IThe guest edited by England and Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling was intended to reduce the glut of Covid-flavored articles that make up the Today program in 2021, then the news agenda had other ideas. With panicked updates on PCR testing shortages and reduced isolation times dominating, it was 40 minutes in Sterling’s special episode before we encountered one of his contributions.
Once they had started, however, it was clear what Sterling’s key themes would be: social mobility, his efforts to inspire the next generation with his charitable foundation, and the impressive feats of the England squad for the Euro 2020 in the face of appalling racism. From Jamaica – where the 27-year-old was born – we heard about his efforts to help lift young people out of poverty. The report was not detailed, but demonstrated Sterling’s importance to the world beyond the UK. Presenter Amol Rajan then spoke with football coach Clive Ellington, one of Sterling’s early mentors, who stressed the need to consider the mental health and well-being of children who are ready to succeed in sport. During the first two hours of the program, there was a lot of talk about overcoming barriers in society, especially educational barriers, but no more in-depth discussion of why these barriers exist.
The story of Sterling’s mother Nadine who was forced to take her children to work with her as a hotel cleaner once they moved to the UK and bought the little one from them – lunch in a vending machine with coins they found in the course of her work, was presented by the program as a tough motivational story rather than a harsh accusation of the British society that it is. Education select chairman and Tory MP Robert Halfon appeared briefly to speak of injustice, also speaking of white working-class children, but it would have been good to have heard more radical brainstorming on what it would take to bridge the divisions rooted in our society, which massively affect the working classes.
It was in the third hour, however, that Sterling’s takeover started to look like this, especially when he and England coach Gareth Southgate discussed building a relationship with fans and the importance of integrating the diverse backgrounds of the players into the team. himself. Sterling spoke confidently on topics that seemed relevant to both high performance athletes and ordinary people: building mental resilience; not to wish his life on social networks; avoid overthinking or getting bogged down in negative comments. Southgate, meanwhile, described how he revisited his painful missed Euro 96 penalty to create a supportive environment for the squad he leads.
A discussion about their love of football turned into a conversation about society as a whole and the value of footballers with their own plans and interests off the pitch. Then Nick Robinson’s interview with Usain Bolt was at times flattering, but once again underscored Sterling’s ties to Jamaica, and the importance of enabling athletes to engage with the world at large: “We are humans… why can’t we have an opinion? “asked the sprinter.” It’s unfair to know that someone would watch sports people who work hard and try to give back and make the world a better place, and put us in simply in a box. “
We went back to Sterling for the last word, and he spoke impressively about trying meditation; his changing relationship with the media, which vilified him early in his career by focusing on his spending and parties (he felt, he said, like he was a “target”); and how football had been “a lifeline” for him. It would have been great to hear more about it, crammed in like it was in the last part of the program. Indeed, it was only here that we learned that Sterling did not attend a regular school until the end of his elementary school in sixth grade – a detail that seemed important given the discussion about the education that had taken place within the previous three hours. Sterling has managed to overcome the challenges in his life, he said, staying fit mentally and physically, but it’s clear there’s a lot more to the story. We can only hope Radio 4 will let him come back and tell the rest – hopefully before next Christmas.