The Importance of The World’s Most Popular Sport
In these exclusive interviews, we talk to five of the world’s most successful international footballers: Giorgio Chiellini, Louis Saha, Philip Neville, Leighton Baines and Hope Solo along with Jürgen Griesbeck (Founder, Street Football World). We discuss life as a footballer, how the game has grown to become the world’s most prominent sport, and the role it plays in society and culture. We also investigate the impact of wealth in the game and how football is changing the world through philanthropy and outreach.
In any study of human society, the concept of social capital is important. Matthew Nicholson and Russell Hoye, in their 2008 book ‘Sport and Social Capital‘ cite Burt (2000:3) who stated, “…the people who do better are somehow better connected”. The authors explain how, “…in other words, there is an inherent logic in the idea that the more connections individuals make within their communities the better off they will be emotionally, socially, physically and economically.”
Taking this to a more functional level, the authors cite Bourdieu (1986:248) who stated that social capital was “the aggregate of the actual or potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network of more or less institutionalised relationships of mutual acquaintance or recognition.” In other words; the collective notional-capacity of any community (whether a family, village, city, company, peer group or country) is linked to the number of connections between the individuals (actors) within that group. It is clear, though, that simply having connections is not enough. The ‘quality’ of those connections is of critical importance. Nicholson and Hoye took example from Nahapiet & Ghoshal (1998:244) who identified that the relational dimension of social capital refers to the “personal relationships that people have developed with each other through a history of interactions”. In this sense, they argue “..trust and trustworthiness, norms and sanctions, obligations and expectations, and identity and identification are considered key factors”. They conclude by introducing a cognitive dimension to social capital (King, 2004:473) which consists of the “shared meaning and common values” in a community as well as “collective goals and a shared vision among community or network members”.
As a species, we have the unusual paradox of being both highly individualistic, yet- in essence- social. We exist in what Peter Corning (and other biologists) describes as a “collective survival exercise.” This view however, berates what human-culture has achieved. While at a very primal level we do certainly work as a collective to satisfy our basic needs for food, shelter, reproduction and safety; the real strength of our culture lies in what-happens once these needs are met. As ‘social capital’ develops, humans become increasingly able to perform feats way beyond the biological and cognitive limitations of the individual; we are the only species who have not only viewed the earth from another celestial body, but have the power to destroy it.
Such capacity requires the level of co-operation and mutuality which can only exist when society has a high level of cognitive bonding and bridging. For thousands of years, sport has existed (some argue alongside religion) as the pre-eminent medium through which such bonding takes place, and in contemporary culture- football (soccer) has become the pre-eminent sport of the world with two hundred and seventy million people (around four percent of the world’s population) actively involved in the game of football, and perhaps many magnitudes more in number who enjoy it as spectators.
In these exclusive interviews, we talk to five of the world’s most successful international footballers: Giorgio Chiellini, Louis Saha, Philip Neville, Leighton Baines and Hope Solo along with Jürgen Griesbeck (Founder, Street Football World). We discuss life as a footballer, how the game has grown to become the world’s most prominent sport, and the role it plays in society and culture. We also investigate the impact of wealth in the game and how football is changing the world through philanthropy and outreach.
Giorgio Chiellini is an Italian professional footballer who plays as a defender for Serie A club Juventus and formerly the Italian national team. A physically strong, aggressive, and versatile defender, although he is usually deployed as a centre-back, he is also capable of playing as a left-back, both in a three or four-man defence.
At club level, Chiellini began his career with Livorno in 2000, also later playing for Roma and Fiorentina, before moving to Juventus in 2005. With Juventus, he has won six consecutive Serie A titles from 2012 to 2017, as well as three consecutive Coppa Italia titles, and three Supercoppa Italiana titles. He made his international debut for Italy in 2004, and earned a total of 96 caps until his international retirement in 2017, making him currently Italy’s eighth-highest appearance holder. He was selected in the nation’s squads for the 2004 Olympics, winning a bronze medal, as well as for three UEFA European Championships, two FIFA World Cups and two FIFA Confederations Cups, helping the Azzurri to reach the final of UEFA Euro 2012 and a third-place finish at the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Chiellini is considered to be one of the footballing world’s top defenders: in 2012, The Guardian named him the 50th Best Player in the World, and in 2013 he was ranked as the seventh-best footballer playing in Europe by Bloomberg.
Louis Saha is a French former professional footballer. Saha was capped 20 times for the French national team and scored four goals. A former scholar at the Clairefontaine football academy, he started his career at Metz before playing on loan at Newcastle United. Before the start of the 2000–01 season, Saha moved to Fulham where he established himself as first-choice striker, helping them to gain promotion to the Premier League in his first season with them.
His performances gained attraction from Manchester United, who eventually secured his signing for around £12.4 million midway through the 2003–04 season. Injuries plagued his Old Trafford career, however he did enjoy success with twice winning the Premier League, the 2007–08 UEFA Champions League and also scored six times en route to victory in the League Cup, including one goal in the final. Despite Saha’s injury woes, United star Wayne Rooney has stated that Saha is his favourite player who he’s played with.
After four and a half years at United, Everton took him to Goodison Park, where he opened the scoring in the 2009 FA Cup Final after 25 seconds, setting the record for the fastest goal scored in FA Cup Final history. He moved to Tottenham Hotspur on a free transfer in the 2012 January transfer window. Saha made his France debut in 2004 in a 2–0 victory over Belgium. He represented France at UEFA Euro 2004 and the 2006 FIFA World Cup, at which they reached the final.
Saha became first marquee player for the IMG-Reliance League, to be played in India in 2014
Philip Neville is an English football coach and former player who is currently the head coach of the England women’s team, as well as working as a football pundit for Sky Sports and Premier League Productions. He is also the co-owner of Salford City along with several of his former Manchester United teammates.
After 10 years as a professional with Manchester United, during which time he won six Premier League titles, three FA Cups, three FA Charity Shields, the Intercontinental Cup and the Champions League, he joined Everton in 2005, where he spent the final eight years of his playing career. Neville also played for England 59 times between 1996 and 2007, representing the nation at three European Championships. He could play in defence or midfield; due to this versatility, he operated in a number of different positions throughout his career, but was most often used as a full-back.
After earning his UEFA B Coaching Licence, Neville began his coaching career in 2012, filling in for Stuart Pearce with the England under-21s. When David Moyes, Neville’s manager at Everton, left to join Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson‘s replacement in May 2013, Neville was considered for the Everton job, but he ultimately followed Moyes to Manchester United as the club’s first-team coach. Neville retained his position under interim manager Ryan Giggs after Moyes was sacked in April 2014, but left the club when Louis van Gaal took over in July 2014.
