Tag Archives: football

CHED EVANS CASE: WHAT NEXT?

Petition To Stop Ched Evans' Sheffield Return

Q: Over the next few days, we’ll get a decision on Ched Evans’ application for a review of his rape conviction. A lot hangs on this decision, right?

A: Yes: the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) met last Tuesday to discuss the former Wales and Sheffield United player’s case and is expected to reach a decision over the next few days. If the CCRC turns down Evans’ application, then the player can apply again, but his chances will not improve. If, on the other hand, the CCRC gives him permission to pursue his appeal against conviction, then it will effectively turn this case inside out. And there will be consequences.

Q: How come? Evans (pictured above), as our readers will recall, was released from prison last year after serving half of his five-year sentence for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in a hotel in Rhyl in April 2012. What impact will an appeal have?

A: Think about it: the CCRC has to decide whether there is something in the case that justifies an appeal. Although it hasn’t yet been disclosed, it’s widely thought that Evans presented “fresh evidence” to support his argument that he is innocent. Let’s not forget he’s maintained his innocence all along and has never wavered. A CCRC spokeswoman said last week: “The committee decided that further investigation was needed before it meets again to make a final decision on whether or not to refer Mr. Evans’ conviction back to the court of appeal.” Three judges at the Court of Appeal rejected an earlier appeal against Evans’s conviction in 2012.

Q: So, let me get this straight: you’re saying that Evans could still be declared innocent or be made to stand trial all over again?

A: Yes. If CCRC decide the fresh evidence is not strong enough to warrant an appeal, Evans is left to ponder his next move. If he proceeds to the Court of Appeal, judges will consider whether to overturn the conviction or order a retrial.

Q: So presumably, if the CCRC approves his application, it will mean effectively that the panel has considered his case in detail, studied what may be fresh evidence and determined that this is some doubt in the original verdict. Will this change the minds of Evans’ critics?

A: Doubt it. They’ve argued that Evans should not be permitted to return to football: campaigners on sexual violence emphasize Evans’ lack of contrition and refusal to accept court findings as to his guilt. He’s never apologized and stuck to his guns. So that aspect won’t change. But it would theoretically make it possible for prospective employers – football clubs, in other words – to offer him a job. Any employer has a duty of care to its existing employees who, particularly if female, might be uncomfortable working with Evans. But if Evans is allowed to proceed with his appeal, it will make a few clubs wonder which side they’re on. If Evans conviction remains, they will be convinced of the rightness of their original decision not to consider him for a job. If Evans is ultimately proved innocent, then an awful lot of people and organizations will reflect on how they’ve contributed to the stigmatization of someone they assumed was an offender but was in reality a victim himself.

Q: I see what you mean. Since he was released from prison, there has been such intense condemnation; Evans hasn’t been able to get a job at a professional football club. Evans has made attempts to restart his career but potential moves to Oldham Athletic and his former club Sheffield United collapsed in the face of public outcry. And he can’t work abroad because he’s obliged to report back to Britain as a sex offender every week. I know we can’t read thoughts, but what do you imagine Evans has argued in his application?

A: Evans, we assume will repeat his original claim that he had consensual sex with the woman concerned. This wasn’t accepted, remember. Evans’ victim was drunk. When he went to the hotel where one of his friends had taken her, she was in no state to consent to have sex with a total stranger who had just walked into the room. The judge at Evans’s trial, Merfyn Hughes QC, was clear on this point: ‘The complainant was extremely intoxicated … She was in no condition to have sexual intercourse.” So Evans will have to disclose previously unknown information; the intriguing aspect of this is the “fresh evidence.” What is it?

Q: What will happen now?

A: Well, one decision will leave things about the same. The other will have explosive consequences.

 

ROLE MODELS? WHAT, FOOTBALLERS? YOU MUST BE KIDDING

West Bromwich Albion v Leicester City

Q: I notice Leicester City footballer Jamie Vardy (pictured above) has apologised for what he calls a “regrettable error in judgment” and will be investigated by the club over a video showing him allegedly using racist language to a fellow gambler in a casino. He called him a “jap” three times. Do you want to hear his explanation?  “It was a regrettable error in judgment I take full responsibility for and I accept my behaviour was not up to what’s expected of me.” What does he mean, “what’s expected of me”?

A: I guess he thinks people regard him as a — and here comes that term again — role model. I can barely think of a term so hopelessly overused in recent years. Let’s just pause and consider what exactly a role model is: a person looked to by others as an example to be imitated. That seems a reasonable working definition. So, who in their right mind regards footballers as exemplary citizens whose behaviour should be imitated?

