The best news I’ve heard today – and there’s not much else that’s reassuring in the world – is that David Beckham now prefers watching rugby to football.
He’s gone further than that: he’s even encouraging his sons to do the same. Beckham cited the ‘nastiness’ of some football crowds, observing that during the recent Rugby World Cup people could ‘sit together pleasantly’ at a match without (although he didn’t say so) hurling chairs at supporters of the opposing team or beating up police horses.
For those of us who’ve come to despise football, for the egregious greed and corruption of its owners and governors, and for the brutish behaviour of its fans and players, it’s a minor triumph. If nothing else it’s a step in the right direction.
Beckham’s conversion – which I’ll refrain from calling Damascene in the interests of perspective – is revealed at a time when virtually every executive of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, is cowering under his desk waiting for the Feds to arrive with arrest warrants. Even the Swiss authorities, which have long been adept at turning a blind eye on such malfeasances, have had enough.
Beckham, it should be noted, was part of the England negotiating team that attempted to win the right to stage the World Cup, an honour (pas le mot juste) that fell in turn to Qatar and Russia, largely facilitated by the delivery of a few ‘brown-paper packages wrapped up in string’, containing, we’ve since learned, rather more than just a few free tickets. England – the home of Julie Andrews, who so memorably sang the line – did not deliver any such packages, I’m happy to report.
The other front-page news that caught my eye this morning was of the findings of a self-appointed Commission on Religion and Public Belief on the part played by religion in modern Britain. Its conclusion, after two years of deliberation – presumably at the tax-payer’s expense – was that a ‘new settlement’ was needed for religion in Britain to reflect the evident decline of church-going, indeed of Christianity, and the growth of non-Christian faiths such as Islam and Hinduism. Among other recommendations, their worships (if that’s not a contradiction in terms) called for the replacement of the Church of England bishops now sitting in the House of Lords with imams, rabbis and other faith leaders. Why imams and rabbis would be any more appropriate or useful than their graces was not explained.
The commissioners called faith schools ‘socially divisive’ and proposed the abolition of acts of worship in school assemblies, such ceremonies to be replaced by a ‘time for reflection’. It fell short, though, of ending the favourable tax treatment that faith schools enjoy or, even more controversially, of calling for the disestablishment of the Church of England.
It did, however, propose ‘overhauling’ the service of coronation for the next monarch to include other faiths. How this would work in practice was likewise left unexplained. Does it mean, if implemented, that the service could no longer be held in Westminster Abbey? If not, then where would it be held? Wembley Stadium? The Royal Albert Hall? Either would do, I’d have thought, with edited versions of the proceedings shown on big screens in mosques, Hindu temples and Synagogues across the land. Alternatively, there could be several sequential services, to ensure the greater happiness of the greater number of the faithful.
How many faiths would be entitled to claim the privilege of participation in the coronation would need addressing. Presumably non-faith organisations, like The Secular Society or the Humanist Association, would be given their say.
The members of the commission included a former senior judge, Baroness Butler-Sloss; a former Archbishop of Canterbury; the Chief Rabbi; a former chief justice; and a former general secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. Hardly a radical band, one has to say, although one doesn’t have to say it since they’ve demonstrated it in their report.
David Beckham was not on the panel. More the pity as anyone moved to convert from football to rugby might have made a useful contribution to any discussion on diversity. David Beckham, in my book, is now capable of making a useful contribution on any subject.
A spokesman for the Church of England predictably dismissed the report as a ‘sad waste’, adding that the commissioners had ‘fallen captive to liberal rationalism’.
Liberal rationalism, I submit, is something the world could use right now, and considerably more of it than the commissioners have seen fit to.
But I suppose that one small step, as in the Beckham conversion, is better than no step at all.
What, I wonder, does Jeremy Corbyn think?