Our footballers harnessed sport for good – let’s do the same with technology
As a grinning Giorgio Chiellini, gleaming trophy in one hand, plastic crown in the other, clambered aboard his flight (it was, indeed, coming to Rome); as Gareth Southgate gave one last demonstration of consummate dignity; as Leicester Square was hosed down and as sore heads turned to the working week, just how did Euro 2020 leave us feeling?
The tournament as a whole was a triumph. For Scotland and Wales there were points of real joy and pride. For England, despite ultimate heartache, there was something even more – not only the achievement of reaching the final, but a sense that the team was unifying the nation, bringing people together after a bruising couple of years.
What made it so special was that this unity was based not only on footballing success, but on the values and moral courage shown by the manager and so many of his squad. Football, it’s fair to say, has not always served as an ethical guiding light. Yet in this England squad we have young men taking a stand – on racism, homophobia, child poverty – leading the rest of us to aim higher and be better.
That same approach – living our values in all we do – can help us to learn the right lessons as the tournament recedes into the past. In the case of technology, and whether we use it for good or ill, those lessons are crucial.
As a major sports broadcaster, we launched our Hope United team and campaign at the start of the Euros to bolster the fight against online hatred. The campaign has been well received but the disgusting racism aimed at some England players shows how far we have to go. The truth is that technology companies must do more. When the internet is a billboard for the most base and repugnant qualities of humanity, we all suffer. For BT, the social media platforms are important partners, but we can and will push them hard to take far tougher action against bigotry.
I was fortunate enough to be at Sunday’s final – at least, the chance to take my family felt like a privilege until we found ourselves in the midst of a pitched battle as those without tickets sought to force their way into the stadium.
It’s no criticism of the police or stadium authorities to say this is another area in which we simply have to do better. Both my love of sport and my patriotism mean I’d love this country to host the World Cup in 2030. Sadly, recent days have badly dented our chances of success, so we need to up our game – and fast.
We have highly secure digital ticketing systems to control entry, 5G-enabled hi-definition cameras to scan for trouble, face recognition technology to capture miscreants. Technology can prevent the type of terrifying ordeal I had to watch my own kids and others go through.
Technology is shifting and reshaping so many aspects of our lives. It can be a negative force, sowing discord, fuelling hate and ignorance. Yet it can also serve to help us live our best lives, keeping us safe, secure, connecting us for good.
To do the latter we must align our adoption of technology to the best of our values as a society. That’s not always easy to do, but fortunately, some heroic young men just showed us the way.
Philip Jansen, Chief Executive, BT Group