Q: Hang on! Before you get going on one of your usual tirades, I think a lot of people do regard them as role models. If they didn’t, why would we be kicking up such a fuss over this guy, and, while we’re on the subject, the three players who Leicester sacked (Tom Hopper, Adam Smith and James Pearson) after they filmed themselves hurling racist abuse at three local women during an orgy on the club’s trip to Thailand in last May?

A: First, because it makes a brilliant story for the media. Sorry to sound crass, but it does. Second, because football’s governing organizations have historically set themselves up as the moral guardians of the sport. In truth the Football Association are proficient in negotiating lucrative contracts with the media, but have no meaningful way of controlling the behaviour of ill-educated young men with incomes comparable with movie stars.

Q: Ill-educated? You sound your typical arrogant self. What right have you got to characterize professional footballers in such a negative way?

A: Football clubs scout players voraciously nowadays. That means with great enthusiasm, by the way.

Q: Let me qualify my use of “arrogant”: egotistical, conceited, supercilious and self-important, too. Move on.

A: As a consequence, they are lining up prospective players at younger and younger ages. At nine, Wayne Rooney was in Everton’s youth team, and he made his professional debut in at the age of 16. That was 2002. Cristiano Ronaldo was played high quality football for Andorinha at 12. Today, it’s the norm to approach players before their teen years. If someone approached you when you were, say 13, and said: “Sign with us and you’ll be a professional footballer the second you leave school. You can order that Aston Martin now, if you like. You’ll have a million in your bank account before you’re old enough to vote,” it would hardly incentivize you to study for your GCSE’s or start applying to universities. Basically, it means you no longer have to study. I didn’t say footballers were not intelligent. Many are. But you’re just not going to be motivated by education when you can earn a fabulous living doing what a great many boys and young men love doing for nothing.

Q: Are the clubs obliged to arrange education for younger players?

A: Yes and several clubs have admirable academies. But, as you know, to get anything out education, you have to be motivated to learn. If you’re head is elsewhere, you’re not going enrich yourself intellectually. And this leaves us with a generation of players who are largely uneducated, bringing me back to the question: who thinks they are role models?

Q: So what are footballers for?

A: To entertain us, and to induce us to buy stuff. The world loves watching football, as we all know. So footballers provide great entertainment. Their other main function is to appear in advertisements for practically every product under the sun. We associate them mainly with sports gear, but just pick any pro player and trace how many products he hawks. The likes of Ronaldo endorse dozens of products. What they don’t do is instruct us. They never offer themselves as exemplary citizens or moral paragons and I doubt if anybody seriously regards them as such.

A: But the implication of what you’re saying is that we should allow players their lax behaviour and forgive them for their trespasses, so to speak.

Q: I wouldn’t go that far. We embarrass, sometimes even shame celebrities from other sports and difference branches of the entertainment industry. Politicians are a bit different because they are meant to be exemplary — well, to an extent. So I think, if a footballer abuses someone and behaves boorishly, then they should be accountable. I just don’t think we — and I mean all of us — should think they have let us down. What else do we expect of them? Every time we learn about an incident like the Vardy case, we start tut-tutting and complaining how the transgressing players have let us all down. They haven’t. If anything they live up (or down, depending on your perspective) to our expectations. Role model is just a term the media like. Nobody seriously thinks footballers are there to be emulated. Heaven forbid if they did.

NIKE: IN CRISIS, OR GETTING STRONGER? OR BOTH?

Justin Gatlin-Men's 100m Final-London 2012 Olympics

Q: Wearing any Nike clothes?

A: Eh? No, I don’t think so. Oh, wait a minute: I’ve got some Nike socks on – I’ve just been for a run. I imagine everybody reading this is either wearing something with the “Swoosh” logo on it, and, if they haven’t, they’re bound to own something from Nike. It’s one of the most ubiquitous and most profitable brands in the world. Forbes rated Nike’s brand value at an incredible $15.9 billion and, only last month, Nike reported $7.46 billion in revenue for the previous three months alone. Why do you ask?

Q: Because I notice Nike has been drawn into two scandals over the past week: Alberto Salazar was the subject of a BBC Panorama investigation into doping and his training base is at the Nike Oregon Project in the USA, where Mo Farah, among others, trains; and Nike has been implicated in the Fifa scandal – according to the American US Department of Justice’s indictment filed against 14 Fifa officials and marketing executives, in 1996, “Company A,” which is now widely accepted to be Nike, agreed to pay $40m in “marketing fees” to the Swiss bank account of an affiliate of Brazilian sports marketing firm Traffic “on top of the $160m it was obligated to pay”, apparently to secure the sponsorship of the Brazilian football team. Traffic billed the company for an additional $30m in fees between 1996 and 1999, according to the indictment.

