sherrock became the first woman to reach the last 16 of a major competition, the 2021 Grand Slam of Darts. Fans of the game celebrated wildly but much of the media missed it. Meanwhile, in the same year, jump jockey Rachael Blackmore became the first woman to win the Grand National and, in 2020, Hollie Doyle came a brilliant fourth in the Flat Jockeys’ Championship.

    There are role models in sport everywhere you look and some of the biggest stars in boxing do great work to find new talent, pulling young men out of poverty and street gang and giving a new sense of belonging, discipline and competition. And actor Idris Elba’s campaign against London knife crime, in association with his beloved Arsenal FC, inspired fans from clubs around the capital to come together and combat knife wars. The campaign ‘No More Red’ (meaning no more bloodshed) was a collaboration between Arsenal and Adidas; and Elba also teamed up with Gunners legend Ian Wright.

    Sport lovers don’t have a monopoly on progressive moves in society, helping the vulnerable and pushing people to heights they could never previously imagine. But it can be a superb vehicle for change and harmony that other industries, in any sector, can learn from.

    So we say thank you to Pele, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, for the beautiful game, for the inspiration and for breaking down barriers.

    What a player and what a man.

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