In my youth, a popular mantra was “Sport and Politics don’t mix”.The truth is that sport and politics have always gone hand in hand, sometimes for the good, sometimes not.
Marcus Rashford won a brilliant victory, forcing the Prime Minister to continue free school meals over the summer and has now launched a campaign against child food poverty. This is arguably more important than any goal he has scored!
Premier League matches since lockdown began with players “taking the knee” in support of Black Lives Matter, a significant move in a sport still blighted by racist chanting. I congratulate the players for kneeling in solidarity with the victims of racism. In the States, basketball players have gone on strike to support BLM.
Going back a few years the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa was an important contribution to the eventual fall of the racist regime.
In Boxing in 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to enlist to fight for the US in the Vietnam War. Already a superstar, Ali was opposed to the war due to his Muslim beliefs. Ali was arrested, found guilty of draft evasion, stripped of his titles, and had his fighting license suspended. Ali couldn’t compete for three years until his conviction was overturned in 1971.
In horse racing, in 1913, the suffragette movement went mainstream thanks to the fatal protest of Emily Davison. On the day of the Derby, Davison entered the track and was hit by the king’s horse, Anmer. Her cause was the right of women to get the vote in Britain, which happened five years later.
A much less welcome collision of sport and politics was when Hitler attempted to use the Olympics to showcase Nazi Germany in 1936. Fortunately, he was undermined by Jesse Owens, an African-American track and field athlete, who won four gold medals, clearly demonstrating that there was nothing superior about the “Aryan” race.
Sportsmen and women have a massive influence on our culture and our beliefs. They have a great responsibility to be positive role models and to use their influence for the common good.
Currently, the world is sleepwalking towards the biggest catastrophe it has ever faced. Due to the inadequacy of our politicians and our media most people don’t understand the existential threat that climate chaos is posing, not just to future generations, but to people alive today. Already crops are failing, sea levels are rising, forests are burning and ice caps are disappearing. A third of Bangladesh is underwater as I write. We are dangerously close to many feedback loops that will further heat the world’s climate and send temperatures spiralling upwards, making our planet uninhabitable.
So today I am challenging the directors and managers of our leading sports clubs to educate themselves, the staff and players about the threats we face and what we can do about them. Please host a talk on Zoom, to hear a speaker explain why we are currently heading for extinction and what we can do to prevent it. Armed with this knowledge I am sure you will then want to make some dramatic changes to the way your clubs are run, but most importantly you will want to use your influence as Marcus Rashford has done so successfully, to change Government policy.
Forest Green Rovers are not as successful as the Blades or Owls on the pitch, but they have been leading the way in creating a sustainable sports club. FIFA have described them as the greenest football club in the world. They’re the first and only vegan football club. They’re also the first club on the planet to be certified carbon neutral by the United Nations. Local teams should follow their green achievements.
The club is powered by 100% green electricity and carbon-neutral gas from Ecotricity, some of which is generated with the solar panels on the stadium roof.
The pitch they play on is organic, free from pesticides and herbicides. It is cut by an electric ‘mow-bot’ a GPS-directed electric lawnmower, powered by energy harnessed from the sun and watered with rainwater collected from beneath the pitch.
Sustainable travel to all games is recommended, and they provide EV charge-points from The Electric Highway.
They offer freshly made vegan food to all players, staff and fans, which is great for the environment, health and performance, and tastes good too.
If United and Wednesday followed suit, these improvements would be small steps in the right direction. Every business and household has a responsibility to do what they can to become more sustainable. But what is needed is radical system change that must be initiated by Governments and international organisations. If footballers speak out this could influence public opinion and government policy.
So come on Wednesday and United, host a talk, educate your players and fans and start to be part of the solution, rather than part of the cause, of climate chaos.
A truly sustainable football club
Don’t scrum with a racist bum!
‘A third of Bangladesh underwater’ after heavy rains, floods
When sport and politics meet
This article has been sent to directors of both SUFC and SWFC and tweeted to those players and managers on Twitter.