Neville is the younger brother of fellow former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, and the twin brother of England netball international Tracey Neville. His father, Neville Neville, was commercial director of Bury.
Baines started his career with Wigan Athletic, and was part of the team that won the Second Division in the 2002–03 season and was a runner-up in the 2004–05 Championship and the 2006 League Cup Final. He joined Everton in 2007, helping them reach the 2009 FA Cup Final. He has played for England at under-21 and senior levels. Baines was included in the England squads at UEFA Euro 2012 and the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Hope Amelia Solo is an American soccer goalkeeper, two-time Olympic gold medallist, and World Cup champion. She was the goalkeeper for the United States women’s national soccer team from 2000 through August 2016. After playing at the collegiate level for the University of Washington, she played professionally for the Philadelphia Charge in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA). When the WUSA folded after her first season, she traveled to Europe to play for the top division leagues in Sweden and France. From 2009 to 2011, she played in the Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS) for Saint Louis Athletica, Atlanta Beat and magicJack. After the WPS ceased operations in early 2012, she played for the Seattle Sounders in the W-League. She most recently played for Seattle Reign FC in the National Women’s Soccer League, the top division of women’s soccer in the United States.
Solo is regarded as one of the top female goalkeepers in the world and currently holds the U.S. record for most career clean sheets. She was the starting goalkeeper for the majority of the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup and helped lead the U.S. national team to the semifinals having given up only two goals in four games, including three consecutive shutouts. After a controversial move made by head coach Greg Ryan to bench Solo in favor of veteran goalkeeper Briana Scurry for the semifinal, in which the United States was defeated 4–0 by Brazil, Solo made headlines with post-game remarks that resulted in many teammates shunning her. She later rebounded to help the United States win gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Summer Olympics. During the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, her exceptional skill was highlighted especially during a quarter-final match against Brazil, which the U.S. won on penalty kicks. Although the team lost to Japan in a match that ended in penalties, Solo received the Golden Gloveaward for best goalkeeper as well as the Bronze Ball award for her overall performance at the tournament.
Following her performance at the 2011 World Cup, Solo participated in the television show Dancing with the Stars and posed for various magazines, most notably the “Body Issue” of ESPN The Magazine. After the 2012 London Olympics, where she received her second Olympic gold medal, she published her best-selling autobiography Solo: A Memoir of Hope.
As the starting goalkeeper at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup,Solo helped the U.S. win the national team’s third World Cup championship since 1991.The final was e most-watched televised soccer game ever in the United States.
As of August 6, 2016, Solo holds several U.S. goalkeeper records including appearances (202), starts (190), wins (153), shutouts (102), wins in a season (26), consecutive minutes played (1,256), and longest undefeated streak (55 games).
Jurgen Griesbeck believes in using the power of football for positive social change and that only as a team can we address the most pressing challenges. He founded Street Football World (www.streetfootballworld.org) in 2002. At the heart of everything, streetfootballworld is a global network, consisting of almost 100 community-based organizations in more than 50 countries worldwide which use soccer to tackle issues ranging from HIV/AIDS education and gender equality to homelessness, gang violence and landmines. The network members are local organizations run by local people.
Q: What does football mean to you?
[Giorgio Chiellini] Per me il calcio è la mia vita, vivo ogni giorno con passione e voglia di migliorarmi. La bellezza di questo sport sta nella condivisione con i compagni di squadra di sacrifici quotidiani che servono per raggiungere i propri obiettivi
Translation: Football is my life, and I live it every day with the same passion and determination to constantly improve. What I love about this sport is that it gives you the opportunity to share with your teammates the daily sacrifices to reach your goals.
[Louis Saha] Football means a lot to me. It has a lot of power to change things in life, not just my life, but in wider society. Football brings everyone together, it brings smiles to people’s faces, it brings races together and more.
Football is a symbol that means that everyone can- at the same time, compete and live together.
[Philip Neville] Football is almost a religion to me. From the day that I was born, my father was obsessed with football, sport and Manchester United. When you’re born, your parents instil a lot of their values and loves into you! Saturday at 3pm was always boy’s time, it was the time we went to the football and nothing interrupted that. It was the biggest moment of the week. If we won, it would make our week, if we lost, it would spoil our week- it was that important to my father, to me, to my brother and my whole family.
Football has given me the opportunity to travel the world, to grow as a person. Off the field, I’ve learned so much about myself, and my personality. I’ve come out of my shell, become more confident- and have learned to handle situations that made me uncomfortable, and were well outside my comfort zone. Even from an early age, just 10 or 12, I was going away from home for pretty long periods of time to play football; and that was tough! These experiences have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.
[Leighton Baines] Like everything, our relationship with a sport evolves over time. I started playing football pretty much when I could walk.
Football gives me a real sense of purpose, it’s the only thing I’ve ever really known or tried to do in a committed way.
Growing up, it was normal to go off for hours and just play football with anyone that was around! We’d start with 3, and maybe sometimes end up with 20-30 people playing together in a park, sometimes passers-by would even join in.
When I got into the sport, as a professional- things changed. I had to start to play it [the sport] down to cope. I was a nervous kid, an anxious kid- when I got to 9, 10 and 11 all my friends were in teams. I couldn’t do it, I was too anxious! I didn’t recognise it as anxiety at the time. My mum would drive me to practice, and we’d park up because the manager had said I could join. I’d sit in the car and cry, and wanted my mum to take me home. I felt like I couldn’t do it! There was people there I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure of myself, and that has stayed with me.
Recently, I’ve allowed myself to acknowledge what football means to me. When I started playing, I had to have a detachment from the sport- that’s how I was able to cope. It meant that when we had a bad game, I could move on from it, and cope with the other things that come with being a footballer. It’s only been in the past few years, that I’ve been able to develop coping mechanisms, and allow things to flow naturally- and that’s come with perspective, having a family and getting older.
Football has also meant that I’ve been able to do something that’s made my parent’s proud of me, and that’s better than anything I’ll ever do. Even now, with my kids… having people that love you, and making them proud? That’s just the best thing ever.
I found sometimes that when you’re put up on a pedestal for things like awards, I just wanted to get things over with as soon as possible, and get away! The reaction you then get from the people you care about, and who care about you – that’s the real reward, it’s better than being on stage. Even when someone says, ‘we’re awarding you this…’ the real reward is getting back to the people who care about you and seeing what it gives them!
