The buying and selling of footballers is a perfect image for the state of the global market: the treasures of the South are consumed in the North, because only the North has the money to buy them
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By Ignacio Ramonet
The planet will be submerged under a month-long tidal wave of football from June, culminating in the World Cup Final in Germany. Football as the most universal sport easily provides the best television viewing: billions of viewers will watch their choice of the 64 qualifying matches between 32 national teams.
The contest will reach its climax at the final on Sunday 9 July, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin (built by Hitler for the 1936 Olympic Games). More than two billion people in 213 countries, a third of Earth’s entire population, will see it on television; nothing else will matter. The event will provide excellent cover for anything else that may be happening. Very convenient for some. In France, President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin are probably counting on this temporary obsession to distract public attention from the Clearstream affair that has brought into the open the animosity between Villepin and presidential rival Nicolas Sarkozy, and give them a breathing space.
A plague for some and an overwhelming passion for others, football is the number one international sport. Well, more than a sport, otherwise it would not arouse such a storm of conflicting feelings. The social commentator Norbert Elias called it “a social fact”. It could also be seen as a metaphor for the human condition, for it illustrates, according to anthropologist Christian Bromberger, the uncertain status of the individual and the group, the hazards of chance and destiny. It prompts reflection on the role of the individual and of the team, and debate about faking, cheating, arbitrary decisions and injustice.
In football, as in life, there are more losers than winners. That is why it has always been the sport of the poor who, consciously or unconsciously, see it as a mirror of their own fate. They know that supporting their club means accepting bad times. The important thing if the team loses is to remain united and stick together. Sharing this passion, they know that, in the words of the Rogers and Hammerstein song so often sung by Liverpool supporters, “You’ll never walk alone”.
Football is a political sport. It raises crucial questions of allegiance, identity, class and even, in its sacrificial and mystical aspects, religion. That is why stadiums lend themselves so readily to displays of national or local pride, individual or group excesses, and violent clashes between fans.
For all these reasons, and for other, possibly better ones, people love football. And demagogues and admen love people. Football is not just a sport, it’s a show with a vast audience and stars worth a weekly fortune. The buying and selling of footballers is a perfect image for the state of the global market: the treasures of the South are consumed in the North, because only the North has the money to buy them. This market, full of traps for the unwary, generates a modern slave trade.
The sums of money are mind-boggling. Should France qualify for the final, the cost of a 30-second television commercial during that final would be €250,000, which is equivalent to 15 years’ pay for someone on the French minimum wage. The governing body, Fifa, will receive some €1.172bn for the television rights and sponsorship of the World Cup in Germany. Total advertising investment in the competition is expected to be more than €3bn.
Such oceans of money drive people mad. Football is a focus for shady dealers who control the transfer market and betting shops. Some teams have no compunction about cheating to win; consider the scandal in Italy, where Juventus of Turin is accused of bribing referees and faces relegation.
That is how it is with the beautiful game, caught between the glory and the mud. When the shit hits the fan, everyone gets splashed.