Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the new social activist or just ‘ego meeting activism’?

Ben HDamned if they do, damned if they don’t. It appears that many famous people are in a no-win situation when it comes to philanthropy, or outward displays of charity. Criticised for not giving away vast swathes of their fortunes, super-rich celebrities are then usually condemned for self-promotion if they do. They cannot win.

The latest in this long line is Swedish footballer Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Known for his outlandish persona and all round arrogance (the title of his autobiography is ‘I am Zlatan…’), Ibrahimovic has recently hit the headlines for another reason. His latest goal celebration, which has been shown around the world many times now, earned him a suspension. Was it an offensive gesture? No. Did he run in front of the opposition supporters inciting crowd trouble? No. Did he push over the referee? No.

In fact, what Ibrahimovic did was so bad it earned him a one-game suspension for ‘unsportsmanlike behaviour’. So what was this heinous crime?

Following scoring a goal, Zlatan simply removed his shirt to reveal the names of 50 young people, representing 50 of the 805 million young people who are currently suffering from hunger in the world. The UN recently published a report outlining that around one in nine people around the world were suffering from ‘chronic undernourishment’.

Zlatan revealed the names of 50 people suffering from hunger

Zlatan revealed the names of 50 people suffering from hunger

Zlatan’s actions should have been seen as a great way to highlight inequality and raise funds for a great cause. However, opinion is seemingly split: A blog on The Guardian website claims this is just the latest ‘case of ego meeting activism’. The article is scathing of Zlatan, claiming that the temporary nature of the tattoos somehow symbolizes his lack of empathy with the cause. ‘It’s like they’re only there until he changes his mind or cures world hunger. Whichever comes first’.

The Guardian could also have acknowledged that Zlatan has been supportive of other worthy causes, including paying $50,000 to ensure that a football team of intellectually disabled players could compete in the INAS World Football Championships.

Whilst not arguing that putting the names of 50 hungry people is going to change the world over night, it is easy to beat someone like Zlatan with a stick and claim, as The Guardian has done, that ‘it’s usually the people with the least sincerity, nous and natural understanding who tout the biggest ones’.

Footballers are often lamented for ‘not acting like role models’ but when they do, they are criticised. David Beckham, Zlatan’s old teammate at Paris St Germain famously donated his six month salary to a Parisian charity throughout his time with the club. Whilst this was met with initial praise, skeptics then began to assert that Beckham was doing this merely to avoid paying the top-rate 75% tax imposed on the super-rich in France.

It’s time we started getting behind these campaigns, not instantly presuming there is an ulterior motive at hand. As Zlatan rightly points out, ‘I have supporters from all over the world. From now on I want this support to go to the people that suffer from hunger, they are the real champions’.

Whilst we must be cautious about lavishing praise on a multi-millionaire for highlighting a serious problem, it seems counter-productive to just pour scorn on Zlatan’s effort. This is an issue that cannot be ignored, and if Zlatan taking off his shirt is what needs to happen in order for it to gain the publicity it deserves, it can surely only be a good thing.

Football has the power to unite and divide: let’s hope that Zlatan’s latest ‘stunt’ can help to address world hunger.

What are your thoughts? Is Zlatan just the latest in a long line of celebrities needing to boost their ego? Is this a unique way to highlight inequality? Let us know your thoughts.

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