Meditation, the Euros and Usain Bolt: How Raheem Sterling approached the Today show | Radio

IA guest edit of England and Manchester City footballer Raheem Sterling was meant to cut through the glut of Covid-flavored items that make up the Today program in 2021, then the news diary had other ideas . With panicked updates on PCR test shortages and reduced isolation times dominating, it took 40 minutes in Sterling’s special episode before we met one of his contributions.

Once they started, however, it was clear what Sterling’s key themes would be: social mobility, his efforts to inspire the next generation with his charitable foundation and the impressive exploits of the England team. Euro 2020 in the face of appalling racism. From Jamaica – where the 27-year-old was born – we heard about his efforts to help young people emerge from deprivation. The report was light on detail, but demonstrated Sterling’s importance in the world beyond the UK. Presenter Amol Rajan then spoke with football coach Clive Ellington, one of Sterling’s early mentors, who stressed the need to consider the mental health and well-being of children preparing for the sporting success. In the first two hours of the program, there was a lot of talk about overcoming barriers in society, especially educational barriers, but no deeper discussion of why these barriers exist.

The story of Sterling’s mother, Nadine, who was forced to take her children to work with her as a hotel cleaner once they moved to the UK, and bought them breakfast in a vending machine with coins they found during her work, was presented by the program as a tough motivational story rather than a harsh indictment of the British society that she is. Education select committee chairman and Tory MP Robert Halfon appeared briefly to talk about injustice, also talking about working-class white children, but it would be good to have heard a more radical brainstorm about what it would take to bridge the divisions rooted in our society, which affect the working classes en masse.

It was in the third hour, however, that Sterling’s takeover started to look like this, especially when he and England manager Gareth Southgate discussed building a relationship with the fans and the importance to integrate the various horizons of the players in the team. himself. Sterling spoke confidently about topics that seemed relevant to both top athletes and everyday people: building mental resilience; not wishing for your life on social media; avoiding overthinking or getting bogged down in negative comments. Southgate, meanwhile, has described how he revisited his painful Euro 96 miss to create a supportive environment for the team he leads.

A discussion about their love of football turned into a conversation about society as a whole and the value of footballers having their own projects and interests off the pitch. Next, Nick Robinson’s interview with Usain Bolt was flattering at times, but once again underscored Sterling’s ties to Jamaica, and the importance of sportspeople being allowed to engage with the world at large: “We are humans…why can’t we have an opinion?” asked the sprinter. “It’s unfair to know that someone would look at sports people who work hard and try to give back and make the world a better place, and just put us in a box.”

We returned to Sterling for the final word, and he spoke impressively about trying meditation; his shifting relationship with the media, which reviled him early in his career by focusing on his spending and partying (he felt, he says, as if he was “targeted”); and how football had been “a lifeline” for him. It would have been great to know more about it, crammed in as it was in the latter part of the program. Indeed, it was only here that we learned that Sterling hadn’t attended a regular school until he finished his sixth-grade primary education – a detail that seemed important given the discussion of education that took place. had been going on for the previous three hours. Sterling has managed to overcome the challenges in his life, he said, by staying mentally and physically fit, but clearly the story is much more complex. We can only hope that Radio 4 will let him come back and tell the rest – hopefully before next Christmas.

Highlights from Raheem Sterling’s Today program can be heard on the BBC Sounds app or on BBC.co.uk/sounds

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