Was there ever a World Cup more weighed down by politics? - MK College

Was there ever a World Cup more weighed down by politics?

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By Sally Alexander, CEO and Group Principal of MK College Group

Not since the widely boycotted 1980 Moscow Olympics has a global sporting event been more controversial.   

Protestors in Iran had asked the England fans to boo their country’s anthem. Whether they did or not was hard to tell, drowned out as they were by the whistles and catcalls of disapproval from the Islamic Republic’s own fans. Courageous is the only word to describe the refusal of the Iranian players to sing the anthem. One can only hope they do not suffer dire consequences on their return home.  

The furore over the One Love armband that Harry Kane and Gareth Bale had intended to wear demonstrates the tension between sport and politics. Late in the day, FIFA, the sport’s world governing body, warned that anyone wearing it would be booked. The choice was a dreadful one; stand up for what you believe and two of the UK’s talisman goal scorers could miss a large part of the tournament. Accept the ruling and everyone accuses you of lacking genuine commitment to the cause of inclusion. I think it is a challenge many of us would struggle with and can happen regularly in the world of sport where it is not possible, as we have been asked to do, to avoid political implications. 

It’s easy to dismiss what may seem to some to be small gestures. However, I think that as these small gestures are seen and discussed across the world, it may give some people the sense that they are not alone, and that there are others trying to stand up for their human rights. Even if one person in each country around the globe is inspired to think a little more deeply about the rights of people to live and love freely, that will be of value. And it has certainly sparked the debate. 

At Milton Keynes College we are flying the rainbow flag right up until the end of the World Cup, to show our support for the LGBTQ+ community. Again, it’s a gesture, but at least we’re in the position of being able to make our feelings known and, as with players kneeling or wearing an armband, I do think it matters. Leadership matters too. England’s manager, Gareth Southgate, has spoken about inclusion and human rights, not just for LGBTQ+ people in Qatar but also for those migrant workers who have died or experienced dreadful treatment in building the glittering new stadia. It’s so easy to criticise and say he and the players should do more and I do understand people’s frustration, but on the international stage there are many countries that are not paragons of virtue – it is a challenging line to tread, but to confirm our commitment to inclusion and human rights in the face of behaviours we cannot condone is essential.  

At the College, it sometimes feels like we should do more too.  What we can say with pride is that we’re committed to being a genuinely inclusive organisation and we’re constantly taking steps for self-improvement.  We will keep on this journey – it’s never enough, and we won’t always get it right but it is central to who we are.  If we remain true to ourselves, we can hope to be at least some support and encouragement to those who most need it.