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Beautiful game rises out of the tawdy mire; AGENDA.

Byline: SARAH EVANS

Family and friends will testify that if it were left up to me, the billions of pounds spent on professional sport would have to Bnd some other home.

It was possible to do something last Wednesday evening other than watch some men kick a ball about.

Our natural resources in all forms could have been conserved - endless trees could have been spared ending their days as backdrop for some event of supposed international interest.

In short, I am not a supporter of professional football. However, every cloud and so on.

Two stories have risen above the tawdry mires of the "beautiful game" to hint that maybe goodness and joy lurk even there.

Knowing the unlikelihood of my coming upon it myself, my father showed me an article about Craig Bellamy, the Wales and West Ham United forward, who is giving well over half a million pounds of his own money to help children in Sierra Leone, the country at the bottom of the United Nations Human Development Index.

Craig Bellamy intends not only to set up a football academy but to link what goes on there to other educational priorities.

Boys at the academy will be encouraged to be involved in community projects, develop disciplined approaches to learning, take part in health education workshops with a particular emphasis on HIV/Aids. Projections are that 81000 children will soon receive health awareness education through the Craig Bellamy Foundation.

Given that until very recently, Sierra Leone has been engulfed in civil war, it is not surprising that Craig Bellamy has found there no football infrastructure of the type to which he is accustomed.

Undeterred he has set about establishing football leagues with paid managers and coaches who will also be offered educational courses. While football does not rate highly on my league table of human goodness, war comes rather lower.

I think this enterprise is quite simply wonderful.

Professional footballers earn incredible sums of money that to right thinking people reflect society's distorted values.

Goodness knows what children in Sierra Leone think about Craig Bellany but then what would they think about any of us?

If rich footballers could use their money, as Craig Bellamy seems to be doing, to change the world for the better, may be the end justifies the rather silly means.

When you think of the utterly frightful way some footballers squander their money - winners they may be, but Manchester United is forever damned in my eyes by the accounts of their Christmas party bash - what Craig Bellamy is doing is the small candle that could light the way forward for others.

But not everyone earns tens of thousands of pounds a week. Are there any redeeming possibilities in the lower football stratosphere for everyone else?

A most uplifting letter was published in a national newspaper last week.

It was from a teacher, (who does the greatest good in society - a teacher on pounds 25000 a year or a football player on pounds 25000 a week?) Her class of 11-year-olds had been thinking about Fair Trade issues.

"We looked at how much children who make footballs are paid in the Third World" wrote the teacher from King Alfred's School, Barnet.

The children contacted senior Bgures at clubs and the English Football Association to ask them to buy Fair Trade footballs - made for professional use and costing less than non-Fair Trade ones, presumably because they are not branded names.

Although the footballs cost less, the child workers through Fair Trade earn an extra 20p per ball. The class has had just three responses. Someone from Alex Ferguson's office wrote to say he was too busy to bother with such things.

The teacher writes: "It's sad the people running the game seem to think they are too important to ensure everyone involved can afford enough to eat."

Although the lack of response is clearly not uplifting, the idea behind it is - that football could be used for the economic good of the most deprived in our world.

It is also heartening to have an example - and there are so many - of teachers inspiring children to think globally outside their own personal preoccupations.

Rather more important than how that teacher's class does in the government's school performance league tables.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 26, 2008
Words:711
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