Shocks. A complete reversal of the status quo. Absolute upsets based on strong anti-establishment sentiment amongst the wider population. This is how the year 2016 will go down in history as a momentous and ground-breaking period in a comparatively docile and politically correct 21st century, with Leicester City winning the biggest league competition in world football just two years after rising from the notoriously competitive Championship and British voters fooling the polls by banking on Brexit. Just to top it all off, this week, as I’m sure you’ve heard unless you’ve been living under a rock on Mars with ear defenders and blacked-out goggles on, the USA sent shockwaves around the world by voting in the disloyal, two-faced, anti-Muslim, anti-Hispanic, sexist political virgin and business mogul Donald Trump in arguably the biggest upset in American political history. Were these events, especially the latter two, any coincidence considering the wishy-washy, increasingly weak politics of Western nations, where parties will try everything in their power to bend over backwards for everyone in a desperate attempt to keep hold of power? Well, in my opinion, as I’m sure many experts will agree, it’s impossible to argue otherwise, as many sections of society have fallen victim to indecision, red tape and the increased influence of globalisation, and have voted for serious change. All through this, football has seemed to travel about 20 years behind the political world, inviting the system of political correctness more widely than ever in reaction to the dangerous, and as it turned out, corrupt leadership of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini at FIFA and UEFA respectively.
But, I hope I hear you cry, why would football be involved in politics, or vice versa? Well, this is exactly my point this week, that the two should not be interchangeable or reliant on each other by any means, as one actually changes people’s lives, and the other, well, in all honesty, is just a sport that provides an income from some fairly physically talented individuals who would be wasted elsewhere in society. With the growing trend of businessmen and women being recruited to the boards of clubs across the country and to top positions at governing bodies such as the FA and FIFA, you naturally have to ponder whether these wide scale changes are for the benefit of the game, and I stress game, or purely for business purposes, with more and more ground-breaking sponsorship deals being forged. Does world football actually need to be a politically correct section of society, or should it embrace its past image of ungovernable chaos, focused around the working man, distanced from the everyday guff of politics and instead offering an escape on a Saturday afternoon from the horrors and trivialities of the changing global landscape?
As I’m sure you could say for almost any single subject on the lips of the wider public in daily life, political correctness has its obvious flaws and significant benefits, as well as a few hidden anomalies, which could be twisted to fit whichever opinion the writer or speaker follows. As ever, I will attempt to remain as clear, perceptive and thought-provoking as possible throughout my discussion, painting the most accurate picture of the spectrum of the argument, which I’m not sure actually has ever existed in much detail, as it takes some comprehending and analysing.
Fundamentally, I suppose what we are saying here is that football has invited politics into its neat circle in society by allowing the drips of political correctness to seep into the fabric of the sport, with a few certain officials and organisations getting drunk on the very product of this potentially fatal concoction. In my view, sport and politics should never mix, as proven by many examples in the past; it has not always ended well when one has made a short-lived attempt to reach out to the other. Political correctness, as a concept, I suppose has been around for as long as man has been governing one another, but came to prominence as a commonly used term in 1980’s and 1990’s America, deployed apparently by right-wing (Republican-leaning) insiders and party activists to undermine the optimistic, accepting liberal politics of the opposition. The issue with liberal politics, which has been found on numerous occasions to not have the conviction or popularity to ever seriously implement the change it wants, is that it typically doesn’t find the charismatic, unopposable leaders that the more risky, but recently successful, conservative politics does. Conservativism is widely seen to fade into shades of liberalism in the developed world, however, because while it might have the policies and leaders that attracted voters in the first place, it often can’t quite garner the support to turn these dreams into reality, as they would negatively affect vast sums of the population, hugely restricting their chances of getting re-elected. So, in the end, nobody really wins, but that’s enough with the politics lesson/rant, I suppose.
