Sports leaders are often keen to ascribe a higher purpose to the gloriously trivial pursuits to which they owe their positions.
Hence last year’s agreement aimed at strengthening collaboration between the United Nations (UN) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC); hence FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s dogged attempts to use football to help map out a modus vivendi between Israel and Palestine.
Well, guess what guys? – the migrant crisis that has finally surged to the top of Europe’s news agenda hands many of you a golden opportunity to show just how serious sport is about its desire to make the world a better place.
Not in some idealistic, half-glimpsed vision of the future, but now.
No, sport cannot step into the shoes of Government.
As IOC President Thomas Bach said when signing the agreement with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “Sport can change the world, but it cannot change the world alone.”
It can, however, do two helpful and important things while we wait for bureaucratic levers to grind into action and, perhaps, for Europe’s selfish and complacent immigration policies to be adjusted.
1. It can spawn hope by taking rapid, unilateral steps which, whilst they may constitute little more than gestures when set against the scale of the underlying problem, set a positive example that others may follow.
2. It can set the tone by transmitting messages that make it crystal clear that sports bodies view these poor people unlucky enough to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time as fellow human beings and members of global society, and not quasi-criminals itching for the chance to undermine western values and living standards.
Bearing this in mind, I am struggling to think of a media release by a sports body more admirable than the one published on Thursday by Bayern Munich, the German football club.
This set out four simple, concrete ways in which the biggest club in the world champion country of the planet’s richest sport will try to help; all seem well thought-through, realistic and, well, helpful.
In summary, Bayern will a) establish a training camp for refugees, with attendees provided with German classes, meals and football kit; b) donate €1 million from a friendly match to refugee support projects; c) arrange for its players to be escorted onto the pitch before its next match against FC Augsburg by refugee children as well as German children; d) arrange via the club’s charity foundation for refugee families to be provided with pre-Christmas events and activities.
“We at FC Bayern consider it our socio-political responsibility to help displaced and needy children, women and men, supporting and assisting them in Germany,” said club chairman, and former German international footballer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge.
Bayern’s aid package followed a ground-breaking gesture by another leading German club, Borussia Dortmund, which invited refugees to a match, and by fans, who unfurled “Refugees Welcome” banners.
One of the good things about all this, or so I would argue, is that the givers are benefiting as well as the recipients: the positive publicity Germany is getting for the generous and enlightened attitude towards migrants it is now displaying has countered the negative press it was receiving in many quarters (rightly, in my view) over Greece.
Another sports leader who has been singing from the same song-sheet, albeit in a sport with only a fraction of football’s financial muscle, is Chungwon Choue, President of the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF).
Choue told me in a recent interview that a body called the Taekwondo Humanitarian Foundation is close to being set up that will send teams of people to refugee camps to teach not just taekwondo, but “to teach young kids, What is Olympism? What is world peace? And also how to live as a good world citizen.”
Choue traced the origins of the idea back to a conversation with a Jordanian Taekwondo Association official.
“He told me, President, we have two million Syrian refugees in Jordan,” Choue recalled.
“The young kids are there doing nothing.”
To say that events over the month or so since the interview have highlighted the urgency of this type of initiative would be a considerable understatement.
“I do believe all Olympic sports should have a responsibility to contribute to human society,” said Choue, sounding a lot like Rummenigge.
“Now is the time to create these kinds of humanitarian foundations.”
Let’s hope that the appalling scenes many of us in Europe have been made aware of in recent days will prompt plenty more sports bodies to follow the example of Bayern and Borussia.
The continent remains the epicentre of world sports administration.
It is only right that this industry does its bit to help alleviate the world’s problems when they present themselves with such urgency and when a little bit of thought and effort can make a big difference.
Shortly after this blog was written, the IOC announced an emergency $2 million fund aimed at helping refugees.