The 2018 Russia World Cup took place between 14th of June and the 15th July. Like any major sporting event, the lead up was politically painful. With tensions growing around the globe it was even questioned whether the English national team would also compete. It is easy to write Russia off, it should and is regularly condemned for its ills and many critique major international sporting tournaments for the way they are run. But it is difficult to discount the power that these vast global events have in connecting people from all nations be it around a TV, in a bar or in a stadium.
Rightly or wrongly politics is almost swept beneath the carpet for a short period of time. Throughout England’s campaign, at this world cup many people noted how, for the first time since the Brexit referendum in the summer of 2016, the country felt united. Once again, it is important to stress that it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, it was highlighted how incidents of domestic abuse spikes following an England game and there were a few examples of other forms of bad behaviour. But from the local pub to the fan parks there was a sense of unity and a sprinkle of magic amongst fans.
Football still has significant problems, from homophobia to racism and sexism. It has been dominated by men both on the pitch and in the stands for a long time. This wasn’t always the case, by 1920 some women’s football was attracting crowds of over 50,000 until the FA banned women from playing in its grounds in 1921 and the ban wasn’t lifted until 50 years later in 1971. Since the women’s game has grown and since the FA began mending its ways by leading the women’s game in over 1993 football is now the top participation sport for women and girls in England with almost 2.5 million registered players.
That challenge to ensure football is free of discrimination to all and inclusive is enormous. Although the men’s team didn’t manage to reach the final or bring home the cup this year, football still cam home, it united a deeply divided nation in challenging times, and it will inspire many people from all different backgrounds to get involved in their local clubs and grassroots football. But it is important to note that grassroots football is currently in crisis, with just one in three grassroots pitches rated adequate, and one in six grassroots matches was called off due to pitch quality in the last season.
Sport, like music, has power. It can unite and divide communities. It needs to be harnessed to unite and nurture people around the globe.