The end of a popular sport: How big money destroys football

The end of a popular sport
How big money destroys football

By Katja Kipping

The only exciting thing in the Bundesliga is the battle for relegation, because it has been clear for years who will become champions. That’s not the only problem real football fans suffer from.

Of the two major personnel decisions that will be made this summer, one has now been clarified. It is still open who will succeed Angela Merkel in the Federal Chancellery. But it is now clear who will succeed Jogi Löw as coach of the national team. The days were also announced who will be part of the German squad at the European Championships. Football Germany could lean back and enjoy commenting, criticizing or approving the decisions made and getting in the mood for the European Championship with great anticipation.

But that’s one of the things with joy. Because there has been a huge crunch in the football system for some time. Football was considered in this country as the Popular sport. It was based on a regionally broadly anchored association system and it created a moment of community for all generations. Football games – those were once events that the whole family followed eagerly in front of the television and which were reliably the number one topic of conversation the day after.

The marketing of broadcasts to pay-TV broadcasters has already changed this. Of course, real fans are happy to pay a monthly fee to watch their teams play. But the conversion of the broadcasting from public television to Sky and Co. has ushered in a shift, from popular sport for the whole family to a very popular (after all), but ultimately specialty sport for those interested.

Only the games about relegation are exciting

In the Bundesliga, there is only a limited need for the right atmosphere and tension. And this is not only due to the fact that hardly any fans are allowed into the stadium to protect against infection. You can now predict months in advance who will definitely be at the top. My daughter, who was born in 2011, only knows FC Bayern as the German champions. That simply makes the Bundesliga more boring overall. The exciting games in the Bundesliga are no longer about the title, but about relegation.

The situation is similar in the other European leagues: The concentration of money in the hands of a few destroys sporting competition that only exists on paper. Those who already have a lot will be given more. The wonderful soccer magazine “11 Freunde” already proved five years ago that the table of a league and the ranking list of the club’s personnel costs are congruent on average for ten years.

Blood soaked lawn in Qatar

And then there is the World Cup in Qatar. The turf, on which the world championship title will be played in 2022, is – at least in the figurative sense – soaked with the blood of guest workers, of whom up to 6,500 have lost their lives as a result of devastating working conditions since the award to Qatar.

As a result, calls for a boycott are now getting louder. Fan initiatives like ProFans have gone ahead. Imagine it’s the World Cup and the German team refuses to participate – years ago that would have been a consideration beyond the imaginable. However, according to surveys, almost two thirds of Germans are now in favor of a boycott of the World Cup in Qatar.

The fact that the World Cup was awarded to Qatar of all places can only be explained by the dominance of the system of money in FIFA, and worse still by corruption. During the criminal investigation, some questionable transfers in at least six digits came to light. According to key witnesses, the former FIFA vice-president received $ 800,000 to award the World Cup to Qatar. In the 25-member FIFA Executive Committee, which was responsible for awarding contracts until 2016, there were repeated resignations in connection with corruption. From this point of view, the award to this regime is only the consistent expression of FIFA’s business model.

Big Money League

The recently announced plans of some particularly financially strong football clubs from Italy, Spain and England to split off from the Champions League and to found their own Super League also fit this trend. Specifically, it would have been a league of big money with the aim of raking in even more money. In the face of a storm of public outrage, the clubs involved gradually moved away from it – for the time being.

Ultimately, the award to Qatar, the plans for the Super League and the dominance of the national leagues by a few clubs each are manifestations of a fundamental problem: The money medium now completely overlays the sport system and thus largely determines success and failure. Here a lesson is shown in a pointed form: The unregulated financialization destroys competition and promotes the rule of the few, the oligarchy. And in doing so, it also destroys football as a national sport with its fans, its clubs and its tension.

Less money, more excitement

It is time to pull the emergency brake, to shield association law from commercialization and to regulate the financial conduct of the clubs. These rules and changes in accounting law (unlike FIFA’s misconstructed fair play rules) would have to curb the influence of big money, for example through upper limits on financial transfers. All sport institutions, from FIFA to clubs, must be committed to upholding social human rights. And finally, the fans in the clubs should be given more weight.

The big clubs, on the other hand, will go to the barricades. They will declare such regulations impossible or threaten to emigrate. However, it would be possible to win if the sporting competition is restored and it becomes exciting again. What made football strong was and is the good club system, its loyal fans and comprehensive youth work. It may be time to focus more on these traditions. Then maybe the games for the title will be exciting again in the Bundesliga. As Sepp Herberger once said so aptly: “People go to football because they don’t know how it will end.”

Katja Kipping is the social policy spokeswoman for the left parliamentary group in the German Bundestag and a former chairwoman of her party. In weekly alternation with Konstantin Kuhle she writes the column “Kipping oder Kuhle” at ntv.de.

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