Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The evolution of soccer: taming the beast

In the 1960's soccer/football was in crisis. Stadiums were crumbling, tactics were defensive and hooliganism was dominant in the cradle of the game, the British Isles. Then a new, more offensive and modern style of play began to flourish in The Netherlands, taking inspiration from the seed that had been planted by a previous generation of Eastern European players and managers. The seed flourished in the World Cup of 1974, and then the new species evolved and mutated into even better forms in Spain and Germany. In parallel, some tragedies shocked the public authorities, who finally became determined to act against violence and crumbling facilities in England. Technological developments facilitated the expansion of the game, and judicial interventions paved the way for the internationalization of the market for players. More and more people had access to live games with the best stars of the planet, with increasing in-depth coverage of every aspect of the game. Combining all these phenomena, we see the evolving combination of markets, governments and a multiplicity of organizations (both for-profit, and not-for-profit) producing something really successful. I am sorry, but no creator was in command. Now the problems are derived from the success of the product. Soccer has become a global industry, and some disturbing associated phenomena that were minor problems when the scale of the animal was small, have now become more pervasive: corruption, politicization, child trafficking, tax competition, state aid, fiscal fraud, or the involvement of obscure olygarchs (local or foreign), are all worrying phenomena that call for reforms. The beautiful game is also a beatiful beast. The beast will probably be tamed by a combination of judicial action (as we are seeing with FIFA), but also the concerted action of expert global agencies such as CAS or WADA and organized groups of fans or worried sponsors fighting for a more democratic sport. The beast has to act to the benefit of fans without imposing costs on society at large.

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