In today’s political climate, with everyone divided and tension rising, it is important now more than ever to remember to stand united. Sport is a great tool to unite people. Sport provides an exciting diversion for people to stop thinking about their own condition. People discuss the team for which they follow in first person terms as if they are members of the team. Such as, “we won” or “we need three points “. Sports are also deeply embedded in every culture around the world and it has a considerable influence on these cultures. Halls of fame exist in all major sports at the professional and school levels. These exist as an evidence of worship of sports by society and to chronicle the deeds of sports heroes for the youth of society. Sports stars are perceived as role models for young people in the society. Sports has been proven to have a close relationship to sociological elements such as education, leisure, social mobility, race and gender issues. One such element is the role of sports in promoting unity. We often use the term unity loosely but what does it entail exactly? How do we achieve that sense of unity?
Now that we have a better understanding of what unity is, how do we go about achieving it? When you bring people together around one commonality, it becomes the foundation for important cultural exchange and understanding that will lead to the increase of tolerance across the board. To achieve unity, we must first ensure that the foundation is solid so that people can use it as a platform to come together. Soccer is a great platform to do this as it is a sport with worldwide appeal. The proof is in the numbers. More than one billion fans tuned in to watch the final of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, with the competition reaching a global in-home television audience of 3.2 billion people, according to final figures from FIFA. It’s the world’s richest, most watched and most played sport. The summer Olympics is the only sporting event able to match the World Cup, and this is only through combining some 41 sports. Soccer transcends language and cultural barriers and has proven time and time again that it is truly deserving of the title ‘the beautiful game’’. One of the key factor that makes football such a globally appealing sport is the fact that it’s a ‘’poor people’s sport’’. All that is needed is a ball (most often even a makeshift ball will do) and some space and a couple of friends. The simplicity of it allowed it to gain fans around the world. However, football is slowly deviating from being a sport that’s accessible to everyone to a sport that is beginning to form structure towards exclusivity.
The first thing we need to consider when using a platform for the purpose of uniting people is to ensure that the platform is easily accessible to everyone. Sports, in general, should be accessible to anyone that wants to participate, play or watch. It should not discriminate nor set any prejudicial requirements around status, wealth, gender or race other than one having the heart and passion to play. Certain “high society” sports such as tennis, golf or sailing, still carries the false divisions of a class society and status that have been put around the sport. It discriminates individuals who enjoy the sport for what it is as if one must be established and wealthy to be accepted into the exclusive elite group, club or association. It presents a barrier to the common people by making a sport (that should be accessible to all) an exclusive high-end sport or “rich man’s sport” by setting the status bar high with joining fees, dress codes, premium services and executive privileges/perks packages based on how much one is worth monetary wise. Therefore, not being based on one’s heart, skill, and passion for the sport. In certain parts of the world, football is slowly moving towards the direction of exclusivity as well. In the UK, there are still a lot of community-based football training and public parks and fields that kids and adult alike can join to play football free of charge or for a nominal fee. However, in other parts of the world, football is moving towards exclusivity. A lot of ‘academies’ and clubs are only providing kids with access to (public) fields if they join these ‘clubs and academies’. These ‘clubs and academies’ often charge an enormous fee to include the kids in their organization but do not provide any value in terms of training or even safety. Public fields are becoming business centers for these organizations, which means a lot of kids and adults lose access to public fields to come together to play football or any sports. We must always ensure that such facilities are accessible to everyone. People from all walks of life meet and gather at these fields to play sports and initiate friendships. If we make public and community centres into business centers, we are restricting accessibility for communities coming together, uniting and enjoying sports. This will lead us down the path of conflict as neighbours and members of the same community would not know each other and therefore will alienate and distance themselves from one another. Football is such a valuable tool to promote unity and tolerance. We must protect the right for anyone to play and participate in football.
Football is of course not the perfect or only solution to conflicts, far from it. Football does have its fair share of problems, from its history in hooliganism to riots. It is ignorant to turn a blind eye to that. But the good outweighs the bad. For all the negative stories stemming out of football or sports industry in general, there are many positive ones that are making powerful and positive impacts that will last for many generations to come. For example, the kid with cerebral palsy that believed he could play football and uses that as an opportunity to develop friendship with his peers. The programs around the world empowering kids and people from all walks of life to believe and do something bigger than themselves. The time Rostov FC fans handed out blankets to Manchester United fans that traveled to Russia for a Europa league tie eased the tension and anxiety of the traveling fans that feared racism. Football is a truly powerful tool and we need it now more than ever. Football shows us that there is still hope, that we can all still get along and stand united in the face of adversity and overcome it. Football is a double-edged sword. It can be used to promote unity and tolerance or allow it to be misused as a platform to engage in racism, hooliganism and other undesirable behaviors. It is up to us to ensure that we use it to promote the positives.