11 October 2017 – The beautiful game – played by over 250 million players in virtually every single country on the planet and widely accepted as the most popular sporting code. According to FIFA, the earliest evidence of ‘football or soccer’, stemmed from the competitive Chinese game ‘Cuju’ (meaning ‘kick ball’) around 206 BC.
The game has evolved from humble beginnings and come a very long way since then and over the centuries become the sport of choice for players and fans alike. However, is the game itself slowly losing its soul? We all would agree that ever since the age of professionalism, money has played a bigger part than most would like to admit.
But is this the only issue or are there other variables threatening to derail this once noble game and profession? Sadly the answer is a resounding yes and here are a few reasons why.
Yesteryear saw footballers competing for the mere love of the game and nothing more. Even in the earliest of days when it turned into a ‘job’ and a way to put food on the table, a pittance of a salary was paid but was never an issue.
Fast-forward to the 21st century. All of the above flung right out of the window and replaced by vanity, greed and things far more sinister. Money is the epicentre of football currently. From exorbitant transfer fees, outrageous salaries, billion dollar television rights deals to the craziest of sponsorship and endorsement deals . . . the game is simply being held hostage.
One only has to look at 2017 itself in which the two biggest transfers in footballing history have taken place. Neymar’s much publicised move from giants Barcelona to PSG sparked shock, awe and outrage as the amount involved was a small matter of $260 million. This figure unequivocally smashed and obliterated the previous record. Ousmane Dembele soon after moved from Borussia Dortmund to Barcelona for roughly $125 million, which ended up being the second highest ever move.
The bottom line is that such figures are simply going to increase exponentially year on year and insult anyone poor or struggling to survive. Imagine the good that can be done around the globe with such large sums of money. Welcome to the age of insanity.
Hooliganism in football:
Not quite an issue compared to the financial side of the game but none-the-less, still contributing to footballs downfall and ill-repute. This disorderly, disruptive fan behaviour is a great concern for football bodies around the world with multiple deaths and injuries occurring, and seems to be on the rise.
Riots and stampedes, both in and outside stadia when things are not quite going to the fans liking, are extremely common. Tear gas, police dogs and armoured vehicles have become the order of the day.
The most worrying aspect is that such a phenomenon is difficult to curb or stop entirely. It will always be there as a possible threat and has almost become ‘ritualized’, particularly in countries such as England and Germany.
Racism in football:
The racial abuse of officials, fans and most importantly the on-filed player, have become common practice in football around the world. A person’s ethnicity, skin colour and even sometimes nationality are targeted and picked on – something that is quite rare in other sporting codes.
FIFA has gone to great lengths to try and address this issue and implement campaigns and measures to try and eliminate racism in the sport but at the end of the day, there is only so much that can be done.
All it takes is one drunk or irate fan to utter certain terms and phrases under their breaths and all hell can break loose. The sad thing is that some fans actually target their own players (Italy’s Mario Balotelli a case in point). Such instances have brought grown men to tears and authorities will have their hands full with this one.
Corruption in football:
The big old ‘C’ word. A term that has plagued football over the past few decades from the lowest of Associations to the highest of bodies. This ranges from bribery (referees and key voting personnel), blackmail, money laundering, specific match-fixing activities, fraud, illegal and underhand transfers, tax evasions, blatant breaches of contracts and much more.
The huge problem facing the game is that corruption has gone relatively unchecked for a long period of time. Ethics and morals have taken a backseat in the name of personal gain.
Unfortunately, this aspect (much like racism and hooliganism) is very unlikely to be stopped completely.
Diving, feigning injuries, attacking referees (and shouting profanities) and various other pieces of on-field chicanery are also plaguing the beautiful game. The ‘dark arts’ sometimes used to win penalties are right up there with the best Hollywood acting performances. Integrity and honesty are fading fast, both on and off the pitch.
All-in-all, is football undeniably tainted by all the above-mentioned aspects? The recent spat between Neymar and Cavani on who should take penalties is another example of where football is heading, as are aspects such as maladministration and dodgy football agents. Can the sport rid itself of such practices and gain the respect of old again? Time will tell.
By: Dhirshan Gobind