Modern sports stars are often castigated these days. In an era where the news cycle is 24/7 and the click bait headline draws the reader in, their behaviour is highlighted like never before. How many times in the last 6 months have we heard about footballers catching coronavirus?
Overnight, the England v Barbarians fixture at Twickenham has been cancelled because of their bubble environment being compromised.
On the other side of the coin, we know that plenty of sports stars do numerous good things, for their communities and for charities. Some is publicised, most is not. But since March this year, one sports star’s positive efforts have arguably been heard above all others.
FareShare is the UK’s longest running food redistribution charity. In March this year, they launched an urgent Covid-19 appeal calling for donations, food and volunteers to respond to the impending crisis. Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford heard the call and reacted powerfully.
Rashford, now 22 years old, and his two brothers, were raised by his Mum who worked full time on the minimum wage. They relied on breakfast clubs, free school meals and the kindness of others to get by. In Rashford’s words, ‘the system was not built for families like mine to succeed, regardless of how hard my mum worked.’
With this empathy for FareShare’s work, Rashford not only made significant financial donations to the cause, but also went about raising awareness for their work and changing government policy. His his #MakeTheUTurn campaign ensured 1.3 million vulnerable children, who were eligible for free school meals, could continue to access food during the summer holidays via a £15 per week voucher.
He has also formed the Child Food Poverty Taskforce, bringing on board numerous partners, including Nestle, Kellogg’s, Tesco and Sainsbury’s, to try and bring long term, sustainable change in this area.
This week saw the first set-back. With the effects of Coronavirus ongoing, a Labour Party motion to extend the £15 per week voucher scheme for the pending UK half term school holiday (one week) and Christmas holidays (two weeks) was defeated by 322 votes to 261.
One of the MP’s who voted against the motion was Brendan Clarke-Smith, himself someone who had qualified for free school meals growing up. His comments included:
‘We must focus on breaking the cycle where the first reaction is to look to the state…It’s a vicious cycle and we need to support families with early intervention and help with things like budgeting and employment…I do not believe in nationalising children. Instead, we need to get back to the idea of taking responsibility and this means less virtue-signalling on Twitter by proxy and more action to tackle the real causes of child poverty.’
Predictably, the backlash against Clarke-Smith has been loud and strong; after all, if there’s anyone people dislike more than footballers, it’s politicians.
How did Rashford react to the news? He visited FareShare in Manchester to get stuck in, less than 48 hours after scoring the winning goal for Man Utd away to PSG in the Champions League. Since the vote, cafes, bars and restaurants have offered free meals to children during the school holidays and local councils are doing the same. As Rashford said after the motion was defeated,
‘When we stumble, there will always be a community to wrap their arms around us and pick us back up.’
He’s spot on. Awarded an MBE earlier this year and the odds on favourite to win the BBC’s Sports Personality of The Year award this December, here is an empathetic, influential young man doing what he can to help; if you lead they will follow.
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