[Hope Solo] Soccer has always equalled greatness to me. I was lucky enough to find what I was great at at a young age, and I harbored a deep desire to keep getting better at it, to keep practicing, and to keep learning every nuance of the game and the position. I continually challenged myself to reach new levels of successes, to make the roster for better teams. Being great at something helped me to instill self confidence. Being great, also gave me a voice. As I look at the game now, and what I have gained through my successes and failures, I now see soccer as a way to break down barriers. I see an opportunity to use my own voice to be an agent of change as well as the opportunity to use a collective voice in order to break down the ever present barriers in front of us. A team can be powerful, but we cannot fall into group thinking. Through my soccer experiences, I have grasped onto and accepted change. I have seen, and experienced, the resistance to change, and I realize that there will always be these walls of resistance. But I have become more independent through my travels and through my successes and these experiences have given me the courage to take a different path. Soccer has given me the ability to speak and be heard, and to be a great agent of change in the world.
Q: How does football bring people together?
[Giorgio Chiellini] Noi giocatori abbiamo una grande responsabilità soprattutto verso i ragazzi più giovani perché per loro siamo degli idoli ed abbiamo il potere ed il dovere di far passare i principi e gli ideali corretti dello sport e della vita
Translation: As a footballer, I feel we have a great responsibility towards the youngsters: we are their idols, their role models, so we have both the power and the duty to set an example of the positive values to follow in sport and in life.
Q: Why has football become so popular?
[Louis Saha] Football is a simple game! You take a small round thing; a rock or whatever, and you can play football! Everyone can have a go… It’s easy to play, it’s easy to bring people together and have a game and enjoy it, much more so than other sports.
It’s very difficult to be a professional footballer, but the beauty of the game is that everyone has a go, and aims to be one! In other sports such as Formula 1 for example, the sport is very inaccessible for people who want to reach the top.
[Philip Neville] Football is tribalism. It’s something different from your family, from work, from your hobby. This is a religion; it’s your tribe that you fight for. You become attached to your tribe, and this attachment is passed down through generations. It’s not like you’re born one day and think, ‘hey, I’ll support Man Utd or Liverpool,’ this is passed down!
Manchester United has been passed down through my own family, through my dad and granddad. I worked in Liverpool for 8 years, and it’s even more tribal there. Houses and families are split through football!
The joy, the happiness, the disappointment that comes with football is exhilarating for players, families, spectators and more.
You have your family life, your work life, and football is separate to that. Football is a second life! I’ve seen accountants, lawyers, heads of state who- when they go to watch football- become different animals! That’s what makes the game so special.
If you saw someone at a football game watching their team, I get the feeling that what you see is their true character! This may sound deep, but when I go and watch a football game- when I’m not working- you really do express your true characteristics through how you feel and act. It’s a brilliant barometer of your own character!
I’m fortunate enough to own a hotel right next to Old Trafford, and when I took my father up to the top floor to see the ground, he got emotional. It was my father’s dream for his sons to own something so close to the club. He was a man who cancelled his own wedding because he thought a match was on a Saturday, so he arranged his wedding for Sunday. The game got moved to Sunday, and so he cancelled his wedding because United were playing at home! That’s how patriotic he was to the club.
My granddad took my dad to the games, and they always called at the same chippy at the top of Sir Matt Busby Way. When my dad took me, that was his dream- to take me to the same chip-shop before the game. When I take my son, I want to take him to the chip shop too! These are the things that get passed through the generations.
[Leighton Baines] Football is so inclusive, and that means it has the power to bring people together. Once you start playing, you get really engaged with it. Some people enjoy writing and drawing, and some people enjoy football- they see it as their creativity, the place they can express themselves in a way they can’t in normal day-to-day life.
Our daily lives can get so frustrating, and football- whether it’s playing or watching- gives a real channel for release, and a chance to explore who you are.
[Hope Solo] I think soccer is so popular because of it’s rich history and because of it’s beauty in its simplicity. We move a ball around with our feet. It seems simple, but yet seeing 11 players move together with purpose, the purposeful angles, the runs being made 3 passes before receiving the ball, the deliberate team shape, and the constant flow of the ball moved with skilled passes and pace makes it anything but simple. Yet the beauty is in its simplicity- moving the ball through 11 players up the field to find the goal. I think this is why soccer took so long to finally gain popularity in America. When the MLS first entered the sport scene, Americans, (arrogantly), actually tried to change the rules of an already loved and successful sport with rich history around the world. I found it shocking, disrespectful and a bit typical. Those American rules didn’t last long. Our lack of history put the players and coaches decades behind understanding and reading the game. Instead of 11 players flowing together, finding angles and making runs before the actual final pass to goal, American players had a tendency to want to cut right to the chase, to find the goal as quickly and directly as possible. In fact, thats what American fans wanted as well. Goals. We as a nation do not play such prehistoric football anymore. We have attracted many world class international players, and we have programs, and clubs that now invest in the youth game. It is the fastest growing sport in America, and the most popular sport in the middle-younger age groups. Soccer in America is here to stay and will continue to grow to what I believe will one day become a top nation on the mens side, in the MLS and NWSL, and of course the women’s national team is already a top team in the world with three World Cup titles.
Q: What is the role of the football player?
[Louis Saha] A footballer is a symbol of competitiveness, the willing, the desire for success. They are a symbol that you have to have to work hard to make your dreams come true!
Footballers are role models, you have the chance to live a very high-profile life, and have the responsibility to conduct yourself well- and give people things from your life, that they may want to copy into their own.
As a player, you also bring emotion and entertainment to families. We create conversation!
[Philip Neville] As a footballer, you’re an entertainer, a sportsman, a physical athlete and sometimes an actor. Sometimes, after games you have to do interviews, and- to be honest, you can’t always tell the truth! You can’t say, “you know what, we played absolutely terrible today, the team was rubbish! You have to act! You have to say, “the team is improving, we’re having a difficult moment, but we’re moving forward and improving”. A footballer has to be a multitude of characters!
If you analyse footballers and football, it’s fascinating. The mental, technical, tactical and physical characteristics mean you have to be very intelligent to be a footballer.
[Hope Solo] I believe that my role as a soccer player is to win. To compete at all times. To play with heart. To give my country, my family and myself my determination and my dedication to winning. To be mentally strong and clear in my vision. I believe the best players are also tactically, and the technically skilled as much as physically skilled. Not all sports embrace the need for all these qualities.
I hate the word “role model”. It is used very loosely. I believe that there are many different types of role models in the world. People that we can learn from, people who have different views. A lot of parents use the word these days for players who are predictable, safe and even boring. I believe that people who have the most to offer the world have an incredible ability to endure, and when the sacrifice and challenge one overcomes is great, the gain in the end gives greater power, and a greater inspiration. Challenge provides the opportunity for greatness, and I fear the “role model’ who has never done wrong in life. I pride myself in being a role model, but that does not mean that I am boring or haven’t made mistakes, I am far from perfect.
