Just before Christmas every year, the BBC Sports Personality of the Year celebrates and honours sporting achievement. This year’s renewal, however, will be a relative shell of an event, at the end of a sporting calendar decimated by the pandemic. No Olympics, no Euro 2020, and sports suspended for months, resuming in ghostly and echoing empty arenas.

The Power of Sport

Since the summer, Marcus Rashford has been one of sport’s redeeming features, harnessing the unique power of sport to leverage tangible action and change – and so, in the eyes of many, Rashford is a shoo-in for the BBC prize.

However, criteria for nominations state nominees must “reflect UK sporting achievements on the national and/or international stage”, and must “take into account impact of the person’s sporting achievement beyond the sport in question” – in which case, Rashford will not qualify and is unlikely to even be shortlisted.

But it shouldn’t matter. The Manchester United and England striker has become a household name and a national hero, transcending his sport and sport as a whole through his hugely admirable campaign to end the child hunger crisis, which has left as many as a fifth of children in households regularly beset by hunger.

Sport – and especially football – is an adversarial and often tribal arena. An eternal state of usually healthy conflict. Rashford, though, to his immense credit, has neutered those rivalries, unifying fans across the UK to pull together to raise over £300,000 through boycotting pay-per-view games, as well as inspiring restaurants and cafes up and down the country to take matters into their own hands by providing free meals for children who need them over half-term.

Highlighting Football’s Common Purpose

It’s easy to forget how intrinsic football clubs are to our communites, for we live in times when it is possible for elite clubs to get exponentially richer while clubs like Bury and Macclesfield Town go out of business. The “us and them” instinct in elite English football has arguably never been more prevalent. As a sport, football seems to have forgotten the notion that clubs are fundamentally linked to their localities, to their communities, and that footballers – like Rashford – are tied to the communities that produce them.

It has forgotten that football fans have a shared consciousness that should occasionally traverse those tribal divides, that the elite clubs and the smaller clubs and the grassroots clubs are all a part of one single community, and that collective problems can only be solved by collective action.

Rashford doesn’t need – nor wants – to win awards like Sports Personality of the Year. The true legacy of his activism is surely this: to remind us that when football speaks with one voice, nobody will shout it down.

Sport – a universal language

Only music can rival sport as a universal language. Marcus Rashford has harnessed this unique power in the most inspiring of ways, and demonstrated how and why the power of sport is the most effective tool for inspiring positive change and bringing people and communities together. Congratulations, Marcus – we salute you!

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