Let’s get down to business. Let’s compare football from the 1980’s to today, shall we, in order to demonstrate the effects of political correctness’ popularity with many clubs, leagues and governing bodies? Well, from today’s muddy perspective, we always look back at the past and describe it as a simpler time (which can be argued and counter-argued in a number of different ways, but that’s not a debate for today), when politics was easier to predict and understand, people were more honest, and modern-day issues such as corruption, global warming, cyber-crime and further human rights (gay marriage, transsexuality, equal pay, etc.) simply weren’t big issues, or at least weren’t reported in the significance they are today. The 1980’s for football were fashionable, featuring some of the greatest kits, players and haircuts of all time, transformative, with a big side in England finally dominating in Liverpool due to great managerial nous and substantial funding, as well as the most attractive footballing sides in Italy and Argentina winning the ’82 and ’86 World Cups, and more than anything expressive, with fans having massive impacts on the game, chairmen preferring to be hands-on with their clubs, and the game as a whole feeling a lot more connected to its fans. It wasn’t without its fault though; that’s for sure, especially through the presidency of Joao Havelange, who brought in a number of sponsorship deals with his assertive and unforgiving leadership style, guiding FIFA on the path it continues to follow to this day.
Contrast that to today, where money swamps the game in its professional form, fans are more distant from the game than ever, businessmen run our governing bodies and chairmen can come from the other corner of the globe, not give a sh** about the club they are investing in, and rob it of all the prosperity it has, it could be argued that the events of the ‘80’s caused all of our problems today. In fact, the 1980’s as a whole, through all the events, cultural progressions, wars, peace treaties, technological breakthroughs and political decisions, could be pinpointed as a diet version of the world we live in today, as they faced serious, world-changing issues that required years of implemented change and charismatic, forthright but often unpopular conservative leaders, such as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, to set them ‘right’.
When watching a (highly recommended) Adam Curtis documentary titled Bitter Lake recently, I became fascinated in the main theory of the film, which was that during the ‘80’s, a period of increased terrorist attacks, especially in Arab nations, Western leaders implemented a different tactic to garner false support for their wars in these nations, by depicting their military actions as ‘good’ vs ‘evil’. It was at this point that the status quo we all know and love/hate was formed in earnest, with geopolitical wars such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan, formed by a number of complex issues, condensed into a story of British and American soldiers fighting against callous, menacing terrorists for the safety of our nation. This system exists still to this day, a testament to its efficiency in winning over voters, especially when coupled with the political correctness exemplified by many recent governments across the Western world.
For football though, FIFA, UEFA and respective FA’s seem to be finally latching onto the trend of politically safe, optimistic and all-pleasing governors, which has taken a battering in the past six months with the passing of unspectacular but progressive leaders in David Cameron and Barack Obama. In reaction to Blatter’s and Platini’s tenures, which started with such good intentions but ended in disgrace for the pair, the footballing governing bodies of the world and of Europe have appointed politically neutral, footballing outsiders with qualifications so detailed they could be working for the U.N, in Swiss Gianni Infantino and Slovenian Aleksander Ceferin respectively. With both being qualified lawyers, sticking to the right side of the rules shouldn’t be a problem for them, and more than anything, that is sadly what the two organisations require right now; safe bets who wouldn’t hurt a fly and who keep very low public profiles. There’s no doubt that the lack of communication from FIFA to the outside footballing world over the past 12 months has been a reaction to the tarnished reputation that Blatter and Platini handed them, and to a degree it has worked, but it has put football in the position where any controversy is handled in a very menial manner, and politics has taken over, with progress taking years to arrive, if at all, and the establishment only garnering more power behind the backs of the people it serves; which in the end are fans of the game, as the buck stops with us if they make fatal faults.
