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Moving the goalposts: the footballers using their influence for good


Starting in the 1980s, footballers had a reputation for being spoiled, overpaid, and irresponsible. But a new generation of star players are championing the causes they believe in and using their influence to advocate for social progress.

Of all the scapegoats for the Covid-19 pandemic, footballers were the most predictable. Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested they should “do their part” by accepting pay cuts. Deputy Julian Knight, chair of the department of digital, culture, media and sports, condemned millionaire players who receive full salary while non-playing staff are suspended. It exposed “the moral vacuum at the center” of English football, Knight said.

But, as many pointed out, pointing to footballers rather than, say, city bankers or fat CEOs is a double standard. As soccer historian David Blatt says: “Hello, class bias, with a bit of racism too.”

Attacking well-paid footballers is nothing new. A massive rise in salaries coincided with the ‘golden age’ of tabloid newspapers, and from the 1980s to the early 2000s, footballers were criticized for everything from sex scandals to irresponsible extravagances. They were criticized, above all, for their salaries.

But signs abound that modern football (possibly unlike banking) is becoming more responsible. More than ever, gamers are using their platforms to advocate for social progress while addressing the stereotype of overpaid dribblers.

At the start of the pandemic, Jordan Henderson, the Liverpool captain, held a conference call with the captains of the 20 Premier League clubs and coordinated a Covid-19 fund to which players could donate. In June, the day Premier League matches resumed after the lockdown, all players, referees and officials knelt in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

And on September 1, Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United forward, announced the launch of a task force to tackle child food poverty, with executives from the UK’s leading supermarkets and charities. FareShare and the Food Foundation. The move built on Rashford’s success in early summer, when he forced the government to reverse the decision to eliminate food stamps for poorer families during the summer vacation period, something it is now trying to do again during the October semester.

US Captain Megan Rapinoe is a longtime LGBTQ + activist

US Captain Megan Rapinoe is a longtime LGBTQ + activist. Image: Reuters

In an open letter to the deputies In June, the 22-year-old described how his own family had relied on free meals, as well as food banks, during his childhood. “The system was not built for families like mine to be successful, regardless of how hard my mother worked,” wrote Rashford, who has also raised more than 20 million pounds for FareShare. “This is not about politics; this is about humanity.”

A cynic might label such actions as elaborate public relations stunts, but players who stand up for what they believe aren’t always comfortable with their employers. In December 2019, when midfielder Mesut Özil targeted Muslim countries for their silence on the persecution of Uyghur Muslims in China, his club Arsenal distanced themselves.

“The published content is Özil’s personal opinion,” he said in a statement. “As a football club, Arsenal have always adhered to the principle of not getting involved in politics.”

In the beginning, it’s always about being a better player. Over time, you want to become a better leader and role model.

History offers numerous examples of footballers using their platform for good, from Jack Charlton of the England team that won the 1966 World Cup, who co-founded the Anti-Nazi League in the 1970s.

All over the world, NGOs use sport as a vehicle for social progress. A global phenomenon with 3 billion fans, soccer is a common language in diverse communities. It is also an effective tool to attract disadvantaged young people, through their passion for beautiful sports.

In 2002, the young PhD student and social entrepreneur Jürgen Griesbeck created a global network that he hoped would connect all grassroots initiatives, under the umbrella Streetfootballworld. Soccer as a platform for development grew alongside professional soccer and, in 2015, Streetfootballworld comprised 135 non-profit organizations in 90 countries, reaching more than 2 million people.

Liverpool's Jordan Henderson coordinated a Covid-19 fund that players could donate to

Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson coordinated a Covid-19 fund that players could donate to. Image: Reuters

To broaden its global impact, Griesbeck and Thomas Preiss, the head of business development, decided to launch a move that would be driven by the players themselves. It was a promise to donate 1 percent of salaries to a collective fund for all organizations that use football to promote UN Sustainable Development Goals. They planned to recruit an 11-player starting lineup. At eight months, they had only achieved one: Juan Mata.

