You might think that it’s hard to argue for socialism in the context of sports, but this is simply not the case; particularly with football. There’s more to football than just entertainment – the organisations behind the game play a decisive role in the sport. Like any big business, the institutions that regulate and run football are capitalist to the core. Chairmen and owners alike are unelected, unaccountable and untrustworthy individuals who seeks exactly what any other CEO seeks: profit.The sport is awash with money, and the culture of chasing profit seeps into every level of football, from club owners to managers to players.
Whilst football is a sport cherished by millions of fans for its entertainment value and sense of personal identity or nostalgia, those working in the out-of-reach upper echelons of its institutions could not care less about those who form the bedrock of clubs. You only have to look at the series of corruption scandals surrounding England football managers including Sam Allardyce, who sums up the sad state of football in capitalist society when he was caught on camera saying that “everything is done under the table” in the sport.
Or one could observe the long-running concerns that HM Revenue and Customs has had with tax evasion in the football industry, with raids on West Ham United and Newcastle United football clubs in April 2017 which found suspected income tax and National Insurance fraud amounting to £5m according to the BBC.
Even the supposedly ‘democratically elected’ Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), which is meant to represent and govern football on an international level, has been found to be severely corrupt right up to the highest positions of authority. The disgraced former President of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, for instance, awarded ‘secret bonuses’ using cash raised from the 2010 World Cup to executive committee members after bonus payments had been axed.
But even this is modest in comparison to the investigations made into FIFA around 2016 that found racketeering, wire fraud and money laundering over the course of 24 years occurring behind the scenes by executives at the organisation.
This money-grubbing is not restricted to the managers or chairmen of clubs, but extends to the football players themselves. There are parallels between the gigantic wage gaps between managers and workers in workplaces and the situation in the football industry. In 2012, it was reported by the Guardian that the biggest footballing names had a pay rise of 1,500% in the past 20 years, whilst average UK wages went up by a mere 186%. And yet this gap grows even worse when compared with the salaries of Chinese Super League players. Carlos Tevez of Shanghai Shenhua earns a staggering £615,000 a week and Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnio of Shanghai SIPG earns £400,000 a week. Such sums of money are obscene when many football fans are themselves struggling just to make ends meet.
It is clear then that capitalism grossly distorts football – it makes it about money instead of about sport. The football industry is kept alive by millions of working class fans, so it should be us who have the final say when it comes to governance of the sport and the remuneration of players. Institutions like FIFA should be democratically elected, instantly recallable, and have their finances subject to public scrutiny. We cannot allow wealthy and unaccountable chairmen and boards of directors to decide on matters that are ultimately the primary concern of the fans on the basis of self-interest and profit rather than the wishes of supporters. It’s time to kick profit out of football.
by Simon Spencer, Norwich