Is this seriously where FIFA, amongst other organisations has gone, though? Does politics take precedence over football these days? Well, objectively, yes, as the sport’s governing body does seem to spend more time grovelling to please sponsors and filing through legal proceedings, rather than tackling persistent issues such as the lack of competitiveness on the international stage, the clear corruption of a number of FA’s and national set-ups across the world or the influx of truly dangerous owners into desperate clubs looking for a quick hit at success. They have the power to change the game in many great ways, but like their political counterparts, so often waste their chance by worrying about how they can bend a decision that might affect some people negatively in the short-term into a positive thing for all, which is by definition strictly impossible. For as long as free speech is a part of a society, there will obviously be a whole range of opinions on any given subject, just as much as any decision or policy will have obvious repercussions, some positive, others negative. You can spend your life trying to please everybody, as while you’re preoccupying yourself with this, you do actually have to make tough decisions to progress, especially as a leader, so you have to make controversial moves to achieve your goals. Infantino, though, along with Ceferin, Martin Glenn – Chief Executive of the FA -, and I’m sure many others, don’t seem to want to make these decisions, and expect their goals to be handed to them on a plate, but they will soon discover that it isn’t that easy.
If you ask me, these leaders are unqualified in the first place, don’t particularly care for the game on a personal level and cop out of any serious change as soon as they have achieved power. Honestly, the case must be that either they are only puppets for the real FA/UEFA/FIFA bigwigs, or that nobody really holds the power as nobody is able to deal with the burden, instead handing the keys over to presentable, lawful nobodies who don’t really understand the game outside of their boardrooms. They can’t, otherwise they would be changing it with the suggestions million have put forward in the past, be them predecessors or bloggers. They are so negligent and docile that you’d be forgiven for thinking they weren’t half of the time, which is true by some accounts.
But isn’t that what governing bodies such as FIFA, UEFA and the FA are supposed to do, act as a government that is? Well, I suppose so, as in many cases they are the spokesperson for certain individuals, clubs or other organisations, which is fine as they have a duty to act on the behalf of all the people they govern, but there is certainly a fine line between taking responsibility and being a politician, and I personally feel that in many cases this is being overstepped by the fearful diplomats in charge. I think what has to be accepted with football is controversy, and these leaders need to stop believing they can drown this out of the game just because they choose their words carefully, as far too many of us just believe they should start putting words into action, instead of just yapping on and pathetically attempting to look busy, acting like immature children. Do what you are paid to; I suppose is the imperative message here, not what you advised to by your predecessors or officials, as they were the failures that led to your premiership.
If you want some cold, hard evidence that certain organisations such as FIFA have truly entered a phase of almost Presidential-like political correctness, then look no further than the recent spat between Secretary General Fatma Samoura (who actually was a high-ranking U.N official prior to her appointment at FIFA, you couldn’t make this stuff up) and the English, Scottish and Welsh FA’s over wearing poppies to commemorate Armistice day this week. If that isn’t going further than the line of duty in fear of the possible outcomes of what is a harmless and tenderly traditional act, then I don’t know what is, and FIFA’s U-turn on the day of the game to effectively reply ‘we never said that’ when asked if they would deduct either side – England or Scotland - points for their decisions to continue with the plan was honestly laughable, as they clearly knew they couldn’t fight it anymore. They had already stretched one section of their electorate enough in an attempt to appease others that they knew the situation would escalate into disaster if they continued, so took the wise decision and dropped their threats in the end.
