CAN sport change the world?
Well, as London 2012 has shown, it certainly binds folk together. But, despite some of the saccharine, sentimental guff spouted by many commentators chronicling the Olympic Games, answer to all of society’s ills it ain’t.
In 12 months time, gangs roaming the mean streets of Stratford won’t be settling turf wars with a quick game of handball or regatta on the Thames. Flick knives and handguns will still be their weapons of choice. Not hand resin or oars.
Don’t get me wrong. This month’s event in the capital was a wonderful spectacle. Captivating and, at times, absolutely compelling.
With the new season about to start in earnest though, it’s worth remembering that football can also be a force for good.
Which, for fear of raining on the parade, is just as well given that we aren’t about to become a nation of decathletes, wrestlers or hurdlers anytime soon.
Sheffield United, with projects such as Kickz and links with various community organisations, do plenty of sterling work. Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Rotherham, Doncaster and Chesterfield too.
During United’s recent visit to Malta, managing director Dave McCarthy and media chief Richard Batho worked tirelessly to champion a local mental health group.
Yes, I’ve read all the stories about athletics and fencing clubs being swamped by waves of excitable kids wanting to be the next Mo Farrah or Richard Kruse. All of which sound pretty similar to the ones being peddled when England won Rugby Union’s World Cup in 2003 or cricket’s Ashes in 2005.
Diverse interests are a wonderful thing. Fantasy, unless it’s on the pages of a Tolkein novel or strip of celluloid, isn’t.
Jobs and opportunities, not gold medals, will ultimately define the mood of the nation. Which is why politicians are so keen to exploit the feel-good-factor surrounding Team GB.
The deficit is still there. But when was the last time you heard it discussed? Exactly.
Okay, the beautiful game is far from perfect. Some players will always be imperfect role models. Spit, snarl and bend the rules.
Exactly the same as many of those who competed at venues such as Eaton Dorney and the velodrome in E20.
Imagine the furore if a Sheffield United player acknowledged he’d deliberately cheated to gain an advantage during last weekend’s Capital One Cup-tie against Burton Albion.
It should have been similar to the one which greeted Phillip Hindes’ admission that he’d deliberately crashed his bike en route to a gold medal race or a former rower’s pleas over the airwaves for Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter to damage their boat for fear of disqualification from the double sculls.
But these barely got a mention because they didn’t fit the narrative.
Yes, we should celebrate our Olympians with enthusiasm and pride. Not least because they deserve it.
But not use them as an excuse to degenerate football.