Opinion: ‘The magical healing power of sport’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council writes...

Sunday, 18th July 2021, 1:40 pm
England came so close. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images) SUS-210713-122921003

I don’t drink alcohol, but Monday allowed me to experience what a hangover is like. Like most of the nation, I believe, I felt sad at the outcome of the Euro 2020 final.

Yes, there is much to celebrate. Let’s not forget that at the last World Cup, England weren’t particularly fancied to go far. We made it to the semi-finals. This time, we did one better. There is another World Cup next year. Yes, there’s disappointment, but there is hope too.

Furthermore, this England team brought the country together. Yes, this phrase has been overused, but I don’t remember the last time that football brought about such widespread enthusiasm. Children want to be Raheem or Marcus or Harry out on the playground. For a time, it appeared that this squad of polite and audacious young men had united us all in admiration.

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Some of the scenes at Wembley and on social media afterwards have blemished that impression: the racist abuse poured out at Saka, Rashford, and Sancho shows that we have a long way to go as a society. It seems that football is being used as an excuse by a minority to vent their darker impulses. Even a mural depicting Marcus Rashford, a man who has done so much to alleviate hunger among poor children, was defaced. This is unacceptable. It says something positive about

British society that the vast majority appear to agree that this is unacceptable.

I hope that the England squad will get a well-earned rest before preparing for their next campaign. By the time 2022 comes, this will be a bittersweet memory. However, we should not forget sport and its power to change lives for the better.

Beyond the benefits of learning teamwork via organised sport, we have just had a stark reminder about how without health, we have nothing else: not an economy, nor even a society.

Peterborough should invest more in sport.

At best this investment could be called sporadic.

The Vivacity partnership, which was supposed to help improve sport and fitness in our city, collapsed last year. This was after there had been cuts of 70% to its grant. Events have provided a reminder of how short-sighted this was.

In less than two weeks, we will be presented with yet another powerful example of what sport can do: the Olympic games will begin in Tokyo.

Team GB did very well in 2016, and there’s no reason to think that we won’t pick up gold medals on the cycling track and elsewhere. We will bask in their success; we will hold up our heroes as role models. We will say that after a year of a pandemic, it’s wonderful that youth and health can express itself to such great effect.

However, will we support the budding Chris Hoy or Rebecca Adlington of tomorrow? Or will we just take the momentary win, sigh, and return to business as usual?

I fear that it will be the latter.

It should be remembered, however, that our Olympic success came about due to sustained investment, mainly thanks to the National Lottery.

Sustained investment in sport can do much to improve not just our sporting prospects but the overall wellbeing of our city and people.