“Just look at what we can do when we come together, this is England in 2020,” Marcus Rashford tweeted upon the news that his campaign had borne fruit. A campaign that prompted a Government U-turn that will now allow parents to receive vouchers for 1.3 million kids in England over the summer and with more to come.
This was just another exceptional example of the influence, power and respect that high-profile sportspeople in general whether it be football, cricket or athletic stars can have on impacting massive change in our world by making proper use of their platforms to reach the masses.
How much are we seeing this in our region or our country? If it takes you more than thirty seconds to respond positively then it’s not happening enough or even at all.
The UK Guardian stated: “In forcing the prime minister into a hasty spin of the heels, Rashford has delivered a timely reminder that football’s influence and cultural currency stretch well beyond its own borders. And by reaching beyond those borders in an urgent and worthwhile cause, he has demonstrated the power of common resolve and common purpose, at a time when – as he himself put it – society “appears to be more divided than ever”.
Is it that our sporting and cultural stalwarts and heroes aren’t being seen in the kind of light by our leaders to have the sort of impact similar to Rashford’s?
“The genius of Rashford’s campaign was its simplicity. It was textbook in its strategy, tactics and execution. It starts with a clear positioning based on his personal experience: no one can question his motive or accuse him of jumping on a bandwagon.”
Like Rashford, former Grenadian international Jason Roberts, now director of development at CONCACAF, also received an MBE for his charitable work in Grenada. Roberts was awarded the honour by the Queen after he set up a charitable foundation to introduce children in Grenada, the homeland of his father, and the UK to education through sport and help build confidence. He took the decision to play for Grenada, rather than be selected for England, in a bid to help Grenada's youth.
He said: “For me, playing for Grenada was more than football - it was the opportunity to go there and tackle issues like getting kids into education and mainstream society.”
Our society is yearning for more like these men who can emerge as one of the unlikely, unifying heroes of the pandemic. As Rashford himself said: "It's becoming more normal that people speak out on topics that they believe in and I think it's just positive for the future." Perhaps we have persons in our part of the world who maybe need to speak up some more for it to really reach those who are in decision making positions.
Over time the off-field contributions of sporting athletes, such as by contributing to charities or virtuous social causes, are rarely the subject of major media discussion. But there are most times much more public interest should an athlete present a dissenting perspective in respect of a sociopolitical issue via sport.
Negative refrains typically include: athletes should “stick to sport”; that they are “using sport” to advance a political agenda; and (like other celebrities) they are not credible advocates because they live in an elitist “bubble”. But times seem to be changing. Certainly How, why and when influential athletes take a stand on sociopolitical issues is a question of timing, context, purpose and strategy.
There can, of course, be a substantial public backlash as was the case when NLF star Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem because of what he sees as systemic racism in American society When NFL ratings fell this season, some suggested that Kaepernick’s politicising of the game had prompted disaffection. Of course, we must also respect the individual's honesty when not wanting to get involved because of a lack of knowledge on an issue. Pressuring an ‘influencer’ may not be an option as it would be better for them to comment or expose an issue on their terms and not the public's own.
Meantime, I am currently researching instances where our local sporting heroes were seriously considered by our leaders when it came to solid decisions that impacted our citizens. This does not include their individual charitable work. Send me an email with anything you've come up with at email@example.com. Let me know also of any unsanctioned watersport events coming up at Buccoo Reef or the Caroni Swamp as I may now have to speak up against that.
Shaun Fuentes is the head of TTFA Media. He is a former FIFA Media Officer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup in Turkey The views expressed are solely his and not a representation of any organisation.