Today finally brings the curtain down on sport’s most lucrative financial spectacle, the world cup. Organisers will pride themselves on the success of the tournament and how important that success will be to South Africa, the first African nation to host the tournament. We will also be shown the final spectacle of masses of people in Holland and Spain huddled together in the streets watching giant screens, some with tears of disappointment and others with tears of joy, young and old, male and female, draped in respective flags and face painted in respective colours. What could be more thrilling and wonderful, a sport which “unites” the passions of all peoples from all around the world? We will certainly not be shown the billions of people getting on with their lives regardless, or see a breakdown on the quantities of money generated by this tournament.
To take such a position might see like some miserable set of wretches unable to share the passions of the human race but, maybe, just maybe, it is not passion and excitement per se that we despise but the brutal commercial exploitation of humanity’s propensity for collective delusion and amnesia. We refer here to that unthinking urge to lose oneself in rituals and dreams which transport us from the everyday and place us amongst the gods, whilst, naturally, the high priests busy themselves by looting our belongings. Of course, there is ecstasy in the birth of a child, the triumph of a close one in the face of adversity but these are our experiences- we are not unreflectively living our lives through the actions of others. There really is no we, the people before us are multi-millionaires far removed from our daily experiences. They are extraordinarily over-paid athletes who have, in most cases, sacrificed their childhoods and any semblance of normality in the pursuit of wealth and celebrity (in some cases to quite tragic degrees).
Giving them a good beating, a sound thrashing
This fact is particularly brought home by the link between the rise of domestic violence and the world cup. It has long been established that there is a link (as there is with national festivals like New Years’ Eve or Thanksgiving) between sporting events and increases in domestic violence. Aware of this, police forces in England prepared special campaigns to dissuade perpetrators from attacking their partners during the tournament. Unfortunately, this appeared to have limited effect and there was a 15.7% increase (353 reported incidents), after Germany’s defeat of England, of reported domestic violence (compared with the previous non-world cup year).
Now there are two important qualifications to be made here. Firstly, the world cup does not make men beat their partners, rather that such men are more likely to do so during the world cup. Secondly, the number of reported assaults is a miniscule fraction of the numbers of men (and women) who watch the tournament. Rather what we want to do is to highlight the toxic qualities of investing hope and belief in an irrelevant spectacle of which you are a mere passive spectator; a toxic quality which combines with the fragile and violent nature of certain men’s self-image.
The British Council and Football
In 2007 the British Council teamed up with the English Premier League and ESPN (the broadcaster with rights over television emissions of live games) to “deliver community sports development around the world.” The first initiative was in India. The then chairman, Lord Kinnock, said of the initiative:
“This is a truly exciting, creative initiative. Football transcends race and language among people everywhere. By putting the British Council’s experience and global network together with the Premier League’s great know-how, we can reach countless young people and help to enhance their skills on the pitch, their self-development, and their understanding of other cultures.”
The director of ESPN, was far more honest in his assessment:
“We are proud to partner with the Premier League in this unique initiative. Our strong relationship with them has been built on our commitment to grow the Premier League brand in India and across the region and we continue to build this through broadcast of over 250 live and same day telecast matches, production of over 350 hours of original football programming annually and through our unique grass roots programme targeting school children in India.
We are committed to raise the awareness of this community project and create a positive impact amongst Indian youths. With the strong equity that our brands enjoy and the extensive reach of our network in India, we are confident of building this initiative, thus garnering maximum participation and exposure for the programme.”
In short, the British Council rather than promoting something which transcends race and language were promoting the British lanaguage industry (Cambridge exams and overseas study) and the English Premier League (another key UK export). The British Council maintains an extremely vibrant and well-resourced on-line resource (Premier Skills) for this very purpose.
Their claim that both Football and English are somehow global and neutral is quite patronising and dishonest. The situating of the world cup in South Africa by FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) is also borne of this same ideological nonsense. The talent of world football, resources and income continues to be monopolized by Europe. The situating of football outside of Europe is carefully calculated to increase its market share rather than share the huge wealth that football generates.
This is not to say that one day China or the USA might not have a league which competes with Europe’s Champions’ League or Spain’s La Liga or England’s Premier League but to suggest that the work to esnure that such a thing does not happen is being busily conducted by marketting organisations like ESPN and the British Council.
They think it’s all over
It was no accident that the so-called soviet bloc invested huge resources in sport and citizens were treated to enormous television coverage which showed these sportsmen and sportswomen achieving impossible feats (often by the use of performance enhancing drugs). In America too, as part of its cold war drive, the Americans also indulged in this same activity. China, the recent hosts of the Olympic games managed to increase its number gold medals from 15 in 1984 to 28 in 2000 to 32 in 2004 and to 51 in 2008. This was of course achieved by huge investment in infrastructure and some incredible extra prize money. In short, these “great sporting events” are reflections of money and power struggles (both between nations and inside nations) . Ironically, it’s possible that the enormous wealth of the EPL and its ability to attract the best players from around the world rather than invest in grassroots football could be the one of the major reasons behind England’s recent failures in international competition.
For us we will remember the world cup, and in particular the England versus Germany game, as the pretext for vicious attacks against women. We will remember the tournament as an exhibition of greed, hypocrisy and manipulation (think of the world leaders being filmed watching football during the G20, where they plotted further attacks on the living standards of their own citizens, especially the most vulnerable). This spectacle and the manner in which it was presented had a toxic effect on those men already unable to sustain a viable sense of masculinity. The victims were thousands, if not millions, of women around the world.
We would hope that in the coming year the British Council channels its apparently limitless energy and resources into tackling more pressing universal themes which “transcend race and language” and set up an on-line learning resource about the universal phenomenon of violence against women and how it can be stopped. Maybe even set up community programmes. We really have had enough of football and collective delusion, its time to make a difference.