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Football for social good

A friend of ours, Jorge Carretero, who worked for many years at the Spanish Football Federation, is involved in a positive and intriguing endeavor: to get UNESCO to declare that football is a social interest good. Football connects people, is well-known and played throughout the world, giving pleasure to hundreds of millions. There are plenty of reasons to defend this argument. The World Cup was created in 1930, and created a link from Old Europe to South America, then later incorporated the other continents. There was a European Cup before there was a European Community. There are club and national team championships across all the continents that interconnect countries with countries.

1955/56: Madrid claim first crown
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1955/56: Madrid claim first crownuefa.com

Football's lingering stigma

But I'm afraid this comes at a cost. Football has a 'bad press', if I can use this term. This is shown in several ways. The Laureus Award, for example, has never been won by Messi nor by Cristiano, although has been on six occasions by Roger Federer, against whom there is nothing. It is a question of sporting image. The self-righteous society still sees football through critical glasses, perhaps because it became professional long before other sports and therefore is still tarnished from some vices attributed to it early on. Now the Olympic dream of amateurism has vanished, all sports are professional, but football still carries its original stigma.

Burnley's English striker Ashley Barnes trips up a pitch invader during the English Premier League football match against West Ham United.
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Burnley's English striker Ashley Barnes trips up a pitch invader during the English Premier League football match against West Ham United.BEN STANSALLAFP

Ultras and violence marring football image

Of course, another factor affecting the bad image of the game is its poor handling of 'ultras'. That gives more fuel to the critics and, unfortunately, they are right. In spurts, football aims to combat the barbarism, but there is no real consensus in how to address the problem with severity. The decision to expel all English clubs from European competition for five years after Heysel proved successful. The measures taken in Spain after the death of 'Jimmy' have brought about an improvement. But in Russia the problem is growing and on Saturday we saw how fans of Lille and West Ham took to the field to attack their own players. Until football can rid itself of this, it will continue to be looked down on.