When I was in school I recall a lesson where my Religious Education teacher cynically told us football was becoming the new religion.
While I didn’t realise what he meant, I could in part relate to what he was saying because, for me, the only God in my life back then was Robbie Fowler.
With the calendar turning to 2020, I understand what my teacher meant because sport has adopted the main role in influencing society to be better.
The United Nations in their 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development specifically noted that “Sport is an important enabler of sustainable development.”
I read a story about sustainability at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics . It detailed how the 18,000 beds in the Athletes Village will be made from cardboard and will be recycled after the Games.
The beds will be big enough for athletes as tall as 6ft 11ins and can support over 31 stone in weight as they are stronger than their wooden counterparts.
As more sporting bodies do their bit, people will start to believe if cardboard beds are good enough for the world’s top athletes, they are good enough for themselves – and it won’t be long before buying a recycled cardboard bed seems as normal as buying an electric car.
Another recent and stark example of sport tackling society issues was Gary Neville’s passionate speech on racism last month following the Chelsea v Tottenham game.
Football has long sought to tackle racism but it has never directly linked it to the country’s politics, let alone the two main political parties and their leaders.
Neville holding politicians accountable for setting a bad example felt like a watershed moment as he transcended football to dare to speak his mind on an important social issue during a live broadcast.
Sport is also starting to seriously tackle social inequality and poverty.
While many sporting franchises have their own dedicated charitable arms that do great work, one incentive I am a supporter of is Fans Supporting Foodbanks.
This is a charity that operates around football grounds on matchdays and encourages fans to attend matches with food to donate to foodbanks.
Operating under the tag line “Hunger doesn’t wear club colours”, the incentive isn’t just replenishing the nation’s emergency food supplies, it is also breaking down the tribalism between rival fans which lead to other social issues.
It is refreshing to see sport starting to influence society on issues which are so much more important than commercial sales.