Politics on the pitch

England played Portugal for the second time this year when two parliamentary groups, Athletic Group of Parliament (Portugal) and Westminster Football Club (England) went head to head in a friendly football match for charity at the Stadium of Honour of the University City, in Lisbon recently.

Telmo Correia (leader of the CDS/PP parliamentary bench), Pedro Duarte (PSP) and João Almeida (CDS-PP) took to the field for the Portuguese side, guided by ex-Benfica and national team player, José Augusto. Among the English team were MPs for Leigh, Eastwood and Sheffield, as well as a government minister.

The teams watched the Euro 2004 game between England and France for inspiration, and played themselves a few days later. Speaking after England had thrashed the Portuguese side 4-2, Telmo Correia described the initiative as “very interesting”, and said, “it’s easier being in Parliament”. He added: “If I had the talent to play football, maybe I would have a very different career.”

Despite the fund-raising objective behind the match, the English parliamentary team has been strongly criticised after they accepting sponsorship from fast food giant McDonald’s. Health campaigners expressed concern that the team were happy to receive funding from the company, at a time when obesity problems are high on the political agenda.

Clive Betts, MP for Sheffield Attercliffe, insisted: “McDonald’s are sponsors of the official England football team. If it is good enough for the national side, it should be good enough for us”.

The MP also confirmed that members of the team were concerned about the problem of obesity, and that they were “setting an example by playing football”. He said that the four-day trip to the Euro 2004 championship, largely funded by the fast-food company, was an excellent way of building relationships with foreign politicians.

The chairman of the reform group Food Justice, Labour MP Alan Simpson, was also among the party. He once said: “I would support a tax on junk food, on sugar, or on snack food advertising.”

A spokesman for McDonald’s commented that the company is proud of its relationship with the football club, as it allows money to be raised for a charity that promotes football in war-torn countries. There have been many other occasions where MPs have accepted McDonald’s sporting hospitality, including sport sponsorships and invitations to sporting events. Undoubtedly, the row will continue, as does the ongoing battle against obesity in the UK.