The Future Death of Sport?
In the Star Trek universe, baseball and other sports as we know them have died out. No more World Series, no more Super Bowl, no more World Cup. These games still exist, kinda, but are played with all the professionalism or seriousness of rounders or “had“. This may seem like futuristic sci-fi nonsense, but I genuinely believe this will happen. And I’m sad for it.
The Money Men Are Killing Football
I love football. The speed, the strength, the skill, the free-flowing nature of it. It truly is the “beautiful game”. However, the money men are in charge nowadays. Well, they’ve always been in charge, of course, but the ruining of the European Championship — 24 teams in the finals, no host nation — after what was arguably the most exciting Championship ever (2012), the transparent greed and corruption involved in the awarding of the beyond-risible Qatar 2022 World Cup, and now the nonsense that is this new UEFA Nations League, have confirmed it: the money-lenders are no longer merely squatting in the temple of football; they’ve bought the freehold and have erected a fence to keep the plebs out, permanently.
Bloated tournaments to fatten the pockets of bloated men, the fans paying through the nose, and the purity of the game slaughtered, its blood smeared on the smoking altar of our twenty-first century Golden Bull: Avarice. 1863, meet 2014. It’s not just football, of course; the commercialisation of sport proceeds apace in all areas: from franchises in cricket, to ridiculous branding on billboards or team shirts (A few years ago, when branding on football shirts was less common in Spanish football, my brother-in-law asked me, in all seriousness, if my team was “Hertings First For Fixings FC“), the idiotic stadium naming (KP Stadium, Reebok, Emirates, Sports Direct Stadium), or the joke that is a 60 minute game turning into a three hour one because of excessive adverts (American football). The list goes on and on.
The Commercialisation of Sport is a Double-Edged Sword
The funny thing is, the continuing commercialisation in sport is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it has raised the level of competition, quality, and yes, beauty of the game, by giving sportsmen the ability to earn a decent living off their game, and this has allowed them to practise and out-compete each other to a high level. But the downsides are obvious and numerous. In the long run, I see the strengths inherent in the commercialisation of sport ultimately bringing its downfall.
So, dear Internet, I put my gloomy foretelling into writing for posterity; if I’m right, please pay homage to my grave and pay for Chinese lessons for my great-grand children in honour of their forebear’s prescience.
In the year of our Lord (Sepp Blatter) 2114:
1. The World Cup and European Championships will both run every season, like international analogues respectively of the Champions’ League and the Europa League.
2. A combination of the drive for money and a withering away of the nation state will result in the national teams effectively being replaced by national league teams; anyone who plays in the Premier League that season is eligible to represent England, aka The Starbucks Premier League, in both tournaments.
3. The nation state-based tournament, a descendent of this new UEFA Nations League, will exist, but:
(i) it will have all the dignity, worth, and support of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy;
(ii) Clubs and National League Teams (see point 2) will routinely refuse to make their players available to play in this nations’ cup — or they would refuse, that is, if the players wanted to play in the nations’ cup, which they won’t!;
(iii) the national teams will be watered-down nationality-wise due to the death of the nation state and lax sporting restrictions;
(iv) nobody will care about the International tournaments with nation states taking part as these tournaments will be less sexy and less glitzy than the over-hyped national leagues teams football (see point two).
No, I’m serious
Think I’m crazy or joking? It’s already happening.
The European Championships are already starting to look like the Champions and Europa Leagues: too many games, too many teams, no one host nation.
Foreign players regularly turn out for a national side in other sports (Pietersen in cricket, Tuilagi in Rugby, and so on). It’ll soon become prevalent in football, too: remember a few seasons ago, before the rise of Joe Hart, everyone suggesting Manuel Almunia should play for England based on the five year residency rule? That might have been crazy talk, but the substance of it will be increasingly borne out in the future just as it is in other sports.
Clubs regularly refuse, if only in the guise of mystery illnesses, to let their players attend to international duties. Clubs regularly complain that there are too many international fixtures (bear in mind, the international fixtures haven’t increased in recent years, but club fixtures have dramatically jumped up).
And it’s kind of our fault…
And ask yourself: which would be the more exciting game — England vs. Spain, or Premier League XI vs. La Liga? Wouldn’t “England” have a much better chance if we could “buy” foreign players? After all, you don’t have to be born in a town to play for its club (how many of, e.g., Manchester City’s players were born in England, let alone Manchester??): and the one club that does do this — Athletic Bilbao — seems to be a relic from the pleistocene (albeit it, a much-admired one), a relic which is struggling to keep up.
Would you rather watch, literally, amateurs kick a ball around (if so, go to your nearest park)? Or would you rather watch the finely honed beast that commercialisation has crafted?
Let me introduce to the world the paradox of sporting commercialisation. Let’s call it “Bryan’s Law” (I always wanted a law named after me, and short of committing an atrocious yet ground-breaking crime, this is the best I’m likely to do): the beautiful game is beautiful because its practitioneers can dedicate sufficient hours to make it beautiful — because of commercialisation. But commercialisation is destroying the beauty of sport.
Yay, hearken unto my foretelling, and be downcast.
© 2014 Bryan A J Parry
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