After having time to reflect on the dramatic events of nine days ago, Dan Sabato has written this piece about the globalisation of sport and the price at which it comes.
December 2nd, 2010 - the day the nation of Qatar was catapulted from their position of sporting anonymity onto the world stage by the decision of FIFA’s 22 executive members. Sepp Blatter’s revelation that awarded football’s flagship tournament to a nation ranked 113 in the world represented more than just the unveiling of a new era in world football, it hammered home the idea that many were already full aware of; money and influence breeds success.
In truth, football is late to the party.
The globalisation of world sport is not something that is new or extraordinary. The focus of sport has been changing for several years, in line with the changing nature of political and economic power-broking. The man leading the exodus from tradition has been Formula One’s diminutive but astoundingly powerful President, Bernie Ecclestone. The F1 landscape, one steeped in history and tradition, has been subjected to a dramatic upheaval during the last decade. Comparing the 2011 calendar to its 2001 counterpart gives you some idea of how far the sport has evolved. Gone are the traditional Grand Prix at Imola, Magny Cours and Austria, replaced instead by circuits in Bahrain, Abu Dhabi, Singapore and for the first time, India.
Formula One – part sport, part marketing extravaganza – brings with it immense prestige alongside astronomical costs. Fortunately for the Formula One brand, the global economic spectrum shifted in such a way that it naturally fostered suitors with the financial clout and insatiable thirst for personal reputation. These backers were symbolic of the changing nature of world politics and economics, which allowed vast amounts of money to be invested in the sport and allowing Formula One to exploit previously untapped markets.
Seemingly, everyone was a winner.
It is perhaps symbolic of Formula One’s new global era that in the last four weeks of the season, the constructors were scheduled to race in Korea, followed swiftly by races in Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Air-miles indeed.
Have Sepp Blatter and Co followed in the footsteps of Bernie Ecclestone and his cronies? At this juncture, the answer, by awarding the 2022 World Cup to a nation that intends to dismantle any development (and legacy) come the end of the tournaments, appears to be yes . We have been told to “Expect Amazing”, but what we can really look forward to is the searing temperatures (up to 50 degrees celcius in the Summer months), a nation where alcohol is illegal (I’m not saying that this makes or breaks a World Cup) and a remote chance of the host nation even scoring a goal if recent evidence is anything to go by.
FIFA followed the money trail; that much is clear. The decision to award the tournament to Qatar was based on nothing less. Sepp Blatter justified the choice by preaching the lasting legacy that the tournament will produce by hosting the tournament in an Arab nation. Additionally, FIFA's private members club were won over by the promise of new stadia being transported to third world nations. In truth, the decision reinforces the idea of sports evolution along more political and economic lines. Qatar represents another Arab nation with money to throw at a pet project and a thirst for greater respect on a world stage. For the Qataris, the opportunity was there to announce themselves to the world, and in that respect they succeeded. On the other hand, FIFA’s blatant pursuit of wealth and influence has brought disgrace and suspicion on the much maligned organisation.
This is where Formula One and football differ. The heavily criticised extravaganza that has become of Formula One has identified the future of global political and financial influence, incorporating these pockets of support into the sports annual calendar. In doing so, Bernie Ecclestone has ensured the long term stability of his brand. In stark contrast, FIFA’s attempts to infiltrate new markets and guarantee long term stability may well have turned into an unmitigated disaster. Simply put – those that felt wronged; the traditional protagonists of world football, notably the English FA – are all too willing to restore the status quo.
Bernie Ecclestone successfully adapted Formula One to the current political and economic climate. The power behind the Formula One brand is now truly global.
Capitalism and sport are now intertwined. The events of the 2nd December served purely to highlight how chances for money-making come very much ahead of idealistic concepts such as fans' love for the game in FIFA's list of priorities. This is not to say that World Cups in Russia and Qatar do not have their merit. I think it is fair to say though, that FIFA's motives for making such decisions were based more in their capitalist hungers than sense of obligation to take football to new pastures out of a duty to 'try new things'. As such, the credibility of football’s governing body is once again being questioned, and rightly so. When a sport is being run out of a thirst for money and profit, the true essence of the sport itself can be lost. When winning bidders are chosen on the principle of 'where can we make the most money', then the integrity of the game is under threat. The now seemingly vague notions of fairness, equality and loyalty are discarded in favour of the chance to expand the game for the economic benefit of those who run it.
FIFA’s attempts to globalise their brand may prove to be their most destructive and divisive decisions in their history.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...