If only West Brom striker Saido Berahino had shown compassion rather than stupidity when Tottenham came calling - Michael Calvin


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The Independent Football

The image of Saido Berahino posing in a private jet after being given compassionate leave by West Bromwich Albion was insultingly smug, irredeemably stupid and uniquely depressing given his background as a former refugee whose family fled civil war in Burundi.

The child who played with a ball of plastic bags secured by shoelaces, and took DNA tests to prove he was his widowed mother’s son when he arrived in the UK aged 10, stateless and alone, has grown into a cosseted young man who appears to believe the world owes him an extravagant living.

He duly deleted the photograph, posted on social media following his threat to strike due to the collapse of a proposed £25m transfer to Tottenham, but the damage had been done. In any other week it would have been symbolic of football’s ability to strip participants of perspective; in this it was unavoidably offensive.


The power of an altogether more profound, tragic and unforgettable image, that of the body of three-year old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi lying in shallow breakwater on a Turkish beach, has galvanised public opinion so radically compassion has become a political weapon, used to defend victims of a humanitarian emergency.

There will be those who feel such issues do not belong here in the toy department, yet it is surely appropriate that something that sheds such light on the human condition as sport should be used to demonstrate a social conscience. We should not be surprised the response to the refugee crisis has been driven from the ground floor, principally by football supporters’ groups in Germany whose lead has been followed by those in England, who have designated next Saturday as a day of action.

Some sports bodies, such as the International Olympic Committee, which has created a £1.3m emergency fund to help refugees, have mirrored the mood. The silence from Fifa, whose surplus runs to billions, has been predictably deafening.

Closer to home, the Premier League remain in their corporate cocoon. The money is there to help, despite a net spend of £432.6m in sport’s greatest manifestation of greed and insincerity, the transfer window. The soothing platitudes of corporate responsibility programmes give clubs the means to respond, if the will to do so exists.

There has been a reluctance to engage beyond subtle reminders of such initiatives as Premier Skills, a community engagement scheme run by the Premier League and British Council. Coaches from Everton, Aston Villa and Portsmouth worked on integration programmes for Syrian refugees in Egypt last year.

Socially aware clubs like Stoke City underpin disadvantaged communities; I have seen them deliver projects in sink estates which lead to quantifiable reductions in criminal and socially destructive behaviour.  In an age of austerity, they also provide a platform for literacy and health work more traditionally undertaken by local authorities.

Yet too many clubs instinctively use community activity as a means of sponsor exposure, tying in coverage with suitably-promoted photo opportunities and interviews with players who, in the main, faithfully go through the motions without engaging with the cause.

They are drawn mainly from the working class and, increasingly, reflect fractured family life, since coaches confirm the majority of emerging footballers are products of broken homes. They are not necessarily impervious to injustice or intolerance, though they are products of a culture which celebrates the superficial.

Why should they be seen to care more, or less, than those in less celebrated jobs, living more mundane lives? It is a fair question, which skirts around their responsibilities as status symbols, while emphasising their right to live as they please.

As harsh as it seems to single him out, if Berahino had committed himself to the #refugeeswelcome campaign instead of glorying in his good fortune, his intervention would have been potent and personally relevant.

Wales together... stronger

The noise will consume the Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday, freezing the blood and warming the soul. It will be the sound of nationhood, and a lament for a lost son. Chris Coleman, manager of a Wales team on the verge of qualifying for their first major finals in 58 years, was a teammate of Gary Speed as their careers progressed from youth football to the international stage. He succeeded him with the heaviest of hearts, following the numbing news of Speed’s suicide on 27 November, 2011. He will remain alongside him in spirit, regardless of whether Wales get the win they require against Israel.

Legacy is one of the buzzwords of modern sport. Too often it lacks meaning; with this team it crystallises the principles of a man whose drive and idealism gave little indication of private torment. Watch the players he inspired when the anthems ring out this evening. Speed insisted on them singing in unison. He asked them to learn the words to Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, going to the lengths of providing Welsh and phonetic versions for English speakers in the squad.

It is no coincidence that collective character is so pure, that such pivotal personalities as Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey and the incandescent Gareth Bale, are at pains to stress their allegiance to the group. Speed expressed his philosophy in two words: “Together, Stronger.” They have become the squad’s motto. He will not be there to see generations of failure erased, but he will not be forgotten.

Rugby’s new world odour

What is the authentic smell of rugby? A concoction of stale sweat, flat ale, unmentionable bodily fluids and mud, perhaps? Or something rather more alluring, “fresh, clear and profoundly sensual”? For the small matter of £24.99, you can celebrate the World Cup by applying the so-called Rugby Fragrance. It apparently is “a sophisticated woody scent” which contains “sparkling citrus notes, spicy pink pepper and fresh peppermint, settling onto a heart of jasmine, dry woods and aromatic geranium and nutmeg.”

Colin Smart, the England prop forward who entered legend by washing down a post-international dinner with a brisk bottle of after-shave, was unavailable for comment.