The wait is almost over, and a Germany – Spain final looks so inevitable (see the latest Euro 2012 betting) that the upset of upsets – both favourites losing at the semi-final stage – may be the most fitting conclusion to an already entertaining Euro 2012.
International tournaments and their extended build-ups mean that we’re often left complaining about off-the-pitch issues while we wait for the football to start. The football itself – as in Germany 2006, Austria / Switzerland 2008 and South Africa 2010 – has been entertaining and helped people enjoy international football.
Off the pitch, however, Euro 2012 and World Cup 2010 – and the allocation of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, not to mention the problems facing Brazil 2014 – show that the whole decade of taking football to new regions of the World comes with inherent issues that need addressing. And as we enjoy the football on TV (with many fans opting against traveling) and complain about politics on Twitter, here are three lessons that football should have learned by now.
1. Football is an increasingly corporate product – and as such, the fan base is changing. As costs rise, you end up with fewer fans but as they’re paying more, the revenues are still increasing.
Football – for it’s own long-term success – needs to be better managed to keep expanding their new fan base while also retaining the traditional fans. It’s not as simple as saying that we should shun the sponsorship / TV money and force stadiums to sell cheaper tickets – as long as there is an inelastic demand the prices will continue to rise.
However, it’s that traditional face of the game – the face that attracted the huge investments in the first place – that’s slowly disappearing and must be retained. A more equitable sharing of income in the Premier League is seen as the primary reason the league is more competitive than – say – Spain. More investment in grassroots football is why Spain’s national team has seen success. Long-term strategy and commitment saw France rise in the last 20 years and has helped Germany and Italy stay top for decades.
There are lessons to be learned from all around the world of football – invest in the product, invest in the fans – don’t treat football as just an ATM machine.
2. Football is part of life – not an escape from reality. Football anywhere is not divorced from real-life issues, even if the showmen must act as everything is alright and it’s only football that matters.
Right now the World Cup legacy is a disaster – the motivation to move the World Cup to new territories is also borne by the desire to retain power by giving favours to new hosts as well as avoiding government restrictions and regulations where possible. The Euros – thanks to Platini’s Eastern European experience (for all it’s problems, Italy would have been a better host and a perfect footballing vacation a la Germany 2006) and the expansion from 16 teams to 24 teams are heading down the same line.
This is a game that cares only about it’s image. A game that treats in-game offenses harshly to ‘make an example’ but trivialises racism on a weekly basis. A game that only cares about the profits and not about how they’re made.
In many ways, it’s a reflection of how life and our global society has evolved.
Football can be more than that. It can be have a global conscience. It can marry talent and ability with respect and integrity.
Football doesn’t have to be political. This isn’t about Western societies mindlessly dictating social norms to Middle Eastern countries. However, football is a uniquely global sport and as such must have a global conscience and tolerance and respect for those that are different – because while the distances may have been reduced, we’re all still very different nations with different cultural backgrounds.
3. Football fans need to let go of their blindly partisan views – it’s one thing to support your team but in a time and age where access to information is nearly universal, ignoring reality and happily peddling lies only serves to belittle the game.
Part of the packaged globalisation of football has been this concept of being a ‘proper’ fan. Unfortunately, it’s closer to the concept of being a ‘proper’ idiot rather than a decent football fan. Twitter has helped expose the idiots far more than it has helped start revolutions (so has the Internet) and history suggests that the idiots have always been there, we’ve just given them a platform to share their views.
Again, you can change this by changing how football is promoted. It’s easy to promote football as a game of passion and pure entertainment. It’s not so easy to add respect into that equation. But it’s necessary if football is to be a people’s game instead of being a game that rips people off.
Don’t hold your breath thinking that football stakeholders care about any of these issues. Their goal is power and money, and football offers them that in spades. All popular things must get hijacked – whether they are social movements hijacked by opportunistic politicians or a global game loved by millions that’s hijacked by profiteers.
All you can hope for is for Ronaldo to stuff / get embarrassed by the Spanish and the Pirlo to single-handedly hold-off the Germans for a fantastic finale to Euro 2012. And this is why the profiteers have their way – because when it comes down to loving the game, our emotions always get the better of us, regardless of politics or race or corruption.