Saturday, 6 June 2015

A Cynic's Advice on Enjoying Corruption in Football

Currency accepted by FIFA members?
FIFA’s reputation has just hit a new low, with claims that Germany purchased Saudia Arabia’s support of their bid to host the 2006 World Cup with a gift of rocket-propelled grenades. Football is a multi-billion dollar business at the heart of advanced transnational capitalism, with umbilical ties to private wealth accumulation, nationalist and macropolitical interests. Why wouldn’t it be entangled with the arms industry as well as OFCs, tax evasion on an eye-watering scale, betting scandals, drugs, dodgy construction contracts, money laundering, and the criminal underworld?

Thierry Henry getting Ireland eliminated from 2010 World Cup
Thierry Henry's Sister
It is delusional to argue that enhanced morals, transparency and regulation can solve the problem. Without replacing transnational monopoly capitalism with another economic system, the only sensible policy for a Cynic philosopher is to embrace the extra theatricality which power-politics, felony and litigation bring to this planetary entertainment. In 1978 Argentina donated 35,000 tons of grain  to Peru in return for a 6-0 victory (they needed to win by 4 goals to reach the final, which they then won). If I had known about the transaction, I would have enjoyed watching the play-acting and found Peru’s humiliation far less painful.
Francesco CoCo 'playing' South Korea

The 2002 World Cup, held in South Korea, was vastly enhanced by the hosts’ bizarre victories over European titans (Spain, Portugal and Italy) on their improbable journey to the semi-finals.  The ‘refereeing’ of their elimination match with Italy was one of the most amusing things I have ever witnessed, and the bloodletting truly gladiatorial.

My only complaint about the Football Association of Ireland’s admission that it accepted €5m hush money when it threatened legal action over the Thierry Henry handball which stopped Ireland qualifying for the 2010 World Cup is this: things were hushed up instead of playing out publicly for our delectation in a public court. 

Bobby Meredith
Professor Rathbone
The first great British football scandal, in 1905, involved a £10 bribe, Manchester City's Bobby Meredith and Aston Villa. But it increased public enthusiasm for both Meredith and football. Bribery was a feature of ancient sport as well, and surely added to the public's entertainment. My esteemed King's College colleague Professor Dominic Rathbone is the editor of an ancient Greek contract from Egypt, dated 267 AD, in which one teenaged wrestler agrees to lose a match against another in return for 3,800 drachmas. This may sound a lot, but I don’t think Sepp Blatter would have been impressed. Forget the Mercedes-Benz: this was the price of a single donkey.

A Delight of my Childhood
The fixing of that ancient match may well have added to its spectators’ enjoyment. As a child I was transfixed by televised bouts between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks, when the whole point was figuring out in which round each had agreed to concede to the other and with what absurd manoeuvre. The only things that differentiate those matches from the Gesamtkunstwerk of modern football is the amount of lucre involved and football’s extra attraction of pointless moral posturing from the likes of Greg Dyke, David Cameron etc. Now for an hour of cynical laughter immersed in the sports supplements…

1 comment:

  1. It's perhaps worth adding that 19th C. English schoolboys really were expected to believe and express the sporting ideology, and as it is from this milieu that footballs were first kicked, so deviation from it IS significant, however historically precedented;
    in professional cycling cash payments for services rendered in the peleton have always been a part of the sport, but this does not detract from anyone's enjoyment; as you suggest, it merely adds another layer for the sophisticated spectator to analyse and enjoy.