England’s World Cup bid shows sport has a way of uniting us like no current politician could - Daxa Patel

Whenever I see a photograph of Gareth Southgate, the England football manager, I think, respect. I wonder how he would have managed the nation had he been in charge during the pandemic?

The power of something bigger than us has the power to unite us and now unity is badly needed. It is not politics or religion in our current times but sports that can bring us together. One cause, one aspiration and one powerful voice, the voices of thousands of sports fans cheering their team to win the World Cup comes to mind.

There was a time when political leaders had the ability to galvanise the nation in rallying behind them to create change, but now it is hard to find a politician who commands that level of respect.

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The same could be said of religious readers and I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but we are connected more through sports than religion.

England manager Gareth Southgate during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.England manager Gareth Southgate during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.
England manager Gareth Southgate during a press conference at the Main Media Centre in Doha, Qatar. PIC: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire.

I suppose it is a sign of modern times, we have access to sports channels which takes us to that point, as if we are in the audience to witness something that lifts our spirits in an indescribable way, like England playing football at the World Cup in Qatar or watching England’s performance at the cricket World Cup down under.

I remember growing up whenever there was a cricket match my father would have the TV on mute and Radio 4 on in all rooms of the house so he could hear ball by ball commentary everywhere. Synchronising the radio gave that surround sound feeling in the days when we were blessed with analogue TV and digital radio was yet to grace our lives.

However, this minor indulgence was magnificent in many ways, as it gave us something to celebrate with others who shared the same interest.

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I am not a football fan really but whenever England are playing at world level, I do watch the football and while my understanding of the intricacies of this beautiful game is limited, I know enough to understand and appreciate the joys when our team is doing well.

Usually, after a win, the WhatsApp messages start pinging with friends sharing the joy of seeing the final goal that made us jump up out of our chairs.

Around four years ago, I found myself sitting with some friends in Millennium Square to watch England play football in the World Cup.

I almost had to take two, as this was so unlike me, but the atmosphere was electric, and everyone, no matter what their age, colour, or faith, were rooting for our side to win.

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The collective sigh when we missed a goal or when the referee showed a card when we thought it was grossly unfair, are just one of the few things we get to experience when we are all sharing something special, and that too together, as one.

It took me a long time to appreciate the power of sport and the impact it had on our emotional and physical wellbeing until I found myself digging myself out of the valley of grief after I lost my dad.

I was bereft but a good friend saw in me the potential to be a runner. My first ever run was the Leeds 10 in July 2014. I was a novice, the only runs I had done to that point were some 5k fun runs.

The power of training for something as innocuous as a 10k had a deep and lasting impact on me, so much so that from my first 10k I went on to run the London marathon in 2018.

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I mention this because it took me a long while to appreciate that my mental wellbeing was better supported when I was physically active, so even a park run on a Saturday morning in our local park with a few other runners, has the power to rejuvenate the soul, body and mind.

The gentleman who started the park run Paul Sinton-Hewitt in 2004 probably had no idea that his park run would become a worldwide event which brought communities together and helped people not only get physically fit, but mentally and spiritually fit.

Our elite sports athletes inspire us and, when we, as ordinary citizens, can be part of something so uplifting, we realise the collateral benefits of ‘active’ participation.

Everything is connected and so is the body and mind. On May 14, next year, Leeds will host its first marathon in 19 years thanks to the great Rob Burrow, the former professional rugby league player from Pontefract.

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Rob suffers from motor neurone disease (MND). He is only 40 years old but he has done so much in terms of raising awareness and funds against the odds. I can’t end without mentioning Kevin Sinfield, another sporting hero who recently did seven ultra-marathons in seven days.

What sports and our sporting heroes, including the lionesses, have taught us is the sheer power of something bigger than us. As I said, imagine if our sports heroes were in charge, we would have more harmony.

Daxa Manhar Patel is a solicitor, author and executive coach.