From secretive dealings to global crises: football’s inability to shed an ever stronger political spotlight is telling, but does this benefit or damage the so called beautiful game? Joseph Liczbinski investegates.
One is widely considered and known as the beautiful game, the other quite often as the ugliest of games. Football and politics have always had a difficult relationship, mostly due to neither knowing how closely to embrace the other. It is popularly thought that football especially has no need to involve itself in political affairs; football is just a sport, a pastime and escape from the busy modern world. However, football in its modern form appears to be delving itself ever deeper into the world of politics, so much so that it is finding it difficult to escape from the political spotlight. Of course when football is mentioned in relation to this, it is not the game itself, kids in parks, players on pitches but the governing bodies and large global brands that are the political focus within the sport. All have come under the far reaching spotlight, a spotlight that varies between positive publicity and far more commonly negative exposure. Much of the political spotlight on the game at the present moment has most notably not been invited, but forced in search of reform. The situation can be viewed as akin to a defender at a corner, modern football appears to be constantly grappling and wrestling with its own political image, and though it may escape the referee to begin with, the longer it goes on the more people begin to realize and take notice.
So what exactly is this spotlight aimed at?
Everyone in football, at least the vast majority of people, should now be aware of the chaotic affairs involving football’s governing body FIFA. When speaking of political football, FIFA would naturally always be the first name to come to mind. The reason being that FIFA is in the position of its political actions and dealings being now forcefully exposed to the world; various inquiries by organisations as widespread and prestigious as the FBI have been aimed at exposing corruption within the governing body, particularly in relation to the voting process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. This is still going on to this day, following the release of the dates of the 2022 Qatar world cup, Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA was placed under investigation by both the Swiss attorney general and FIFA Ethics Committee. Blatter’s rival candidate for the next Presidency and current UEFA head, Michel Platini is another big name currently under investigation. What is noteworthy in relation to Platini however, is the recent comments he made lamenting the role that politics now plays in the internal running of FIFA as well as in its public image. This statement, perhaps made to deflect the current media led political scrutiny, leads to a very pertinent question in relation to the running of our beloved game; is political intervention within the sport a good thing or a bad thing?
— Latest FIFA News (@FIFAUpdate) September 29, 2015
Though it can hardly be considered a good look for football for organisations such as the FBI to be having to intervene, it would be difficult to argue that no good has come with action finally being taken to rid football of its internal corruption. FIFA has had chance after chance to sort its internal affairs and properly address and act upon allegations of bribery and corruption, chance after chance and it has failed to take any kind of meaningful action. In this instance, external political pressure has actually paid dividends and started the change that many football fans have been longing for years. While the future of FIFA is very much unknown, a change at this point is far more attractive than a continuation of what has so far past. However, one might argue on the other hand that the interference of government agencies could set a dangerous precedent whereby allegations are thrown every time a nation or governing body is looked upon unfavourably. Some may fear that instead of choosing the right man to lead FIFA football will become far more political, and the new head of the organisation will just be someone more favourable to the associations who publically opposed Blatter rather than someone picked for the health of the sport.
— Randy Narine (@Randy_Narine) September 20, 2015
However, FIFA and the politics within the sport are not the sole political factors involved in the game. Where the FIFA situation is an example of politics within the game itself, there are a great many examples of the game inviting external political issues into discussion. A recent example would be the refugee crisis currently occurring in most of Europe. Many club supporters have taken it upon themselves to show banners at matches with the words ‘Refugees welcome’, in an attempt to drum up public support and oppose anti-refugee sentiments. Borussia Dortmund and FC St.Pauli played a charity game to raise funds for refugees, Bayern Munich have set up special initiatives aimed at helping young refugees, while in England many Premier League clubs have been donating percentages of match day ticket income toward various charities. Regardless of individual political views, football’s unification, for the most part, on a humanitarian issue has been wonderful to see. However, in terms of it being a political issue it might be noted that this is one such issue that unlike other mediums, football cannot just ignore. The Premier League and its clubs, like many across Europe are now very much seen and recognised as global brands, as such they have gained a certain responsibility to take note and react accordingly when such crises occur, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is expected of a sport whose top tiers are already seen as very much detached from fans and the general person alike.
In the FIFA instance, football reached a point that the political world outside of the game could not ignore. In the refugee instance, the political situation reached a climax that the footballing world could not viably ignore. For right or for wrong, politics and football are now largely intertwined with one another, such is the high-profile nature of the modern game. Whether this is sustainable and healthy is yet to be seen, however one might hope that greater external political involvement may do the sport some good after the intense self-harm football has inflicted upon itself in recent years.