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The football’s effect on society. And vice versa.

From Nazi Salutes to Kneeling: the significance of politics in football

Perhaps unknowingly, football both affects and is affected by the most important issues in our society. Coming from an outsider’s perspective, who seldom watches football apart from during the World Cup or European Championships, the sport still has an unavoidable effect on mine and everyone else’s lives.

From this part-time fan perspective, witnessing the sports ability to unite and divide us is fascinating. As if peering through the looking glass into a turbulent world where the most important questions are battled over in the stadiums and press releases, as much as they are in the House of Commons.

Generally, it is easy to see the overall benefits that football brings to wider society. Starting from the very youngest in the UK, with at least 44 percent of 11 to 15-year olds playing monthly, the sport is an excellent form of exercise and social activity.

However, some of the most impactful effects of the sport are presented through the action of the players, fans, and management, all of which have the potential to raise awareness concerning crucial social issues.

In the face of growing hostility from the government towards refugees and migrants in general, football supporters have gone to great lengths to provide support for refugees and asylum seekers.

For example, on 20th June, which is World Refugee Day, Middlesbrough Football Club launched the Goal Click Refugee project. The project featured 25 men and women across five continents, sharing discussions, photos and experiences which captured what life is like in their community, and how football can affect their lives. This project provides an exciting opportunity to explore the reasons why refugees have had to flee their own countries, and how football brings together people from diverse cultural, racial religious and economic backgrounds.

The Sanctuary Strikers, who are based in Reading, are a clear example of how the sport can unite people in the flesh. They are made up of refugees and former refugees hailing from countries such as Zimbabwe, Sudan and Somalia.

Overall, it can easily be said Football fan activism has time and time again yielded hugely positive effects in welcoming refugees and changing the dialogue surrounding this issue.

Individuals also have a huge part to play in how football affects wider society and vice versa. Quite famously Gary Lineker, who has opted to welcome a refugee into his own home, is openly critical of how the UK government approaches the plight of refugees from around the world.

Clearly, there is a concerted effort from much of the football community to engage with and protect those who are the most vulnerable in our society.

This extends to more than refugees – in recent weeks, Marcus Rashford has been leading the charge in the fight against child poverty during a Covid-19 stricken UK. After forcing the government into two U-turns regarding child food poverty, Rashford has launched a new book club to help provide more children from underprivileged backgrounds with the opportunity to read.

There are also a plethora of organisations such as Fans Supporting Foodbanks, a collaboration of Spirit Of Shankly (Liverpool) & The Blue Union (Everton) coming together to tackle food insecurity and challenge austerity. Overall, there has been a huge movement within the football community in the worst hit areas under austerity. This is after the Human Rights Watch reported that the UK government was failing to ensure the availability of food for its citizens.

With the expansion of the Black Lives Matter movement within the UK and US, the football community has started to wake up to how those of a black ethnicity are treated in the sporting world, and how it needs to change.

Organisations such as Farenet and Kick It Out work to promote diversity within the football world through the use of scholarships and grass root organisations.

Unfortunately, this positivity does not mean that football is without a dark side. We are just over a year on from when England’s Black players experienced horrible abuse at the hands of many of the Bulgarian fans during a qualifying match for Euro 2020.

This is not an isolated incident and according to the chair of Kick It Out Sanjay Bhandari, whilst “the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd turned the world on its head. Football responded positively with clubs increasing their work in the community and with the players symbolizing the demand for greater equality of opportunity, by taking a knee.”

However, “beneath the surface, hate and division in society remains a lurking pernicious threat.”

This is backed by a new review released by Kick It Out which says there was a 42% increase in reports of discrimination during the 2019/20 season at both a professional and grassroots level, from 313 to 446.

There is some noted scepticism surrounding the intersection of football and Black Lives Matter, with director of football, and the only black director, Les Ferdinand announcing that Queen Park Rangers will not be taking the knee in future matches.

Ferdinand likened the notorious gesture to a ‘fancy hashtag’ and ‘little more than good PR’.

Ferdinand pointed to UEFA’s inaction over the lack of sanctions that followed when the club’s youth team walked off after they were subjected to racist abuse during a pre-season friendly last summer against AD Nervion.

Evidently, there are feelings of frustration surrounding the BLM movement and what is being done to address raised concerns. Whilst there are those who are trying to make a difference, there seems to be a systematic issue of accepted racism within the football community.

Upon reflecting on the effect of football on our society for good and for ill, you could think of football as a microcosm of wider society. Football is in society, and society is in football. The sport has the power to provide protection of the most vulnerable and reveal the darkest of feelings.

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