Image for FIFA and Blatter: how money and sport are joined at the hip

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Sepp Blatter ...

The nail-biting penalty shoot out that has been taking place in FIFA during the past week has been fully in keeping with the quaint on-field rules of the game. It looks all but over for Sepp Blatter, but it is wrong-headed to pivot the story just around this one guy and corruption within FIFA.

The guts of the story is much, much bigger. When squillions of dollars of sponsorship money envelopes any enterprise we should not be surprised by big time corruption.  The commercialisation of all sporting genres has all but destroyed any semblance of a level playing field. This creeping disease has taken hold of sport whilst society pretends that it isn’t happening.

This is a follow-up to an article I wrote for Tasmanian Times last year on the eve of the Australian Rules grand final – “How Money Rules Australian Rules” ( http://oldtt.pixelkey.biz/index.php?/article/chris-harries1/ )

In a nutshell: money does for team sports what drugs do for individual sporting performances. Those clubs and nations that can afford to buy the best players, the best coaches, the best sporting facilities, the best sports medical practitioners and counselors are the ones that win the silver. In the past month Chelsea won the EPL and Arsenal won the FA Cup. Winning success in the EPL is rotated between just six filthy rich teams out of the 92 competing teams in British football. The odd thing is, nobody bats an eyelid. This is admittedly the far end of the spectrum, where money literally buys sporting success, but all sporting leagues sit somewhere along that spectrum and they are all relentlessly shifting to that same end.

Some sporting enthusiasts were then quick to point out that Australian Rules football is regulated to guard against money comprehensively taking over the game, so my references to mind boggling wealthy corporations that dominate the English Premier League were seen to be offside. Whilst better regulation is true, we are seeing evidence all over the place – in cycling, cricket, the AFL and motor sports – where the corporatization of sport is distorting sporting success – and this should be every bit as alarming as the influence of drugs.

Turning to cricket as yet another example – a sporting competition rich in history and so well reported on ABC and SBS during most of the past century – the crossover between commercialization of sport and commercialization of media resulted in the 9 Network buying up the rights to report on the recent World Cup cricket. Hundreds of cricket fans subsequently wrote into blogs complaining about the low standard of commentary and the annoying insertion of explicit and subtle advertising all the way through. Again, nearly all of that criticism was leveled against ‘stupid’ commentators rather than at the big picture. Sorry guys, you are never going to get cricket back. Not only does money buy sporting success it now totally invades our experiences as onlookers.

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Against this backdrop I remain somewhat puzzled that million of fans all over the world back their favoured sporting clubs with unbridled enthusiasm, whereas in many cases they may as well be barracking for a multinational corporation. But I accept that this phenomenon goes to the heart of competitive instincts bred into us humans from our evolution.  Meanwhile, each and every year year sporting stars and coaches are bought and sold on the open market, during the buying ‘windows’ and these dealings are now merely seen as another part of the contest, and accepted without critical commentary on where it is all leading.
 
This story is much more than a commentary on sport. It’s really about money. Big money inexorably has crept its way into nearly every aspect of society – into media, politics, communications and nearly every area of public and private life. Its insidious nature is highlighted by the fact that we just get used to it and don’t question, because it all happens over time. In my younger days sports were strictly divided between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ – those athletes who were happy to be bought and those who had to stay clean. The rules were very clear. In terms of money, those days are over now. Nothing could stop the landslide but we still focus on drugs where there is still some semblance of control and social sanction against those who imbibe.

Through the lens of sport, built around a sentiment of fair competition, we can see the insidiousness of unbridled capitalism and how it corrupts out most treasured institutions, and more so, how we don’t even see it happening over time. Ditto the world around us.

The irreversible downhill slide on the sporting front highlights one bright niche that is really worth celebrating. It seems that nothing can stop runners from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia from completely dominating world performances in long distance athletics. The same is almost true of black West Indian sprinters. For all the money in the world, it’s so nice to see that genetics and individual prowess can still rise above the money phenomenon, albeit in a very few tiny areas.

Where is sport is heading? We have not much choice but to accept that the road to money corruption is all but impossible to turn around. The only way to get away from it is to revert to the local. There’s always backyard cricket. However, whilst we are looking at the world development of women’s sports – too long neglected by media, government sponsorship and the sporting public – it’s just possible that the worst aspects of corporatization and financial corruption can be avoided.

The nail biting dramatics at FIFA have become so big as merge into the Cold War sanctions against Russia, with the FBI agency at the heart of the controversy, but let’s make no mistake, at the heart of the matter is what money can buy. Indignation over Sepp Blatter and his pivotal role in FIFA should not blind us to the much bigger picture.

• Dr Buck Emberg, in Comments: … I feel sad when driving past a major sporting ground on Saturday knowing that each person that is sporting the ‘colours’ of a team, carrying the incredibly vulgar “1” sign…are about to spend up to 100 dollars for a family to be ‘entertained’ by the inanities of overblown sport…by over muscled and overpaid athletes…to support grown men and women who administer sports and refuse to grow up! p.s. I too was involved in sport from age 5 to 45 and all I have to show for it now is a broken body caused by being run into and running into other over-muscled bodies.