At a time when so many sports stars have admirably realised the value of their voice as regards social issues, Marcus Rashford has streaked ahead even there. He has caused action. He has caused change.
The manner in which the Manchester United forward has forced the government into a U-turn over food vouchers for schoolchildren over the summer holidays is a landmark moment.
It’s genuinely difficult to think of a modern sports star – at least in the UK – having such a political effect. This obviously isn’t to diminish those who have so brilliantly spoken about social issues in the first place and set the path for Rashford, such as Raheem Sterling or Jordan Henderson, but this is different – and a next step.
It barely needs to be added that it’s also a lot more than many politicians have done, and it is a tragedy that it takes a footballer to do this.
But it was a player offering a proactive solution to a very tangible problem, and using his own lived experience. Even the strategy behind it has been expert, as well timed as any run – from gradually raising awareness, to the rising pressure until something was done.
Millions of children will now directly benefit in the most meaningful way possible – food on the table – from Rashford’s efforts. He is directly ensuring children won’t go hungry. That, beyond anything, is an incredible sentence to write and a testament to the man.
It is a genuinely remarkable story, and an example.
That is the added power of Rashford’s initiative. It will inspire and provoke other sportspeople to do the same. Again that isn’t to criticise those who haven’t attempted similar, it’s that this will make them realise their potential.
That’s sometimes all that is needed, a bit of a spark, a bit of awareness. Rashford has provided that and so much more.
Against the huge changes to people’s lives, trinkets like Sports Personality of the Year just don’t matter, but this is the status we’re talking about. Rashford goes beyond this.
Whatever about that award, he is now one of the most influential sportspeople on the planet, in terms of tangible influence and achievement. Few can match that. Many will now be inspired too. It will hopefully cause waves of knock-on effects, similar actions and more changes.
He’s also achieved real unity, at a time of such divisiveness.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Rashford tweeted this afternoon. “Just look at what we can do when we come together. THIS is England in 2020.”
This is what a sportsperson can do in 2020. This is what Rashford has shown. It is a credit to him.