Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is known for his distinctive touchline dress sense.
Whether it is his black bomber jacket or inside-out cardigan, the bold style the Catalan has adopted, particularly since arriving in Manchester, has become iconic.
However, the current item Guardiola has been seen sporting regularly on the Premier League leaders 21-game unbeaten run is somewhat different.
It’s a simple grey hoodie with the words ‘Open Arms’ in red stitching on the front.
Open Arms is not the latest designer brand selected for Pep from his wife’s successful fashion business. No, this hoodie has a different message, because Open Arms is a charity.
To understand who they are and what it has means to have one of the world’s most famous managers wear its hoodie I spoke to Laura Lanuza, Open Arms’ communications and projects director.
Who are Open Arms?
For years refugees fleeing wars and oppression in Africa and the middle east have made the treacherous journey from Turkey to Greece in small boats.
Crossings spiked substantially in the mid-2010s as thousands fled the worsening conflict in Syria.
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The overcrowded and inadequate vessels often ran into trouble and many people drowned.
Horrific images of dead children washed up on beaches were covered by the international media as the crisis worsened.
The scenes were watched with distress by Òscar Camps a Catalan entrepreneur, lifeguard and activist and in 2015 he decided to take action.
Camps initially travelled with a team to the Greek island of Lesbos, which due to its proximity to the Turkish mainland, was where many ships carrying refugees were attempting to reach.
However, he quickly found the situation was worse than expected.
“The situation there was overwhelming,” says Lanuza.
“Thousands of people fleeing the war in Syria and other countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan risked their lives every day.
“We become an organization to protect the lives of the vulnerable at sea, first in the Aegean Sea, and later on in the central Mediterranean.”
Camps realised he faced a battle, not only to patrol the waters in search of boats of vulnerable refugees, but also for resources.
How Pep Guardiola became involved
As well as taking direct action, which was critical in saving people’s lives, Open Arms also sought to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis playing out on the seas.
The group attracted media attention, particularly in Catalunya, which is how they came to the attention of Pep Guardiola.
“Pep knew about our work from the media and contacted us offering to help,” Lanuza continues.
“He was moved by the humanitarian emergency in the Aegean and Mediterranean-where more than 20,000 people have died trying to reach Europe in last 5 years.
“He believed our values matched his.”
Guardiola’s help has involved financial support, which is crucial for a charity that draws 90% of its funding from private citizens and isn’t backed by governments.
He has also sought to raise awareness.
Lanuza continues: “He has supported us, not only funding our missions and needs when most needed, but also by giving us a voice.”
This saw Guardiola invite Camps and Open Arms’ chief of operations Gerard Canals to Manchester three years ago to give a talk to City’s players about the reality of what was going on in the Mediterranean and to explain the charity’s humanitarian mission.
A silent gesture
Humanitarian messages are often avoided by people in soccer.
In the Premier League, where clubs are well aware of the globalised-product English soccer has become, everyone is controversy-adverse for fear of upsetting foreign markets.
This was best demonstrated by the way Arsenal swiftly distanced itself from tweets by then-midfielder Mesut Ozil about the treatment of Uighur Muslims by the Chinese government.
In the past few years, there has been a noticeable change in the ability of players with significant profiles being empowered to tackle UK-specific issues.
Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling are two who have both spoken out about social justice and racial bias on social media.
This takes incredible bravery because soccer players who do speak out are relentlessly criticised for doing so.
It is perhaps one of the reasons Guardiola’s gesture of solidarity with a humanitarian organisation dealing with the refugee crisis is a silent one.
He clearly understands how powerful the gesture of wearing it is, but is also aware of the pitfalls that line in wait if he gets drawn into debate about it.
There are of course legitimate questions to be asked about how Guardiola can make an outward display of his human rights values, whilst simultaneously working for owners with deep links to the leadership of a country frequently attacked by humanitarian groups.
This potential contradiction came to the fore in 2018 when he was charged by the FA for wearing a yellow ribbon in support of two jailed Catalonia politicians.
Associated Press reporter Rob Harris asked Guardiola how he reconciled the message behind the yellow ribbon with Manchester City’s links to an undemocratic regime.
“Every country decides the way they want to live for themselves,” he replied at the time.
“If he decides to live in that [country], it is what it is. I am in a country with democracy installed since years ago, and try to protect that situation.”
It’s easy to mock Guardiola or call him a hypocrite, but he is hardly alone in rationalising his moral stances.
Anyone who says they don’t justify or ignore countless potential contradictions in their codes of ethics every day is simply not being honest with themselves.
We all make choices or actions, which could be called out in the same way, were we put under the same scrutiny as Guardiola is.
At least is doing something, and by wearing the hoodie he makes a difference.
“For us it’s huge,” says Lanuza.
“His wearing of the hoodie has had a global impact.
“So people around the world have contacted us interested in our mission and the breaches of human rights happening in the Mediterranean daily.
“It’s so important to put the focus, not only in our mission, but in all those who we rescue at sea escaping from torture, abuse, and slavery at the doorstep of Europe.
“Very few humanitarian organizations like ours are out there in [the sea] to protect their lives, as there are no civil, military or governmental operations.”
Source: Forbes – Business