So another Sport Relief has come and gone. An unrelenting mash up of fun, sporting heroics, comedy and conviction, highlighting poverty and raising money.
The banter, unlikely competitions, silly stunts, and comedy sketches are fun. The heroic feats, especially Eddie Izzard’s incredible 27 marathons in 27 days, are inspiring.
The short, beautifully crafted films capture eye-watering poverty with grim commentary that pulls no punches.
On the night, if the extreme silliness and comedy jars with the hard-hitting stories, then on the whole Sport Relief seem to pull it off. The whole venture feels like a great endeavour with a powerful purpose.
Part of the problem
For me the big problem is the absence of any comment on corporate and government policy, affecting the lives of those featured. There is plenty of charity, but what about justice?
We hear plenty about the big corporates who are sponsoring the events – but we don’t get to hear about changes in their investment policies. Or the impact of mainstreaming their Fairtrade range. Or paying workers a Living Wage.
So the Premier League raised over a £1 million. The accountants, Deloitte report that in 2013-14 the combined revenues of Premier League clubs soared by 29% to over £3.26 billion. A million seems a bit piffling.
I’d like to hear Sport Relief highlight this absurd inequality. I’d love to hear the Premier League report all its clubs are paying a Living Wage.
Challenging the system
The comedian John Bishop talks about his visit to a rubbish dump in Kenya and the people he met who live around it. We cheer when we hear that Margaret is now away from the tip and going to school. And her Grandma has started a business. We don’t hear that the rubbish dump is still there, and remains a magnet to the poorest and most vulnerable. The system remains.
It’s ironic to hear pronouncements about UK government matching donations to Sport Relief via Gift Aid, when so many of the projects that will benefit are facing crippling cuts or closure because of government policies introduced targeting cuts to small voluntary organisations. Or that users of the services are victims to cuts targeting the most vulnerable. Or victims of welfare reform. We don’t hear about this. It’s a huge absence.
‘What we need to change’
“We need to show you what you, what we, need to change” says Danny Dyer. The problem is no amount of donations will bring the change he’s calling for. We need system change – and that comes through progressive policies, the ballot box and an ethical, regulated market. It won’t happen after a mini-Luther, and a quick text on a Friday night.
I’m up for Sport Relief, Comic Relief. Here’s to more comedy and creativity and acts of individual generosity – and extraordinary projects that inspire.
But alongside this, we need to hear real stories about unregulated markets – about landlords raising rents and making life intolerable for the poorest. Or the impact of a social ‘safety net’ quietly dismantled and a spike in the numbers of homeless. The human cost of closures, cuts, of policies pursuing profits and privatisation.
And alongside stories of individuals who have had their lives transformed, lets include a Danny Boyle style celebration of systems we need: decent public health, public housing and public education. Systems that benefit large numbers of the poorest and most vulnerable. The systems that bring the kind of justice our world longs for.
Andy Turner lives in Hackney, East London. He has been involved in establishing a wide range of community development initiatives that tackle disadvantage and poverty.