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Foul play in the name of profit

There are few sports left where rampant commercialism and profit making is not the driving force at the top level.

Sport, over the last 30 years, has been sucked into the orbit of the global makers of profit, and its image as an innocent, healthy competitive pastime, combining strength, skill and artistry with fairness and teamwork at its heart, has taken a serious knock.

Take Premier League football in England. The total operating losses of the 20 clubs in the premiership last year alone came to nearly £500 million, despite having the world’s most expensive tickets and the billions in TV money from Sky (part-owned of course by Rupert Murdoch).

The total wages bill for the clubs came to £1.4bn accounting for nearly 70% of their income. The combined debts of the clubs is a staggering £2.5bn. This fantasy world of finance in the Premiership is further distorted by the huge sums (over £2bn) “loaned” to the clubs by the billionaires, oligarchs and sheiks that now own many of them.

Hardly any of this money has gone into anything tangible for the fans, who are traditionally the bedrock of the game. The stadiums were already built (with the help of public money in some cases) when the billionaires arrived on the scene. Their money has simply been swallowed up by the spiralling wage bills of the players and the fabulous transfer fees for the top players and their agents.

The Premiership exists in a free-floating capitalist bubble that sucks many of the best players from Europe and beyond into it, leading to a kind of arms race in the transfer market.

The three biggest spenders in England, Manchester City (with oil money via Sheikh Mansour), Chelsea (with funds from property dealing in the former Soviet Union) and Manchester United (which are able to spend because of their size, despite debts of £600m and despite the owners, the Glazer family from the US, actually taking money out of the club) are able to dominate the market and attract the best players.

Other clubs, in England anyway, for the most part, cannot compete and continually find that their best players are targeted by the big three. The current predatory bid of £27m by Chelsea’s for Tottenham’s Luka Modric, is a case in point.

Financial Fair Play rules drawn up by Europe’s governing body UEFA are an attempt to force clubs to spend within their means and to stop the new owners, particularly in England, from splashing out huge sums on the best players and managers, in their egotistical quest for glory.

But these new regulations are unlikely to impose the necessary sanity on what is, after all, a capitalist market-place in which “global brands” control most of the business. There are many anomalies and loop-holes in the rules.

For instance Barcelona and Real Madrid receive a much larger proportion of the TV money available in Spain, as much as £150m each, compared to the £50m that the top Premiership clubs receive. This will allow these high-spending clubs in England to argue that they need to spend more “in the interests of fairness” to keep up with the Spanish clubs.

It may be some time before new clubs such as Wimbledon AFC, United FC of Manchester or Ebbsfleet United — all of them democratically run and owned by the fans — can challenge for honours at the top level, but this has to be the way forward for football.

These clubs do not pay dividends as there are no shareholders, and are not run for profit. The unsustainable debt-ridden, market-driven football clubs in the Premiership, many of them the playthings of the super-rich like Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich, can only take football and its fans down the road to ruin.

Peter Arkell
14 July 2011

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Ray says:

You haven't even mentioned FIFA and UEFA, two of the 'premier' overseeing bodies that function as corporately corrupted bodies something between the supreme councils of the UN and the IMF. Professional football is eating itself up. Whilst the audience still feel attached to athletic skill and endeavour on the pitch they are increasingly being driven to identify it with alienation, taking the show as a whole - off field. Football will continued to be played, watched and generally 'enjoyed' in the future - but it must and will revert to amateurism, but a new amateurism adopted on a clear understanding of where it 'fits in' amongst all the other necessities and possibilities of life. The sooner the better.


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