Q: What is the role of the spectator?
[Louis Saha] The spectator means everything. I am a bad loser… and losing to me feels like I’m letting down the fans. No footballer wants to be talking to the local fans, and having banter when they lose. Nobody likes to be a target! I always have a lot of respect for the fans, and that’s part of my motivation.
Since finishing my career, I’ve been lucky enough to go to places all around the world to meet people who are fans of football. I’ve been to Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and more to meet fans.
Today, you could say that I’m wealthy, and I can give a good education to my family, and live a good life. That’s because of the fans, I owe them a lot.
[Philip Neville] I was quite fortunate in my career. I grew up a Manchester United supporter, and for the 14 years I stood on the terraces, I watched and lived every single game. When I became full-time at Manchester United, I went out to play, but I knew what the supporters wanted. I knew what I wanted to see from my team, from having gone every single Saturday growing up. Some people say they only want to see their team win, but you know what? I didn’t want that. I wanted to see us win, but I wanted to be entertained! I wanted to see a team that gives their all, putting their hearts, soul and bodies on the line. If we won 1-0 I wouldn’t go home happy just because of the score, I wanted to see other things!
Supporters want to be entertained, and the result is a bi-product of everything else they demand. They want to be entertained, have comfort, be able to purchase food and drink! They expect their parking space to be within walking distance of the stadium, they expect music to be playing when they get to the stadium, they want to have a nice atmosphere, they want a smooth entry into the stadium and have good food to eat. We’ve started becoming more like an American sport in many ways. It’s not just 90 minutes anymore, people want 5-6 hours of entertainment.
In the past 5 years, expectation levels have risen enormously. 50-60 years ago, everybody could afford to watch football… it was a 90 minute experience. You’d go to the game, pay your money, watch the game and go home. Now, things are different. Tickets are expensive, players are paid a lot of money and there is a lot of money in the game, this has raised expectation levels significantly, and pressure rises.
When supporters go to the game now, they want, demand and expect more. This adds pressure not just to the player, but also to the club. The club has to produce entertainment, food, drink, car-parks etc. and players have to perform to a better and higher level each time they go out on the pitch.
Supporters are paying a lot more money now for tickets, programmes, for children’s tickets, food and more. It’s perhaps becoming an upper-class sport, not a working-class sport like it used to be; and so the spectator is more demanding.
[Leighton Baines] There’s a real danger that football and footballers are growing away from the fans.
Social media is a great tool to engage. Players go on social media, and it’s a fantastic way to get closer to fans.
If you turn up to a game, and there’s hardly anyone there- especially when you’ve got used to playing in front of big crowds- it can be difficult! You’re still playing for the same team, and with the same people, but the crowd gives you energy. If you were playing in front of an empty stadium it would be soul destroying… Don’t get me wrong, I still love going and having a kick-about in the park, but you don’t get the same energy from that.
Some people get really pumped-up, some get anxious, but we all draw energy from the crowd. It puts you in a totally different place… you’re a different person.
It’s fascinating seeing how people react to the game in different ways.. there are some people who love being centre stage. Even after a bad game they don’t mind, they just love being talked about!
I grew up as a shy kid, but that inner show-off was in there somewhere. Even if it was buried deep inside, it was there- and when I come out in front of a crowd, I love to perform. For some people this is their whole being, always- but for others, like me- it’s something that comes out on the field.
Q: What is the role of the manager and coach?
[Philip Neville] If you think about the characteristics of a footballer, you’ll find the characteristics of a manager are even greater. They have to have football knowledge, be tactically aware, have the knowledge to prepare your team, and also be a psychologist. You’re not just looking after the players, but a whole organisation! At Valencia, we have over 1,000 employees, and you are the leader of those employees. There is a President, there are Directors, but you- as manager- are the figurehead that people look to for guidance and leadership.
A few days ago, my father got ill and passed away. The club’s manager had to be my father figure for a week or more, he was my psychologist and had to make sure I was OK. He has to do that for 150 employees at the training ground, being their boss, their mentor, their psychologist, their father figure.
The skills required for a coach and manager are far greater than people imagine.
Q: What drives a football player?
[Louis Saha] I can only speak for myself, though I know many of my friends would agree…. I’m a bad loser, I used to train really hard because I don’t want to get beaten, I don’t to look stupid, I don’t like the bad banter. I am a very proud man, and enjoy the challenge of competition.
This brings pressure… When you play in front of a big audience, the pressure is multiplied…. You don’t want to be on the losing side!
The most amazing thing is that you get paid to do this! There is hype, but there is a reward… and this is something you can enjoy yourself, share with your family and more. If you have the chance to go all the way as a professional, you get the excitement of press, the excitement of popularity – and it gives you a massive boost of adrenaline for life; which is good, but does mean you have to have a clear head on your shoulders.
[Hope Solo] My drive has always come from the desire to be the best and my hate for losing. My drive now is also cultivating change and breaking down barriers which exist at every turn.
The biggest challenges faced by soccer players are a number of things, lack of privacy, burnout, physical health, etc. But being a female professional athlete poses a number of different challenges. The male dominated sports world want women athletes to remain in a box, to be appreciative of the opportunities we are given, to be quiet and predictable, and to look good doing it. Women are sometimes even our own worst enemies, not realizing our own worth and therefor making it even harder to push for change when we accept lesser treatment and lack of equality. Women have a tendency to settle for less, not just in the sports world but in all work environments. I have seen FIFA, the media, and commentators laugh at the prospect that international female footballers could collectively ask for equal treatment. At first glance, it seems absurd woman footballers want as much money as the men, whose play is faster, whose teams fill stadiums week after week, and who bring in more money, but equal salaries are not what we are fighting for. The challenges we face cover many more areas than salary. Playing the World Cup on turf for instance, was gender inequality and had the case been brought to court, we would almost surely have won. The court date was not going to be held prior to the start of our world cup so we went forward without the distraction of a discrimination case against FIFA. We had incredible viewership on Fox this past summer, yet we received little from FIFA, the fields were absolutely awful, the hotels were lackluster and many times, I felt as though I was at a youth tournament. It was is incredibly sad to go back in time after coming so far in the women’s game. The 2011 Women’s World Cup in Germany was top notch, and I wanted all of my younger teammates to feel the energy and the specialness of such a prestigious tournament that only takes place once every four years. Besides winning the tournament, CSA and FIFA, did not make the players feel as though the 2015 Women’s World Cup was an incredible, perhaps once in a lifetime event. I truly was saddened for my teammates who had never known what a World Cup Prestigious tournament should feel like. But we are World Cup Chammps, and that feels incredible. I was fortunate enough to play in the 2007 World Cup in China, the 2011 WC in Germany, and most recently, the 2015 WC in Canada.
