Tuesday, 18 January, 2022

Football Needs A Revolution

Aashish Mishra

AT the beginning of this week, 12 of the biggest football clubs of Europe, and arguably the world, announced that they were “gift to the fans” a new competition – the European Super League (ESL). The league, they promised, would be “better” because it would have no stakes. The 12 founding members would never lose their spot in the league, that is, they would never be relegated regardless of performance.
However, the fans did not share the clubs’ vision of a “better” league. There was a massive uproar against the football giants’ seeming abandonment of the sport’s core values in the interest of revenue. Government officials and regulatory authorities, including FIFA and UEFA, vowed to take strict action even going so far as proposing to ban the players playing the Super League from appearing in other European competitions and the World Cup.
These threats and the public backlash worked. The Super League did not even last 72 hours. The league was announced on Sunday and by Tuesday, all six premier league clubs Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester United, Manchester City and Arsenal had pulled out followed quickly by Atletico Madrid and Inter Milan. With eight of the 12 founders gone, the league was suspended.
So, no harm, no foul, right? NO! Much harm, much foul. The Super League was not a one-off thing. Clubs did not just wake up one day and thought let’s strip “the beautiful game” of the very principles that make it beautiful and keep it a game. They were emboldened by the current system which, while not as brazenly as the European Super League, also prioritises wealth over fair play. While regulators may have reacted with fury at the announcement of the ESL, they are the ones that created a situation for such a league to be envisioned in the first place.
After all, let us not forget that, in an effort to stay on the good sides of the sporting clubs which are now owned by multinational billionaires with ties that go way beyond the sporting world, UEFA offered to “cooperate” on the principles of merit by introducing a coefficient points system that would allow two clubs retain their spot in the Champions League even if they have a bad season in their domestic leagues. Fans are left to wonder since when sporting integrity became a thing to “cooperate” on.
Clearly, football needs a transformation and that transformation needs to target the financial aspects of the sports – because, as the ESL fiasco has shown, money is what tempts the stakeholders to sacrifice sportsmanship. A proportionate distribution of the league money to the clubs based on their performance and their grassroots facilities would be a good way to start. Ticket prices and subscription rates should be set in consultation with the fans, who are the ones who ultimately have to pay the money to enjoy the game they love. There should be regulations in place to force clubs to be at least partially fan-owned because fan ownership makes a huge difference. Just look at the German clubs who are all fan-owned and none joined the so-called super league. But then, Barcelona and Real Madrid are also fan-owned and they were more than eager to jump on the ESL train. So, there’s that.
The football world is increasingly starting to resemble an oligarchy. A few entities at the top get to bend the system to their whim while the heads of those at the bottom are forced underwater. If we are to break this oligarchy then the fans must rise. As the ESL showed, the fans still wield enormous power. Time to utilise it and make football fun, fair and unpredictable, just as it should be.