Ask yourself a question. What is the purpose of sport? Is it to separate winners from losers and entertain the masses? Or is the answer more fundamental than that – more vital to society than any glorious sporting moment could hope to be? This is a debate that, particularly in the world of cricket right now, isn’t just ongoing; it’s raging.
In wake of institutional racism rearing its all-too-familiar head, alongside tremendous (dare I say outrageous?) quantities of money floating around the elite game, questions are rightly being about what the priorities of the game should be.
Enter Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff
Leave it to Freddie Flintoff (I mean, who else would it be?) to throw down the gauntlet – showing the powers that be a positive vision of the immense value sport can offer individuals and society as a whole.
His latest, and arguably most valuable, exploit saw him show that elitism in sport isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
In Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams, available via BBC iPlayer, England’s hero takes a group of people for whom it would have been impossible at worst – or impossibly difficult at best – under his wings and teaches them to play cricket. What follows is remarkable in all senses of the word.
Flintoff doesn’t just get a team together – which in itself is a feat – but he has seen his players overcome all manner of difficulties both on and off the field. The stories of some of the players should be unimaginable, but unfortunately are all too common in the modern world.
Take Flintoff’s secret weapon as an example, Adnan.
After fleeing Afghanistan alone, Adnan made his way to the UK by foot, boat, lorry and car. After arriving in Calais, he hid in an empty lorry and found his way to Preston, where he cut himself out and, despite speaking no English, handed himself into the local police station. Having lived with foster parents since his arrival, he has just recently been granted asylum from the Home Office.
Since the team was formed, cricket has become a constant in their lives, offering a platform for purpose and friendship missing for so many in modern society.
Dreams do come true
It must be recognised that, while the work has been outstanding, it is hard to see it being replicated elsewhere. The inaccessibility of cricket remains. Who’s going to pay for training facilities, equipment and coaching? Not to mention that not everyone will have Flintoff’s contact list.
But, while perhaps unrepresentative, Flintoff has provided a stark reminder of the tangible difference cricket can make to those at the bottom of the game. And this doesn’t just apply to cricket. This should serve as an example to all sport. This is what can happen if we adjust our sporting priorities: society as a whole benefits with investment in grassroots initiatives.
With this series, Flintoff has shown that dreams can come true. But in uncertain times, with social and economic hardship already hitting us hard, let’s just hope the authorities realise the true potential of sport. Let’s hope they show that dreams do come true.