Q: How do media and the internet impact football?
[Hope Solo] Media, social media, and the internet has given fans access to players. The more players become accessible to the fans, the more committed or even the more hateful fans become. Let’s call it passion. We all like to say that we respect individuals differences but with social media, you can see how divided people are.
I think that the media creates too many side stories and makes the fan viewing experience less about the game itself. It becomes somewhat like a reality show. It’s a double edged sword. More fans are tuned in and invested because of the storylines, and the drama. We gain fans and viewership, but watching for the drama takes away from the purity of the sport.
I also think that the media should be held to a higher standard. Most outlets are mere tabloids. Players are looking for their own constant attention by the 24 /7 coverage. I have seen it divide teammates. I have seen players more focused on the outside attention then on the game. It is often lost upon young players that success first must be earned on the field. This new culture has changed the team environment and has shifted it to players constantly thinking about how to individual market oneself and self promote through social media. Players go straight to their phones post game to see what fans have to say about their performance, no longer conversing with teammates, and enjoying a win or a loss together as much. This shift in culture has changed the team dynamic, and I fear that team sports will never have the same camaraderie and closeness they once did without all the distractions and desire/need to self promote.
Q: What are the greatest challenges faced by footballers?
[Louis Saha] The fame, money and pressure is not easy to manage- and nor is disappointment. The pressure of the game can also create family problems.
Don’t get me wrong, being a footballer is not a bad life, and often these are not bad problems to have, but it’s not easy…
You don’t live a normal life. Nobody can advise you about what to do, as very few people have experienced it. There’s pressure, criticism, a lot of visibility…. And it’s not just money and putting food on the table!
[Philip Neville] From the year I came into football, to the year I left, it’s like night and day. The weight of added pressures and expectations now is huge, I call it ‘the side show.’ You have social-media, written-media, television, sponsors, agents, family pressures and more. You have to deal with all of this before you go out onto the grass and do the thing that’s second nature to you.
Playing football is the easy bit! It’s the surrounding side-show that confuses, complicates and adds pressure. It’s now a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week, 365 day a year sport- news channels want content instantly and constantly.
Football has come on so-much, but with expectation levels rising, the pressure is rising too and this is only going to get worse in years to come.
[Leighton Baines] The challenges of football are different for each player. Some people’s bodies aren’t able to cope as well as others, some aren’t able to cope with pressure as well as others, it really varies.
For me, becoming comfortable with myself in the environment I was in was a big challenge. I was lucky because I started at the bottom and didn’t miss any steps out on the ladder. Some young lads now come straight in at the top of the game, they come from youth team to first team! Through the media, we have a tendency to put a lot of pressure on what are basically 17, 18 year old lads! That didn’t happen to me, and at each step of my journey I got better prepared.
I’ve always found a way to cope with things, but that would have been a big challenge for me- to cope in right at the top. I went from league one to championship to premier league, but the difficult thing would have been to have that pressure straight away.
In truth, the journey is taken out of your hands now. Life moves so fast- with the internet, social media and things like that, it’s really difficult to take a step back and allow yourself the chance to grow as a person, into your role.
As a society, we seem to have lost that desire to savour things, people just want to get things as fast as they can, consume them, and move onto the next thing. That’s driven by the instant access we have to media, and how the PR machine works exploiting that. I still enjoy little things- music and film. I sometimes really enjoy knowing an album is coming out that I really want, and not having the time to go and buy it. I refrain from clicking the download button! I like depriving myself a little bit, taking my time, and finding the space to enjoy the music, really taking it in! We’re all different, but I do think society isn’t built in a way that allows people to take things at their own speed any more, and that worries me.
Sometimes I really questions things, perhaps too much. I remember there were occasions where after a really big win, instead of being on a high, I had a shallow, hollow feeling the day after and I didn’t know why. Football is of real visceral highs and lows, and I went through a real period of feeling down… questioning everything. The day after what should have been a good win, I started to feel really down, questioning what that win really meant. It was strange, and I still haven’t figured it out… I take satisfaction now from knowing how happy football makes the people coming to watch, some people make it the centre of their lives, and the game means so much to them and that means a lot to me. As a footballer, you’re making other people happy with what you do, and that gives you an immense sense of satisfaction.
It’s important to find an outlet. I find sometimes.. just writing-things down- even if it becomes messy and jumbled-up, is a real release. The act of sitting down and just getting things out is a really good thing to do.
[Hope Solo] One of the greatest challenges we face is remaining focused on the beauty of the game, not the made for tv stories, the dramatics and who has the biggest following on social media. Players have less privacy and both willingly and reluctantly engage in social media, but ultimately there are some athletes who want to play because the game is what they are great at, because the sport is their passion. They don’t want the extra invasion of privacy, the extra attention, these are the players I fear for, who quite frankly could be stripped of their love of the game and their love for the purity of the sport.
Q: What has been the impact of wealth on football?
[Giorgio Chiellini] Il calcio muove tanta ricchezza nel mondo, grazie alla passione dei tifosi. Non è facile per i giovani mantenere un equilibrio ed anche per le loro famiglie non farsi condizionare da soldi facili ma anche qui noi giocatori più importanti abbiamo il dovere di trasmettere i giusti valori
Translation: Football attracts lots of investments all over the world, thanks to the passion of its fans. For young players and their families it’s not easy to keep the right balance, to deal with the prospect of making a lot of money very quickly without being conditioned. That’s where we, as professional players, have to embody the right values.
[Louis Saha] Wealth has disrupted football, but I’m not going to be the one to say it’s wrong! If you have money inside football, it’s because it’s a huge business… it’s massive. I don’t think people realise the scale.
You often hear arguments about player salaries or transfer fees, but it’s because people are watching, and so there’s a value – we can’t control that.
People talk more about the money in football because it’s part of the attraction of the game. Take another highly paid industry, such as pharmaceuticals, where people make huge money- and not even ethically sometimes- and people don’t care! The money in football is always part of people’s conversations.
The pharmaceuticals business can be horrible, there are so many things they do unethically, often killing people. You know what? People don’t care… it’s business. However, there is so much judgement against footballers, and the industry.
There are plenty of unethical businesses making huge money, but people rarely talk about them in the same way as they complain about the money in football!
