• Reading Level 5
Geography | Physical Education | Citizenship | PSHE

England manager hails a summer to be proud of

Has sport become the source of our deepest values? An open letter by the England coach before tomorrow’s opening game in Euro 2020 won praise for its thoughtful version of patriotism.  The stadiums will be less than half full, but the roar of the crowd will be heard around the world. Tomorrow night, millions will tune in to watch Turkey take on Italy in Rome. Euro 2020 is here. It is a little late, but the beautiful game cannot be stopped. On the eve of the championships, fans were also cheering a letter from England manager Gareth Southgate. In it, he laid out a vision of what the national team - and the nation itself - meant to him and the "lads" he was taking into the competition. The reaction was enthusiastic. Some commentators even wondered why politicians' visions of the nation were so thoroughly outclassed by a man who spent his life kicking a ball around. But, as Southgate himself points out, football has deep ties to people's sense of nationhood. In his letter, he told players that they would enter "the collective consciousness of our country". Over 26 million Britons watched England's final match in the 2018 World Cup - more people than voted for Labour and the Conservatives combined in the 2019 election. And around the world, 3.5 billion people tuned in. People come together around football. Clubs, cities and countries create an identity; cheering, singing and watching their side win or lose. Millions in England mourned Southgate's penalty miss in Euro 96. In 2018, they rejoiced as he redeemed himself, leading England to their best World Cup performance in years. Meanwhile, France celebrated their win that year as a victory for a modern, diverse nation. Other societies have different stories of heroism. Diego Maradona was a villain to English fans, but in Argentina and Naples he was adored for his support for the underdog as much as his brilliance. Southgate defended his players' right to speak out on issues beyond football. He wrote that "we are heading for a much more tolerant and understanding society, and I know our lads will be a big part of that". Footballers "using the power of their voices", as he puts it, have not been universally praised. England's Marcus Rashford forced politicians to backtrack and provide free school meals during the lockdown. But the sport has been mired in rows about players taking the kneeA symbolic gesture against racism. to protest racial injustice. Southgate said he saw no conflict between such protests and national pride. "We are independent thinkers", he wrote, also praising the "Englishness" of fans who protested against the European Super LeagueThe ESL would include the same 15 teams every season, with the remaining five qualifying annually.. Some historical politicians - Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Czech president Vaclav Havel - have been able to bring a nation together around a shared story. There is little sign of that in Europe today. Southgate on the other hand thinks that his team can get the job done: "Despite the polarisation we see in society, these lads are on the same wavelength as you." Has sport become the source of our deepest values? The sporting life Yes, say some. In sport, we see both individual excellence and cooperation. These are values we all aspire to. Athletes' achievements command our respect. Thanks to this, they can shape conversations and encourage change. When Naomi Osaka takes her stand on mental health or Marcus Rashford campaigns for school meals, they embody the voice of everyday people the same way the team embodies the nation. Not so, say others. Just like politics, sport is in thrall to money, which often destroys the values we hold dearest. The Euro tournament itself is spread out across multiple nations in order to save governments money while taking more from fans. Then there is the failed Super League. Athletes are certainly no wiser than anyone else. KeywordsTaking the knee - A symbolic gesture against racism.

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