Newcastle v Manchester City highlight inherent football problem | Football politics

It has been another week of soul searching for football. What is the game, what is it for and who owns it? With nine Premier League games postponed last week and Dr Nikki Kanani, NHS England primary care medical director suggesting that attending games is an unnecessary risk, a return to reduced attendance, games behind closed doors or even a suspension have become distinct possibilities.

Returning to project restart protocols may be enough to stem the spread of the virus among gamers, but if not, prosecution cannot be justified. Brentford’s Thomas Frank has already called for a cutout, but potentially pushing the end of the season back to the summer isn’t easy due to the truncated season closing to host a November World Cup. In football, as in so many other spheres, the pandemic has exposed the dangers of greedy short-termism and bogus solutions to systemic problems.

What is clear is the desire for football. During the 100-day suspension in the first lockdown, just like during WWII when the league closed, only for local competitions to open in a month, the need for football as entertainment and distraction, as a community event for give us something to discuss, quickly became essential. CS Lewis observed that we read to feel less alone; in modern times, football serves a similar function.

It is the romantic justification for the dominance of football over modern media and culture. And there is something remarkable about the fact that people all over the world will be connecting with Tottenham v Liverpool on Sunday afternoon. Express your skepticism about Cristiano Ronaldo or José Mourinho and the abuse will come from all corners of the world. Football is truly universal.

But it also makes him both potentially lucrative and influential – and that’s why much of the game is so unpleasant. Hearing self-interested bleating from various top clubs after the fan-led review called for an independent regulator made the idea that any owner cares about the larger good of the game ludicrous. Another theme of this week: the dark consequences of the attraction of football as a tool of soft power.

First there was the news that Abdullah Ibhais, the former media director of the 2022 World Cup Supreme Delivery and Legacy Committee, has been jailed in Qatar for three years. He was first convicted and sentenced to five years in prison in April for corruption after a confession he said was extracted under duress.

No evidence was presented at his trial and he claims he was denied access to a lawyer. He appealed and was released, but was re-arrested just before he had to speak to Norwegian public television station NRK. The magazine Josimar reported on how his initial arrest came after he refused to tell a story about migrant workers spending months without pay in a WhatsApp exchange with senior members of the Supreme Committee.

A Manchester City fan holds a fake banknote with the face of Sulaiman Al-Fahim, the Emirati television personality and businessman involved in the club’s takeover in 2008. Photograph: Shaun Botterill / Getty Images

Regardless of the personal horror of Ibais’ story, WhatsApp messages cast doubt on official claims regarding the safety and treatment of migrant workers. No one should believe that next year’s World Cup represents anything other than football used as a status symbol by a repressive state in which homosexuality remains illegal and women’s rights are severely curtailed.

Then there was the news that US cryptocurrency speculators are considering investing in Bradford City, offering a new model of ownership based on non-fungible tokens. Despite all the sentimental talk about the ‘community history tale’, this community is made up of the global investors, not the local fans who have supported the club for decades – another civic asset sold to an investor who has no idea. of Bradford, its history or its surroundings.

Sunday, meanwhile, will see the first meeting between Newcastle United and Manchester City since that game turned into a battle between Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi. There should be an outrage that two proud local institutions have been taken over by foreign states (OK, a foreign state and a public investment fund which is definitely, categorically not the same as the state and the Premier League has legally binding guarantees to prove it) for diplomatic posture reasons.

But so far we’ve fallen back into a self-centered tribalism where fans welcome their distant overlords, despite their horrific human rights backgrounds, because they promise high class football. The price of a fan’s soul? The date of Eddie Howe and the puff of James Tarkowski.

Blaming the fans, however, is treating only the most visible symptom. There’s an inherent problem with football: if you win you get more cash prizes and more people want to watch you, which in turn increases income through door revenue, TV rights, merchandise, sponsorship, and more. to advertising. More money means better players means more success means more money and, without a salary cap, unless there is some form of redistribution, a self-fulfilling cycle until only one handful of clubs could compete.

The only way for an underdog club to bridge the gap is through the intervention of a sugar daddy, and so they are greeted as implausible anti-capitalist disruptors even though they have bone saws in their pockets. The current crop of owners is so nasty that hedge funds have come to look like the good guys; that’s enough to make you miss the cynical carriers and scrap dealers of yesteryear.

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But these two aspects, the mass popularity of the game, the need for the game as a common touchstone, especially in times of global crisis, and the deals football has made with disreputable people, are intrinsically linked. If football weren’t so popular, it would be less appealing to the very rich or those looking to whitewash their reputation.

The result is that on the one hand, there is a global army of social media warriors enthusiastically doing the work of robot farms, making propaganda for faraway states. And on the other hand, as the Omicron crisis escalates, the need for our dose of football, that usual burst of fantasy and storytelling, becomes more and more acute. Welcome to modern football: it stinks but we need it.

This article was last modified on December 19, 2021. In an earlier version, an image caption incorrectly identified Sulaiman Al-Fahim as “Sheikh Mansour”.

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