[Philip Neville] From a footballer’s point of view, it’s been really positive. There’s a lot more wealth in the game. Footballer’s get paid a lot of money, but if you compare them to baseball players, basket ballers, golfers and motor racing drivers, they don’t actually get paid as much as these other sports.
Football started out as a working-class sport, it was affordable and accessible, anyone could go and watch it; but the game has perhaps now outgrown these working-class origins because of the cost. Working class people find it a real struggle now to go and watch football… and that’s added more pressure.
Money creates jealousy, and problems that footballers have to put up with. Footballers have a responsibility to make sure that they retain the values that have made football so special, and that means retaining the working-class values on which the sport was built. 98-99% of footballers come from working-class families. When I was made it as a footballer, I was paid an astronomical amount of money by the club and sponsors, but I was taught at a very early age by my father, coach and manager that you cannot forget where you come from and what your true values are; you have to keep your feet on the ground, and that’s a real challenge. You have to focus on the fact that you are first and foremost a footballer… you have to retain the values that have got you to this level.
The players that don’t stay true to their values are the ones that fall by the wayside, and don’t make it to the successes levels they should. The ones who surpass their expectations are the ones who retain the values that have been passed on by their working-class parents.
The biggest problem in football is not during your career, but what happens when you retire. When footballer get to the age of 30-32, and have made good money- they look forward to the end, and think they’ll take a couple of years out. If you get to the end of their career without preparing for it? That’s when the problems start. There’s only so many holidays you can go on! All of a sudden, the money isn’t coming in, but it’s going out- and that’s a pressure. Families, wives, kids, mothers and fathers have come to expect a certain lifestyle, and that’s a pressure too… All of a sudden, many footballers decide they want to coach- but here’s the thing, it can take 5-7 years to qualify as a coach, and so if you add that to the end of your career- you’ve now spent 7 years without earning, whilst still having outgoing.
4 years before the end of my own career, I realised that I had an option. I wanted to be a manager or coach, and take my coaching badges, but I also wanted to create other path-ways, just in case that didn’t work out or I didn’t fancy it. I started doing media-training, and doing presenting and interviews, and created a second avenue.
When you get to 30-32 in the game, people often ask if you’re taking your coaching badges, and at that stage it’s easy to put it off to next year or the year after- but actually, if you put it off, it’s too late.
When I become a manager, the first thing I’m going to do is put in place a structure so that as soon as a child leaves school to become a manager, he starts his coaching badges. It’s a 7 year process, and I’m going to make it mandatory that every young-footballer takes his Level C, Level B coaching badges within the first two years. Also, I’m going to make it mandatory that they continue studying, get media training, and get a broad-education- not everyone will make it as a footballer, and it’s important to have this broad-spectrum of qualities in and out of the game. Every club at the top levels have a responsibility to help their young professionals achieve.
[Leighton Baines] We’re at a real cross-roads in football. There’s a new TV deal coming into the game, and clubs are already spending the money. Someone has to step-in and put some guidelines into the game. The financial fair-play guidelines that were introduced a few years ago are vague, unclear and difficult to apply.
People are concerned about football growing away from it’s fans, and I get the feeling we’re not too far away from that point.
SKY and BT are battling it out for TV rights, and I doubt it’s long before they insist on pay-per-view matches, so people have to pay to watch every match on-top of their TV subscriptions! This would be a huge shame.
I’m sometimes conflicted. It’s true that people can still earn really good money without it getting silly, but then you see that Floyd Mayweather earns more in one fight than Lionel Messi may earn in a few years! There’s a case for wage-caps in football, but then look at someone like Messi who plays every single week, arguably to a bigger audience than boxing, but earns a fraction of someone at the top of that sport- that’s a bit of an imbalance. It’s perhaps because football is so popular that people concern themselves with earnings in the sport, but in truth- sportsmen around the world, particularly in the USA are earning far more than footballers.
Sometimes people ask whether money motivates footballers…. If I hadn’t made it as a professional footballer, I’d still be playing every Tuesday night with my friends at a soccer-dome or wherever. If being a professional footballer had paid £500 a week, I would have done it and never once complained about the money. It’s a consequence of where I’ve got to, that money has come along. In my career, I’ve never made a decision based on money- there’s been plenty of opportunities where more-money has come along with better options, but I’ve never made a decision based on that. I negotiate my own contracts to get the best deal for me and my family, I don’t use an agent to drive things for me. I always realise the fortunate position I’m in. If there was a job that paid me £5000 a week, and football paid £500 a week, I’d still pick football in a heartbeat, because it’s my passion.
I recognised not long ago, that I felt a tremendous guilt about the money in football. I felt so guilty about how much I was earning- and only recognised this recently. I started to try and do things away from football, in my area, to do things to improve the community. I really questioned my motivation for why I wanted to do more in the community, and with young people- and of course there’s empathy, but I know there was a lot of guilt about money and the position I was in. Realising this was a real moment of clarity… and was a big motivator for me to do more in the community.
[Hope Solo] Wealth to me means growth. The type of wealth in European clubs doesn’t exist in most club teams in America. I think there is a fine balance with building the game and losing what first made the world fall in love with it. It has always been a game for all classes. For the working class especially. It is like this in America, where Europe once began. I don’t think anybody wants to see soccer becoming an upper class sport, because then it will alienate many football purists.
Q: How does the media impact footballers?
[Louis Saha] Whilst footballers certainly lose privacy, the media brings a lot of attention and exposure; and sponsors are willing to pay for that.
You could have money, exposure, good content – and it’s not a problem. People often divert around this, and rip-off players and the business of football, focussing on the wrong things.
The press often talks about things that are not relevant, and often don’t even want to know about. That’s their drive, that’s what they do – they don’t talk about the amount of charity work players do, the amount of good work they do in the community. The press and club management focus on the wrong things….
Twitter and social networks have brought fans closer to the player, it can be a bit excessive sometimes, but it also gives footballers the chance to show the inside of the game.
People who try to change things and want to change opinions are often not allowed to do it because of the pressures of press and management.
Q: How does philanthropy relate to the footballer’s career?
[Giorgio Chiellini] I club hanno gli stessi obblighi morali di noi calciatori ma devo ammettere di essere fortunato perché vivo una realtà che trasmette quotidianamente i giusti ideali e che è molto presente nell’aiutare chi ha più bisogno
Translation: Clubs have the same moral duties as we players. I have to say I feel very lucky in this respect, because mine is very often involved in charity initiatives and tries to share the right values even in everyday activities.
