Monday, 25 July 2011
Football: the new Dr Faustus?
For anyone who hasn't encountered Christopher Marlowe's play, Dr Faustus, here is a brief synopsis; Dr Faustus sells his soul to the devil in order to gain power and knowledge, he then becomes consumed by his soul's damnation and all does not end well for him. Well, how on earth is this play relevant to football today? That is something I am going to try to demonstrate to you.
Football resemble a corrupt tin-pot dictatorship on virtually every level. Football has been transformed from an amateur game into a multi-billion pound industry over the last century, the problem is that many of the game's structures have not been proportionately reformed and are in massive need of being hammered into the 21st century. Although professionalisation has brought many advances, a lot of the soul of sport has been lost as the amateur game has been replaced by the professional one.
If one looks at the Premier League objectively then it has had many successes of which one can be proud. However when one remarks upon the fact that it has become a money laundering vehicle for many multi-billionaire criminals then one has to ask serious questions about the regulation and governance of the game we love.
Last week's Dispatches program on Channel 4 gave us a brief behind the scenes glimpse into this overtly murky and corrupt world. Companies like 'London Nominees' are effectively offering money laundering routes for some rather dubious individuals. The saddest thing is that local peoples' football clubs are merely seen as cash cows for these dodgy dealers, the way Bryan Robson coldly talks of selling training grounds to build supermarkets is like to kick in the balls of your average football supporter. The offshore ownership of big clubs such as Spurs was another startling fact that many are unaware of, it means that that the true owner of a club can be completely hidden from the fans.
The problem in football is that there is no fit and proper regulation of anything at all. FIFA is a failed organisation that is in the process of falling apart, UEFA is simply a European version of FIFA. Our own English Football Association is not fit for purpose, anyone trying to lead reform gets booted out or so frustrated that they end up quitting. As a consequence football's financial dealings are hidden from the public and fans, club ownership is virtually unregulated and open to rank corruption, clubs can be driven into the ground in a reckless manner while fans can do nothing about it, debt levels are at an all time irresponsible high, and on and on.
The worst thing in all this is that the fairness in the game appears to be at an all time low. Certain big clubs have far too much power, while the rules on and off the pitch are not enforced and regulated in a fit and proper manner. The influx of money into the game means that football's processes are not capable of steering wide of corrupt practices, this was proven by the level of corruption in the Italian refereeing scandal of a few years back. The way in which referees are selected for Premier League games is done behind closed doors and is wide open to being exploited by clubs, just as it was in Italy; strangely the media are silent on this.
Alex Ferguson runs a cabal of sorts in the Premier League. He narrowly escaped having his dodgy dealings aired in public by the Irishmen Magnier and McManus about ten years ago, no doubt he would have lost his job, if not gone to prison if those secret files had seen the light of day. After that close shave, Ferguson continues to influence officials and control a huge network of managers, coaches, ex-players who all know that upsetting this bullying dictator would not be in their interests.
The recent tapping up of Samir Nasri is just a symptom of this wider disease that is the rank corruption present in modern football. It is demonstrative of a failing regulatory system that sees the rules left unenforced as the biggest and most powerful continue to dominate at the expense of a fairness and competition. One hope left is the involvement of politics in the form of the Commons Select Committee's inquiry into football governance, as fans we must pressure out politicians to sort this mess out.
There is no utopia but there are certainly examples of where better regulation has led to a healthier domestic league. Certainly reforms that bring about more openness and transparency are an absolute necessity, otherwise football is going to become increasingly boring with a big few oligarchs dominating proceedings. We need rules that are actually enforced, we need technology brought in to make the game fairer, we need more transparent processes for appointing referees for matches, we need to have transparent club ownership and more fan involvement, we need some form of salary cap introduced as has been done successfully in many other sports. In short we need to attack this corruption head on or the game we love will continue to sell its soul to the devil in a manner similar to Dr Faustus.