“How Many Politicians Could Have United The UK In The Way Marcus Rashford Has?”
November 19, 2020
In his latest monthly column for iSPORTCONNECT, Jamie Fox believes we should embrace how 2020 has been the year of ‘politics in sport’.
If we shy away from the problems being highlighted in wider society, we will never be able to address and solve the same challenges that remain inside our respective sports.
Outside the issues posed by an ever-present Covid-19 pandemic, on both sides of the Atlantic how to deal with “politics in sport” has dominated the sports communications industry in 2020.
From President Trump publicly pressuring the Big Ten to start its college football season as the US Presidential election neared (in an effort to shore up his support in the Midwest) and all but ignoring the Pac-12 (whose schools are mostly in reliably Democratic-voting states), to Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford lobbying the UK government to provide children from poor families in England with free meals during school holidays.
There are some in sports communications who believe ‘politics’ has no part in sport and encourage their wards to remain silent.
And whilst not a political but human rights issue, the enormous effect the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police had on sport and galvanizing athletes in the US, the UK and elsewhere to speak out and exercise their right to protest.
There are some in sports communications who believe ‘politics’ has no part in sport and encourage their wards to remain silent, retreat into their respective corners and wait for these issues fade into the woodwork. I suppose their thinking would be that remaining silent is the safe thing to do – especially when, prior to this year, the most recent high-profile example of an athlete speaking out on political and societal issues saw Colin Kaepernick’s career effectively ended as a result.
Athletes should not be scared to speak their mind and that sports teams and leagues should stand-up for what is right.
But my background, my politics, my values and ideals, have led me to fundamentally believe that athletes should not be scared to speak their mind and that sports teams and leagues should stand-up for what is right, using their platforms to bring attention to the issues they feel passionately about.
Understanding that sport needs to address the same issues as wider society, is something sports comms professionals cannot afford to ignore. To wish away these political, human rights and societal issues, to dismiss them as nothing to do with sport, without recognising sport holds the same problems, will block the path to change.
If we shy away from the problems being highlighted in wider society, we will never be able to address and solve the same challenges that remain inside our respective sports, like the gender pay gap between men’s and women’s teams or the need to create boards and organisations that authentically represent the diverse makeup of the sport’s citizenry. Acknowledging the issues being debated in society also exist and must be tackled in the sports world is where we start.
Sport has a way of changing hearts and minds in a way that politics doesn’t – how many politicians could have united the UK in support of an issue in the way Marcus Rashford has?
While it is clearly true that we cannot solve all of society’s troubles through sport, it does have the unique ability to bring people of different ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds together like no other social activity. Whether uniting as fans or teammates, bringing people together helps us think and look at issues differently and can ultimately lead to a change of attitudes and culture on a national scale, because sport has a way of changing hearts and minds in a way that politics doesn’t – how many politicians could have united the UK in support of an issue in the way Marcus Rashford has?
As sports comms professionals we have the tools, connections, and resources needed to make a difference. By embracing the role of sport in politics, we can help highlight and move the needle on a number of issues. And while athletes speaking out in an interview or teams and leagues backing public protest will not fix everything that needs to be fixed, it will be a start.