[Sport] is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers. It laughs in the face of all kinds of discrimination.” – Nelson Mandela
11:00. In a hotel dormitory just outside Manchester.
I had been watching the highlights of a football match (Liverpool v Everton) that, for us Liverpool fans, is undoubtedly the biggest of the season. I knew the score, and it seemed pointless continuing to watch what had so far been a rather dull contest.
Just when I was about to turn off my phone and hit the hay, an incident occurred in the match that made me immediately sit up and pay attention. A cogent push from Everton defender Mason Holgate, sends Liverpool striker Roberto Firmino over the advertising board into a row of incensed Liverpool faithful.
Naturally, like the Liverpool fans there, I was enraged, and defended Firmino’s response to run back up to Holgate and vent his anger for what was a needless action. Yet my tribalism soon dissipated as two days later I turned on Sky Sports News to see Firmino on his way to court over allegedly racially abusing Holgate.
Now regardless of Firmino was racist or not, its interesting that perspective can easily change. In that moment, I came to the unsettling realisation that respect in sport, is becoming increasingly uncommon.
In a world in which desire for individual excellence and personal achievement has become the order of the day, lack of respect has unfortunately permeated a pastime that in the past has thrown up incredible displays of respect that have inspired millions around the world.
I also realised I was perpetuating the problem. I love sport, and am extremely competitive, but my emotions (especially when Liverpool are involved) can get the better of me. My anger made me ignore the clear lack of forgiveness and love between Holgate and Firmino.
When I was younger, my absolute favourite thing to do was to play football with my friends. I remember the freedom football gave me, to express myself, and forget about the complexities of life. I remember not caring greatly about the score, but always trying my absolute best at something I loved, and got to do with my friends.
Now, I see a sport (and all sports more generally) being tarnished, by our selfish natures, and desire to win which trumps our ability to respect others.
What is respect? Respect, according to the Oxford Dictionary is ‘a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities or achievements’.
I’d agree with that definition, but I would extend it to highlight respect is also a feeling of deep admiration, for someone or something, whose qualities or abilities greatly differ to our own. Respect is therefore the binding agent that unites us, and overlooks race, gender, social standing all other barriers.
The Bible reminds us of this truth. Paul in his letter to the Romans highlights the importance of being “being devoted one another above yourselves.”. (Romans 12:10 NIV). In the context of sport, we can interpret this as honouring those that make all sports possible; the officials, the spectators, and our opponents, ensuring we don’t let our own competitive spirit compromise other people’s love of sport.
At Kick London, respect is one of the core values that we try to both impart and demonstrate to the young people, but are we practicing what we preach? My Prayer is that we, as lovers of sport highlight its ability to bring us together despite our differences and, by showing respect to the young people, can show how having respect does change lives, and shows our Christ-like selves in the process.
Kick London Intern