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Five ways to fix football’s failings

Conference demands change

16 April ~ Football, according to David Goldblatt, the author of The Ball Is Round, has to bear the weight of ethical visions of what the world might be like. Talk about "the beautiful game" is loose and hackneyed, because no one who watches Bristol Rovers every week would pretend that football always looks that way. Goldblatt is more concerned with the potential for beauty and for that, football urgently needs profound and far-reaching reforms, as he said when he delivered the keynote address last week at Hofstra University’s intriguing conference on Soccer as the Beautiful Game: Football’s Artistry, Identity and Politics.

In it he called on those in charge of the game to acknowledge that the real essence of a football club is “the collective cultural capital” of those invested in following the team. A stadium, the management and a club’s players are all changeable, but this capital built up by decades of common support reflected the true foundation of a team’s identity.

The writer outlined five aspects of football governance needing reform. First, all international and national federations needed to acknowledge that embezzlement is theft, and therefore a criminal act, and that all their accounts need auditing. Second, board and committee representatives could no longer be chosen from within, via the back door – players and women, for example, should have representatives at board level.

Third, match-fixing has to be tackled – it has always been present, but the scale of betting has become phenomenal. In the lower leagues, said Goldblatt, there are many players with drinking, gambling and debt issues, and if it gets any worse then in 15 to 20 years no one will take the game seriously.

Fourth, football must examine its long term relationship with commercialisation. “We need to think about regulating the economics of football,” said Goldblatt. Football’s association with gambling, for example, is out of hand when so many teams are sponsored by betting companies. In addition, more money needs to be channelled from the “extraordinary wealth” at the top of the game down to the lower levels.

Finally, he attacked what he called the “spectacularisation” of football – meaning the way that football is consumed and presented, and dominated by TV coverage. He cited FIFA’s ban on the vuvuzela and traditional Brazilian musical instruments at the 2014 World Cup. “If we kill the spontaneity and the crowd’s contribution,” he said, “then we’ve massively diminished the cultural experience.”

None of these ideas is particularly new, especially to anyone who has been reading WSC for the past 25 years. It was inspiring, however, to see them delivered with such verve in front of hundreds of academics and students from around the world. While the conference served up 100 fascinating papers and numerous lively panel discussions – covering topics from the organised league in the Nazi ghetto town of Theresienstadt to “Female fans and the 1966 World Cup” – it was Goldblatt’s fire and conviction that suggested the conference could serve as more than a mere forum for the polite and erudite exchange of views on gender, art and identity in the game. Ian Plenderleith

On the subject...

Comment on 16-04-2014 14:26:03 by geobra #902770
I've just finished 'The Ball Is Round'. Revelatory and a monumental achievement. The only pity, considering what has happened since, is that he finished it in 2006.

What a wonderful thing it would be if David Goldblatt stood against Blatter for the presidency of FIFA and won!
Comment on 16-04-2014 15:27:20 by JM Footzee #902789
Is the talk available to download/stream somewhere. The site linked to in the article doesn't have anything, so I suspect not but no harm in asking.

Comment on 16-04-2014 16:52:59 by imp #902815
JMF - I don't know if it was recorded. There was no transcript - the speech was delivered without notes. I suspect the university will have videoed it, as they were doing a lot of filming during the conference, so it may appear at some point on their web site.

Comment on 16-04-2014 18:14:05 by geobra #902848
Points three (match fixing) and four (football's links with gambling) resonate with me and are of course linked. I would love to know how much has really changed since the match fixing scandal broke in Italy on June 1st, 2011.

Certainly an opportunity has been missed as many players have had their original sentences reduced or annulled, something Samuele dalla Bona, once of Chelsea, commented on with disdain in today's La Gazzetta dello Sport. (He wishes he'd stayed in England).

Watching some of the strange goings on in end-of-season matches in Series A and B and Lega Pro (levels 3 and 4) I have the uncomfortable sensation that an antidote to the virus has not yet been found. And as long as sentences are reduced and match fixers are allowed to play again while honest players like Simone Farina are hounded out of the game (both of which stagger dalla Bona) it won't be.
Comment on 16-04-2014 21:55:50 by enzee199 #902931
I'm sure that what we think we know about match fixing is only the start of it. It'll make doping in cycling seem minor by comparison.
Comment on 16-04-2014 22:32:38 by geobra #902961
enzee 99, I agree with your first sentence. I hope your second sentence is unduly pessimistic, but I fear it might not be.

And I would add to your first sentence that I think we'll find that match fixing takes place wherever football is played and not just in countries that one might call 'the usual suspects'.
Comment on 17-04-2014 10:44:21 by drew_whitworth #903073
I would go further still and presume to find it in most sports. The fixing is a symptom -- the virus is unregulated gambling and the lifting of any restrictions on what one can bet on in sport, when, and where. I don't know if the football (or snooker, or cricket, or whatever) authorities can do anything alone, though they can and should certainly be more concerned with the symptoms. But can they possibly have any real leverage over the root cause of the problem? Do governments care enough to regulate worldwide? I doubt it.

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