The thing is though, none of the these mindless decisions would be carried out by people who actually understand the game (even if some of those can be notoriously slow, shall we put it), as the move to threaten the FA and SFA was one made by a diplomat by trade, not an ex-footballer, not an ex-manager, not even an ex-coach or pundit, and that is where the fault lies. They are trying to handle the situation in the way that someone at the U.N might handle a civil war, and that is totally wrong. Sure, I understand FIFA, as the governing body of football, needs to have a certain number of politically-minded officials as representatives of its power, but it must involve actual footballers and managers if it is to progress the sport, as otherwise they would have to guess their way around the issues facing the game, and that isn’t acceptable as an organisation that is supposed to be unified with the game itself. You can’t run any sort of event, but chiefly the biggest participation sport in the world which generates the most income, without actually understanding the issues for the people involved, as that doesn’t reflect very well on you as a leader, and doesn’t quite make you a man/woman of the people, but rather a diplomat who sucks up to sponsors, corrupt FA chairmen and politicians in the hope you might improve brand image. This isn’t a business, this isn’t a government, this is the fate of the most socially important sport in the world we are talking about here, and a number of its leaders don’t actually seem to care for it. If they in fact do, I would urge them to prove it with strong actions, not just hollow words. But that’s the trouble when you appoint a load of businessmen, lawyers and diplomats to your sporting boards then, isn’t it?
The saddest thing about this all is that these very issues are starting to become apparent at a number of clubs, where boards are increasingly being made up of a majority of businessmen, as they are the ones who can afford to pump money into the club, so therefore get the loudest say on the future of it as well. This is so immoral and inefficient, but the poor clubs can’t see it, as there isn’t much at all in terms of backlash against the effects of this, which in the long term don’t do the game any good at all. They promote higher prices for players, higher prices for tickets, higher prices for merchandise and higher prices to actually be a part of your club, which is absolutely disgraceful and blasphemous, but they don’t care as they are still hoovering up the cash into their greedy pockets.
It’s not just because these men (there are a few women, but they are in much smaller numbers) are rich either, it’s also because they present the best face of the club to potential investors. You see, if it was just because they were rich, there might be a real backlash because there aren’t any fans, ex-players or ex-managers (football experts) on the board, but when coupled with the fact that these guys have had decades of training in sticking to the PC – Politically Correct – rules, then there can hardly be an argument against them. CEO’s love them, as they can increase the profits of the club tenfold just through exhausting their list of business contacts in sponsorship deals, while also keeping a low profile all throughout. This might be good in a business sense, but it is torture for fans, as they no longer feel a part of the game, let alone their, and it is their, club, and that is simply awful, ridding the game of all of its basic charm.
Overall then, we should never let these people rip the game from our grasp. But it is happening, and it is happening right in front of our eyes. For those at the top, it is like taking candy from a baby, and that is because very few fans are actually protesting, or doing anything, about it. As soon as we let this become a trend, and it is certainly getting that way, that is when we truly lose our game, and I’m not prepared for that to happen.
There needs to be an end to the tepid, vain and foolishly pointless politics of football, as it doesn’t benefit the real stakeholders of the game, and they should come before any kind of sponsor, no matter the kind of product these fat cats are flogging or how much they are offering, especially if they are a betting brand (I can’t stand them). Football is allowing itself to be used as a tool to promote a capitalist agenda today in the same way that it was hijacked, along with a number of other sports, at the 1936 Berlin Olympics to support Adolf Hitler’s declaration of Aryan physical dominance, or as each Olympics really is utilised by respective governments to promote national pride. There’s no doubt that political correctness has killed off many aspects of the beautiful game just because they didn’t suit its agenda, and therefore had to go.
The point here is that political correctness has gone too far, to a point that FIFA may never be able to backtrack from, as they attempt to assert their dominance over anyone or anything with even the slightest ounce of character or controversy in order to present a false picture of the game to investors and associates. If we want an honest game, with no-frills morals, clear ethics and an approachable nature, we have to change the way FIFA operates, as otherwise we will be forced to continue in a broken system. I’m not saying let’s start over again with a Trump or Farage-like leader, but I am saying that our broken system requires an overhaul, and I don’t think the change between one neutral lawyer and another realistically does that, no matter how crazy they are behind closed doors. It’s a paradoxical situation to be in, saying all of that, but something does have to be done; and I believe that starts with clear communication with FIFA, UEFA and the FA. Who stands up for us? Nobody knows. But there is still time in 2016 left for another upset, why couldn’t it be that FIFA finally gets something right?
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!