[Louis Saha] I created an organisation called AxisStars to make sure the good stuff that should be publicised and recommended is done! I rarely had the opportunity to speak to my own team-mates to get their advice on how they’ve tackled problems, or achieved things. We have been given a role as a result of our passion, we can change communities, and footballers need to work together, speaking to each other, to see how we can make these changes. The only people that players can often talk to about these challenges are other players. Right now, when young people come into the sport – they often don’t get the advice they need to build good futures for themselves.
50% of footballers go bankrupt within 3-4years of the end of their careers. Nobody talks about this, nobody teaches them about what they should be doing. Players hit a wall, break their nose and the next one is there to fill their place. Hang on a minute! People need to be aware of this, and need to work with players to change their outcomes.
Q: What do you hope to achieve with the common goal pledge?
[Giorgio Chiellini] Ho scelto di partecipare a questa iniziativa perché ho visto una grande occasione per fare del bene riunendo persone di grande valore nel calcio a livello internazionale. Spero di aiutare Juan e tutto il gruppo a crescere ed a portare tramite il calcio la felicità per chi è meno fortunato di noi
Translation: I decided to join this campaign because I consider it a great opportunity to do something good by bringing international football professionals at the highest level together. I hope to help Juan and the rest of the team to grow, and thus to be able to bring happiness to the less fortunate through football.
Q: Can football change communities?
[Louis Saha] There are amazing charities and sports foundations which take football into the community. It’s very powerful.
Sometimes players are scared to give back, because they don’t know where the money goes. They need mentoring and advice to make sure they do it properly, and transparently. We need the right people in every department to make sure that players are handling their giving well, and that’s my aim.
I used to be in a bubble, I was paranoid about people I met, I didn’t know what they wanted.
[Philip Neville] Football is the most powerful tool to spread life-messages throughout the world. It gets a bad name sometimes, but it does a really good job.
In England, we’ve worked really hard on racism. We’ll never fix it, but we’re spreading positive messages in schools, at grass-roots level, right up to the top. We are making people aware of bullying, discrimination and footballers and their clubs do a lot in the community combatting social problems.
The amount of money pumped into football means it’s a necessity that we must grow the community aspect of clubs, spreading good messages and activities.
[Leighton Baines] I came from a working-class background, and having a ‘ball’ was pretty much part of growing up… I remember playing football in the hallway at home with the scoop we used to use for washing powder! It was almost round!
Football is really inclusive, but it’s also built into our society now – in schools, colleges, and more- where it’s grown to become the main sport played. The money, media and PR buzz around football has also driven it, and sells it.
Just look at boxing for example. Since SKY have bought the rights to show it, you see it everywhere- it’s put into people’s consciousness constantly. There was a real lull in boxing, and the PR machine has really brought it back around.
[Hope Solo] I have seen first hand how soccer has combat issues like racism, and aids, and cultural problems like gender inequality. Male Chauvinism is a trend in FIFA and in many nations, including America. How is the woman’s game to grow in quality when there are lack of funds, pay, fields, etc. People have started to discuss these issues and these important conversations are a catalyst for change.
Q: Why is football such a powerful development medium?
[Jürgen Griesbeck] Football is of easy access and of relevance to many people. Half of world’s population would consider themselves fans or followers. It has the quality of a universal language that allows people from all walks of life and from anywhere in the world to connect, despite all existing divides.
In the social development or social change context, football plays an enabling and catalysing role, accelerating and/or increasing impact. Community based organisations who are tackling the most pressing issues use football basically to create safe spaces for young people who are attracted by the game, open their minds and hearts, build trust and engage in processes that are aimed at tackling local issues, such as HIV/Aids prevention, land-mine risk education, gender equality, social inclusion, peace building, etc. The past 15 years now offer the evidence that it works.
Q: How can football play a role in peace-building?
[Jürgen Griesbeck] Let me answer with two concrete examples: impressed by the assassination of Andrés Escobar back in 1994 I myself initiated a project in Medellín, called Football for Peace, that was targeting young people in armed conflict (at that time we had approx. 5000 dead young people, victims of gang violence, every year just in Medellín). We introduced a number of variations to the game, such as mixed teams, no refs and explicit fair play rules, the groups themselves would agree upon before and evaluate after the game. We saw mortality due to violence drop significantly in the following years. The other example would be Israel and Palestine, where the mere fact of young Israelis and Palestinians meet to play football without sharing a language, and learn through this routine that there are people “on the other side” they can trust and share a passion as a basis to build a shared future.
Q: How can football play a role in creating innovation, economic and employment opportunity?
[Jürgen Griesbeck] Again, football is an enabling tool. Our experience of the past 20 years shows, that it’s applicable across all sorts of social issues. Once young people feel empowered and are offered pathways for their development, and all of it in a fun environment, you will be surprised about the level of talent and leadership skills that are being unlocked. Here we obviously need to connect with all sorts of partners within the broader Football for Good ecosystem. It mainly comes down to facilitate an environment for young people to strive.
Q: How can football teach leadership?
[Jürgen Griesbeck] The question here is maybe what kind of leadership? We believe that it takes a team to win a game, meaning that true leaders need to be team players and need to have a vision of well-being and service that goes far beyond the individual or a specific organisation. With the right supporting environment, football can be an incredibly powerful source and a joyful training ground when it comes to fostering these values. The challenge here is rather the global trend in leadership towards division, separatism, protectionism and me first, that is surely not providing the role models to follow. Again, football can play an important role, which is part of the reason why we started the Common Goal initiative, to develop a counter narrative to the above and have extraordinary leaders, such as Giorgio, Juan or Megan, lead by example.
Q: What is the impact of football in the world?
[Jürgen Griesbeck] The interesting thing is if we project ourselves to the future where Common Goal is a standard in the industry and giving is the new normal, we would be talking about a 300-400 million EUR fund per year which would triplicate the current investment in the field as per amount, by institutionalising it would massively add in quality as the unhealthy level of leadership capacity involved in fundraising efforts.
Q: What would be your message to the next generation?
[Louis Saha] The role of the player is to do amazing things on the field. Look at players like Cristiano Ronaldo, or Messi – they use their image well, way more than players 20 years ago.
I don’t want to see things like Instagram or Facebook disrupt the passion and drive of players. It doesn’t matter what boots or brands you wear if you don’t score more goals.
I don’t want footballers to be distracted by such things, and it happens a lot….
[Philip Neville] Don’t just make it as a footballer, make it in any area you want to!
I always revert back to the advice that made me successful in my profession. I see people with talent and no attitude. They don’t make it, they fall by the wayside. I’d rather have someone with attitude before talent. When I do talks to young people, I always make this point. I love investing time in young people – that’s what gives me energy.
