England manager hails a summer to be proud of

Use your head: Southgate backed players doing “their duty” off the pitch by speaking out.

Has sport become the source of our deepest values? An open letter by Gareth Southgate before tomorrow’s opening game in Euro 2020 won praise for its thoughtful version of patriotism.

Tomorrow night, millions will tune in to watch Turkey take on Italy. Euro 2020 is here.

Fans are also cheering a letter from England manager Gareth Southgate. He laid out a vision of what the national team meant to him and the “lads”.

Some commentators wondered why politicians were so thoroughly outclassed by a man who spent his life kicking a ball.

As Southgate points out, football has deep ties to nationhood. He told players they would enter “the collective consciousness of our country”.

People come together around football.

Footballers “using the power of their voices” have not been universally praised. England’s Marcus Rashford forced politicians to backtrack and provide free school meals during lockdown. But the sport has been mired in rows about players taking the knee to protest racial injustice.

Southgate said he saw no conflict. “We are independent thinkers”, he wrote, also praising the “Englishness” of fans who protested against the European Super League.

Some historical politicians – Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Czech president Václav Havel – brought nations together around a story. There is little sign of that in Europe today.

Southgate thinks his team can get the job done.

Has sport become the source of our deepest values?

The sporting life

Yes. In sport, we see individual excellence and cooperation. These are values we all aspire to. Athletes command our respect. They can shape conversations and encourage change. When Marcus Rashford campaigns for school meals he embodies the voice of everyday people.

No. Sport is in thrall to money. The Euro tournament itself is spread 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.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather be in government or be an athlete?

Activities

  1. In pairs, assemble an 11-person team of heroes from any walk of life, who you think represent the best values of society. Draw each member and write a sentence or two about what they have achieved and why you think they should be included.

Some People Say...

“The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people.”

Eric Hobsbawm (1917 – 2012), British Historian

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is widely agreed that international football has become hugely important to many nations’ identities. Teams are cheered on with a passion that means occasionally players have feared for their lives after making mistakes. In 1994 Colombian goalkeeper Andrés Escobar was killed by an angry fan after scoring an own goal which led to his team being knocked out of the world cup that year.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate concerns whether it is possible to keep politics out of sport. While some see protests such as players kneeling as an intrusion into their apolitical entertainment, others see the uncritical celebration of the nation, and the expectation that Black players stay quiet about racism as just another form of politics. Everything from the cost of tickets to the ownership of teams is seen as political by some people.

Word Watch

Collective consciousness
By using this phrase, Southgate is signalling a debt, perhaps unconscious, to the great French sociologist Emile Durkheim, who used the phrase to describe the generally held beliefs and attitudes of a given society.
Taking the knee
The gesture was introduced in American football by Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid in 2016. It spread beyond the USA following the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
European Super League
A plan by 20 of the largest European teams to form a breakaway league to rival the current Champions’ League.
Václav Havel
The playwright and dissident became the leading voice of resistance against the communist dictatorship in Czechoslovakia. When the regime fell, he became president of the country.

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