Football - A scandalous game
There is a dark hole at the core of Europe's favourite sport. The football played may continue to wow millions, but there is a dark current of corruption and elitism in the modern game. Perhaps this has been a long time coming, but we now have to admit - football corrupts, absolute football is corrupting Europe absolutely.
Football's home has always been in Europe. Played in medieval times, with the inflated bladder of a pig, the first professional clubs emerged in England, 1888. Some of the earliest and most famous clubs, Manchester United, Juventus, Real Madrid,have continued to inspire generations of young Europeans to watch, support and play sport till this day. The infectiousness of football has spread far beyond Europe's borders and these same teams are now global brands, eliciting instant recognition whether at the tip of Africa or in the far side of Asia.
|Illustration: Laura Hempel|
As E&M wrote in Issue 13, football can be used to inspire and bring people together, fostering peace and building a cohesive society from divided states. This is no more evident than in the atmosphere that surrounds the European Championships that take place every four years.
The corrupt game
Modem football is however, first and foremost, a business. Sadly, too many clubs and officiating bodies now live on a dirty cocktail of money, power and only then, the game. This has been no clearer than in recent months where new tax investigations have revealed that some of the biggest footballing names have been 'aggressively' dodging their taxes. In Germany, Uli Hoeness, President of Bayern Munich and long time Merkel supporter has been caught for alleged tax evasion and is now facing up to 10 years in jail. This is made worse by the fact he said in 2005, 'I know its stupid but I pay my taxes.'
Meanwhile in Italy, only a few years on from a major match fixing scandal, financial law enforcement officers are investigating not one... but 41 football clubs for alleged tax evasion! These clubs include most of Serie A and there are multiple millions of Euros at stake for the impoverished Italian state to recoup in missed tax revenue.
Football has also been caught up in political intrigue and the long and diabolical farce of Silvio Berlusconi's time as Italian Prime Minister. Berlusconi not only owned a media conglomeration, sat in high office but also owned AC Milan. Its fair to say that there is financial corruption in any sport - but there are few other places where it is so endemic and institutionalised quite like the top leagues of Europe's football.
Worse still, there have been serious concerns about endemic corruption in the game itself. In February 2013, Europol launched an investigation in some 680 matches that they believe have been diced in Europe since 2008. These include World Cup Qualifying matches, Champions league matches and games in the European Championships itself! Rob Wainwright, the head of Europol, suggested that criminals made money from corruption "on a scale and in a way that threatens the very fabric of the game." The probe has already uncovered 8 million Euros in betting profits and 2 million Euros in bribes to players and officials.
A costly sport
For fans, those who watch and pay for the privilege, the thought of so many fixed matches must leave a bitter taste in the mouth of any football fan. Whilst undermining the game, supporters will probably not see the politics and machinations of dirty business actually play out on the field though. They will however recognise the growing elitism in an industry that keeps inflating ticket prices well beyond the affordability of most Europeans. The average cheapest ticket to a top league team will now cost on average: La Liga £232.80, Bundesliga £207.22 and Serie A £164.89 - meanwhile, someone wanting to see the English Premiership can expect to pay around £467.95 for one season!
With the advent of broadcaster rights to show games on TV, fans can still watch their favourite teams play and in the comfort of their own home. But this in turn incurs high costs and the sale of channels as bulk packages often means that the most cost-effective way for fans pay may be to also buy games that they have no interest in watching. Being a fan has never been more expensive and unlike any other purchases - the price is not directly linked to performance of your team that year!
The absurdity of rising fan prices is that the business models driving investment in players (and therefore team quality) is largely detached from the money that fans put in. The development of super investors in football clubs, invariably rich sheiks or Russian tycoons, has transformed the game into one that prices 99% of teams out of the top prizes. While the success of some teams and the losses of others it is an inevitable problem of a money-making endeavour, it has been taken to absurd levels, where a middle ranking team can be transformed into a world challenging for in 2 years by the swift injection of funds. For those teams who do not possess such resources, they can expect their fans to endure many years of fruitless and expensive onlooking as they scramble for a middle ranking.
The beautiful game has lost its shine. Behind those perfect 90 minutes of footballing genius, lie too many layers of money, politics and corruption for the sport to take its place as Top European. Instead, the recent revelations in Germany and Italy are just recent reminders that European football must clean up its business practices and go back to rewarding the devotion of its fans, not just on the pitch, but also off it.
Cover illustration: Laura Hempel