It’s not talent, money and skill.. They’re not important to me. When I look for players now, I look for attitude first- do they work hard, do they apply themselves, do they have honesty, are they well-mannered? I look at the whole person.
I always put goals on a timeline. At the end of the timeline, I put what I want. We play Monaco next week, and I want us to win because it’s the Champion’s League play-off. I put that at the end of the line, and work back- what do I have to do to make sure that my team are in the best possible shape to win that game against Monaco. Everything I do is around the process, not the win. This is not just football, but anything. You could be making coffee, selling boxes, whatever… If you get the process right, the end bit looks after itself, and you’ll have the best chance you can of getting your goal.
The basics of success in any walk of life of profession are hard-work, dedication, honesty and integrity. If you can maintain these values, you have an unbelievable chance of being successful, not just in football, but in life.
[Leighton Baines] The oldest things still apply now. You need to make sacrifices and dedicate yourself. Even though I’ve been playing football for however many years, sacrifice is still important. You have to dedicate yourself to do the right things.
I remember recently, I was catching up with one of my closest friends and he was talking about how there was a period where nobody really saw me for about 18 months! That was me, making a conscious decision, to play football- at an age where people started going out, going clubbing and drinking. I did this for a few weeks, but then I realised that it wasn’t going to help me reach my goal. I had to make the sacrifice to not be out with my friends, and focus on the game- and that was hard. My friends said it was mad that at a young age, I had that commitment- but my girlfriend got pregnant when I was about 18 too- and so my whole perspective and motivation changed.
Marginal gains are important. You need to look for that extra edge on top of the competition… If you leave training, and I stay and do something- surely I will get an advantage. If you go out, and I stay home and stay healthy- surely I will be in better physical shape for it!
I would tell kids to just get out there and practice, just do it… be it. It’s a strange society we’re in now, you can interact with your friends without even seeing them. My son is 11, and I won’t let him online on his X-Box at home, so he goes to his ‘nans house and is there, on his iPad, face-timing whilst playing on his X-Box with his friends! It’s a real challenge as a parent to get kids out of the house, and get them active.
My physicality doesn’t make me a footballer, I don’t have one exceptional attribute in that sense. I tend to think my way through games, and find strategies, and that gets me by…. But the sacrifices, and lifestyle choices I’ve made has been important…. It’s enabled me to steal those marginal gains from people that mean I can survive in the premier-league and play for England.
[Hope Solo] The individuals that people remember are the individuals who pride themselves on their uniqueness, on their individuality, and who are a bit “different”. These individuals have an “it” factor, whatever their “it” factor is. In the women’s game, women are expected to be similar, have similar opinions, not ruffle any feathers, not make an impact other than on the field. My advice to the younger generations is to embrace who you are, and never sacrifice your core beliefs. There is nothing more precious in life than truth itself. Be true to who you are. Being somebody you are not is exhausting. Be liked for who you are, it will build more concrete, solid, true and meaningful relationships.
Q: What would a world be like without football?
[Giorgio Chiellini] Questo è difficile! Penso che il calcio abbia il potere di unire le persone, di avvicinarle attraverso la passione che genera. È una parte così importante della nostra vita, non solo per noi giocatori, ma per tutti i fan di tutto il mondo, che trovo difficile immaginare che non possa esistere. Ad essere onesti, sono abbastanza sicuro che in un mondo senza calcio qualcuno alla fine lo inventerà
Translation: This is a tough one! I think football has the power to unite people, to bring them closer through the passion it generates. It is so much a part of our lives, not just for us players but for all the fans worldwide, that I find it hard to imagine it could not exist. To be honest, I am pretty sure that in a world without football, someone would eventually come up and invent it…
Professor Grant Jarvie in his 2006 book ‘Sport, Culture and Society‘ describes how, “…it is impossible to fully understand contemporary society and culture without acknowledging the place of sport. We inhabit a world in which sport is an international phenomenon, it is important for politicians and world leaders to be associated with sports personalities; it contributes to the economy, some of the most visible international spectacles are associated with sporting events; it is part of the social and cultural fabric of different localities, regions and nations, its transformative potential is evident in some of the poorest areas of the world; it is important to the television and film industry, the tourist industry; and it is regularly associated with social problems and issues such as crime, health, violence, social division, labour migration, economic and social regeneration and poverty. We also live in a world in which some of the richest and poorest people identify with forms of sport in some way.” Looking at the role of sport economically he continues, “…in some ways global sport has never been more successful. The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games involved 10,300 athletes from 200 countries, attracted more than US $600 million in sponsorship and was viewed on TV by more than 3.7 billion people. Sport’s social and commercial power makes it a potentially potent force in the modern world, for good and for bad. It can be a tool of dictatorship, a symbol of democratic change, it has helped to start wars and promote international reconciliation.
Almost every government around the world commits public resources to sporting infrastructure because of sport’s perceived benefits to improving health, education, creating jobs and preventing crime. Sport matters to people. The competing notions of identity, internationalisation, national tradition and global solidarity that are contested within sport all matter far beyond the reach of sport.” In this context, it was seen that Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara himself said (of football), “It is not just a simple game, it is a weapon of the revolution.”
If we understand broadly-human culture as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterises an institution, organization or group”, it becomes acutely apparent that within this broad definition, we are to see elements such as language, art, music and sport as the vehicles through which these shared values (and in turn, shared experiences) are communicated.
The influence of each ‘element’ of human-culture on the shape of society varies, but we see that the elements which act as the greatest equalisers (insofar as those which attract the greatest level of participation from all levels of society) are the components which have the most profound impact.
As a paradigm let us consider language which, in general, is spoken by everyone in a given society. Visiting a Brazilian favela, for example, you will speak essentially the same form of Brazilian Portuguese as if you were speaking to a member of Brazilian high-society. In the latter case, the language may be more refined- but your ability to communicate and find common ground remains unchanged. “Mutual confirmation…” as Buber described in 1958, “is the most important aspect of human growth. An I-thou relationship involves real knowledge of another, and requires openness, participation and empathy”
So perhaps we see football as having achieved a similarly profound cultural status. The language of football is spoken by people across cultures, classes, religions, continents and any other form of division you care to mention. The language itself remains relatively unchanged; and though we may see more refined variants (such as the UK premier league) versus basic levels (such as a few children kicking a crumpled-paper ball around) the content and ability to communicate- the rules, metaphors, drama, and social elements- all remain the same. It is a natural and accessible language rich in metaphor which has the unique pull to bring individuals together, as a society for whatever purpose they wish.
As Bill Shankly (1913-81, one of Britain’s most successful and respected football managers) once said, “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”