Mata, a midfielder for Spain and Manchester United, had criticized the “obscene” money some elite male footballers earn. In August 2017, Brazilian player Neymar was transferred from Barcelona to Paris St Germain for an unprecedented £ 209 million. “By sheer coincidence,” says Preiss, he, Griesbeck, Mata and Ben Miller, an expert on the social impact of sport, launched their initiative the next day. Was called Common goal.

Three years later, 160 people from the world of soccer have committed 1 percent of their salary. Half of those who have committed are women; They represent 30 countries and range from World Cup champions (like American Megan Rapinoe) to Third Division players, as well as coaches, trainers, including Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, referees and even lawyers – a new football ecosystem with a conscience. Social.

Juan Mata, Megan Rapinoe, Jürgen Klopp and Alex Morgan scale the greatest heights in soccer, but still seek a greater purpose

Rapinoe, a longtime LGBTQ + activist, stood out in the movement when she knelt in solidarity with former NFL player Colin Kaepernick – the first high-profile white athlete to do so. In March 2019, she led the women’s national team in a lawsuit against the U.S. soccer federation for gender discrimination, as part of its ongoing battle for equal pay with men. His next book, One Life, is a call to arms for everyone to strive for improvement.

Moya Dodd, an Australian lawyer and former national player, is now Chairman of Common Goal. She tells Positive News that soccer “is a place you come to be better.” “In the beginning, it’s always about being a better player,” he explains. Over time, he wants to become a better leader and role model. After a while, you think, ‘And then what?’ What if you win the World Cup, like Juan? [Mata] did with Spain?

“It’s true that ‘winning isn’t everything,’ even for those who have the drive, the talent and the opportunity to win it all. I know, because I watch Juan Mata, Megan Rapinoe, Jürgen Klopp and Alex Morgan scale the greatest heights of soccer, but they still seek a greater purpose in soccer than to win. That greater purpose is: through football, to make the world better ”.

They will be better players, teammates and people if they do what they can to improve the world around them.

Charlie Daniels, a former AFC Bournemouth defender, says that as soon as his agent suggested he join Common Goal, “it was a no-brainer.”

“I jumped on board,” he says. “It’s so little of your salary package, the 1 percent: and it affects a lot of people, not just in this country but all over the world. Help everyone. “

Socially conscious footballers may be nothing new, but social media has helped propel them to center stage. “Players no longer need the filter of a journalist,” says Miller, who now heads media relations at Common Goal. “They can speak their minds and hopefully have the confidence to comment on things beyond the confines of football.”

Manchester United's Juan Mata helped launch Common Goal, which uses football to drive positive change

Juan Mata helped launch Common Goal, which uses football to drive positive change. Image: Reuters

“Players have a direct line to the world,” adds Dodd. “For those players with a strong sense of purpose, you can be sure that he will shine brighter than in the past.”

Soccer historian Blatt also points to a change in the education of young soccer players. “The advent of the academy system in the Premier League has led to a little more nurturing of young players; the humiliation and hierarchies of the old boot room have given way to a different culture. It is not a Steiner school, but it is more open and requires less submission than the old school soccer training cultures. “

Critics might argue that social activism is becoming more lucrative. Miller admits: “Any potential sponsor looking to align their values ​​with a player’s brand would be drawn to athletes like Marcus Rashford. If you are thinking like a soccer agent or sponsorship director, if the soccer player really cares about something, it will attract more brands to you as an athlete. “

The advent of the academy system in the Premier League has led to a little more nurturing of young players.

But players also get personal benefits from being more socially aware, from emotional well-being to skill on the field.

According to Dan Levy, a sports agent such as Rapinoe and Executive Vice President of Olympics & The Collective: “We encourage our athletes to embrace their authentic selves. They will be better players, teammates and people if they speak their truths and do what they can to improve the world around them, ”he says, adding that the business implications of speaking should not come into play.

With role models like Rashford just beginning their careers, their formidable influence is likely to help drive progress for long-standing causes.

Lead image: Marcus Rashford leads a campaign to tackle food poverty in the UK. Image: Reuters


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