The Power Of Sport
I was recently watching a TV program about the 2012 London Olympics that was reflecting on the targets of developing athletes specifically for 2012. It was highlighting the achievements of Team GB in hitting its medal target and some of the outstanding performances of some of the athletes. There was great focus on what, in GB, became known as super Saturday when we won three gold medals in one evening in the Olympic stadium.
It got me thinking about great sporting achievements and how sport is used to raise awareness of prostate cancer.
I’ve witnessed some amazing sporting achievements over the years, as well as recording a few of my own. As a lifelong fanatical supporter of Manchester United Football Club, I witnessed them winning the treble of major trophies in 1999, the English League and FA Cups and then the European Cup. A feat never achieved by another English Club.
I’ve also watched my local town football team, Altrincham FC, win major trophies at non-league level (the level below the traditional top tiers of football in England) and, most recently, witnessed the English National team reach the final of the European Championships before losing on penalties to Italy.
I’m also old enough to remember the English football team winning the World Cup in 1966!
My exercise high points
From a personal viewpoint, I won lots of trophies, in what feels like an earlier life, playing table tennis. I was a much better doubles player than a singles player and thankfully had an excellent doubles partner. We were league champions in one local league for many years.
In my later years, I turned to running and managed to complete all six of the World Marathon Majors, as well as the iconic Comrades ultra-marathon in South Africa, which was my absolute running high point.
Raising prostate cancer awareness
Where does all this fit in with prostate cancer awareness, I hear you ask? Well, here in the UK we have a charity, Prostate Cancer UK, that provides support for men, funds research, and lobbies for drug availability, as well as many other things. Its "Man of Men" logo and badge has become extremely well-known.
Additionally, the charity has done great work in getting public figures to talk openly about their own prostate cancer journeys, which has had an amazing impact on raising awareness. Many men put their diagnosis down to the Turnbull/Fry effect. Bill Turnbull, a UK newsreader, and Stephen Fry, the actor, who became ambassadors and spokesmen for the charity, persuading men to get themselves tested by telling their personal stories.
In the sporting arena, very sadly we’ve had two recent high-profile deaths of leading sportsmen from prostate cancer: Ray Clemence, the former England football team goalkeeper, and Bob Willis, the English cricket team bowler who helped the English team to one of the most incredible victories ever in 1981. The families of both men have been keen to generate some good from their passing and have supported both awareness and fundraising.
Indeed, the Willis family have set up the Bob Willis Fund, and a recent one-day cricket match was given the hashtag #blueforbob day. All the commentators wore their Prostate Cancer UK "Man of Men" pin badges, and the viewing public were asked to make donations. Over £25,000 was donated on the day!
A force for good
There has been similar support from other sports, including golf and rugby league, but perhaps football has been the major source of awareness raising. Football team managers and summarizers/commentators wear the "Man of Men" pin badges, and it provokes conversation leading to awareness.
What's that badge all about then? Jeff Stelling, a well-known figure in the football world, is also an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK and, for a number of years, has taken part in marathon marches around football stadiums that have raised well over £1m! I’m pleased to say that, as of my writing this, he is doing another 4 marches this year, and I’ll be taking part in the Merseyside and London events. Jeff was awarded the Celebrity Fundraiser of The Year Award at the JustGiving awards in 2017.
This article I think really demonstrates how sport can be a force for good in both raising awareness of prostate cancer and money to help men like me who are living with the illness.
What was the most difficult part of your diagnosis?