Iranian team makes a stand

How football stars are role modelling leadership.

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I couldn’t start talking about this week without mentioning the World Cup. England started with an unsurprising victory over Iran at the start of the week, finishing the match 6 goals to Iran’s 2. For me, however, the real stars of the game were the Iranian players. Risking unknown consequences when they return to their country, the Iranian team stayed silent while the anthem played. Amid the recent protests sparked by the death of Mahsa Amini, the team chose to put advocating for justice before their own safety in a show of stunning bravery. This moment became even more poignant given the decisions made to abandon the One Love armbands by other teams. While other teams were more concerned about their captains getting a sporting sanction, Iran’s players made a decision which would potentially risk their own safety. They showed true leadership – something we can all learn from.

Sticking with football, the Blackburn Rovers won the Ihsan Award for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion at the Islam Channel Business Awards this week. In recent years there have been far too many sports teams that have fallen foul of racism scandals. Far too many players, young and old, that have been excluded. Blackburn Rovers were the only football club nominated in this category, with other nominations going to accounting and law firms. The work that the club has done shows them to be a leader in inclusive sport, introducing a multi-faith room, halal food, and alcohol-free bars.

One story I can’t help but feel torn over is the news that a new NHS winter pilot will be prescribing warm homes, as patients with respiratory conditions will have their bills paid by NHS trusts and supporting charities. On the one hand, it feels like a progressive move by the NHS, and a bold one in the face of the government, to take this step. However, it devastates me that this country has come to a place where people are at such a health risk from their cold home that the NHS, which is already underfunded, must shoulder the cost. When will things change?

Another progressive move from the NHS has prompted guidance that menopausal women will be offered more flexible working should they need to take it. In a move designed to break stigma around the difficulties faced in the workplace by those going through the menopause, the guidance proposes lighter duties, fans to make temperatures more comfortable, cooler uniforms and staff training. For those of us that menstruate, there are several days a month where we can feel anything from mild discomfort to severe pain. To hear that employers are making moves to accommodate these difficulties (which are biologically unavoidable) feels like recognition is finally being given.

History was made this week as John McFall was announced as the world’s first disabled astronaut. The European Space Agency announced its first new class of astronauts in 13 years. John McFall’s leg was amputated following a motorcycle accident; his appointment means he will work with ESA’s programme to determine if he will be able to go into space. Representation has always been one of the biggest barriers to equality. For many of us, it can be easy to get stuck in the mindset that “no one else like me has done it, so I won’t be able to”. This milestone will hopefully pave the way for a more diverse and more inclusive space programme, encouraging others from all walks of life.

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