A: I can’t think of another global brand that has courted controversy quite so often as Nike and yet still emerged, not just intact, but actually stronger. In marketing terms, the company is living testimony to Nietzsche’s dictum, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” Just think about the previous scandals in which Nike has been involved courtesy of the athletes with whom it held contracts.

  • 1992: Eric Cantona was banned by England’s FA after his infamous kung-fu kick on a fan.
  • 1997: Mary Decker-Slaney was banned from competition after an irregular doping test result, which she explained as the result of her taking birth control pills.
  • 2003: The NBA star Kobe Bryant was accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old woman, who eventually dropped her case.
  • 2006-2010: Sprinter Justin Gatlin (pictured above, right) served two suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)
  • 2007: Michael Vick, the NFL quarterback was jailed after being involved in a dog-fighting ring.
  • 2009: Tiger Woods’ “transgression” led to several other companies dropping him. Nike’s ten-year contract with Woods is worth $124 million.
  • 2012: Lance Armstrong had been associated with Nike since 2006 and had insisted he hadn’t used PEDs.
  • 2014: Disabled runner Oscar Pistorius was convicted of shooting dead his girlfriend.

Nike stood by all but Armstrong and even then stated, “it is with great sadness that we have terminated our contract with him.” His contract was valued at over $7 million per year. In the other cases, Nike has ridden out the storm and suffered no obvious collateral damage. So my guess is that it will distance itself from the Salazar case for the time being and, if the situation demands it, reiterate its stance on doping and remind everyone that its training facility in Oregon is not a panopticon i.e. a structure in which everyone can be observed at all time.

Q: But the Fifa scandal is a different matter, right?

A: Yes, I think so. But remember how Nike managed to navigate its way through the sweatshop controversy. “Nike product has become synonymous with slave wages, forced overtime, and arbitrary abuse.” Who said this? A protester at a G20 summit? Someone from the North Korea Confederation of Trade Unions? Unicef? Actually, it was Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. In 1998, faced with the uncomfortable reality that Nike, despite its position in the market and its reputation as a global brand, was being embarrassed by constant revelations about its treatment of workers across the world. Nike employed nearly 800,000 workers in 52 countries. Ninety-eight percent of its shoes were, at the time, produced in four countries: China, Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. For a long time Nike  it had to defend itself against criticism of its apparent exploitative workplace practices in the emerging world. Nike’s business model is based on outsourcing its manufacturing, and using the money it saves on aggressive marketing campaigns. Nike put its hands up: as Knight’s admission indicates, the corporation was prepared to concede that its early efforts of setting codes of conduct and monitoring compliance didn’t end the abuses across its factories that produced its goods. It needed more comprehensive action. Perhaps more importantly, people believed Knight when he said he was going to pursue this kind of action, augmenting efforts to improve labor conditions with environmental programs.  So it advertised that it was monitoring its outsourcing labour practices and rectifying them and, basically, advertised its way out of trouble. That’s what it does so brilliantly: advertise in a way that persuades consumers that, by buying Nike products, they are involving themselves with a brand that is basically … well, cool.

Q: All the same, the company is going to be hard-pressed to extricate itself from the Fifa scandal, isn’t it?

A: Hard-pressed, maybe. But it’s not beyond Nike to turn a negative into a positive. Think how all the previous scandals have involved or seemed to involve some kind of wrongdoing. Nike can appeal to what we might call unstated sensibilities. For example, people might publicly decry maverick figures, rebels or rule-breakers, but they might also secretly admire them for having the audacity to flout authority. So I think Nike’s cunning advertising creates a way in which consumers can identify with rule-breakers but without openly acknowledging it.

Q: And the Fifa case?

A: The corporation has claimed the overpayments were not bribes or kickbacks and pointed out that the indictment does “not allege that Nike engaged in criminal conduct” or that “any Nike employee was aware of or knowingly participated in any bribery or kickback scheme.” And I have no doubt it will maintain this throughout the coming weeks. As long it remains a peripheral presence in the scandal, it continues to thrive. Like all scandals, there are personal focuses, like Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner and Chuck Blatter. While these are portrayed as pantomime villains, no one will think too much about the more abstract Nike brand. Compare this with another example of potential brand damage: Alton Towers is going to have to work hard to rehabilitate its brand after last week’s crash. Consumers will experience the impact of the event by imagining, “there but for the grace of god …” and this may affect the way they think and respond to the Alton Towers brand. But no one is going to think if they buy a new Nike top or a pair of trainers that they’re suddenly complicit in an attempt to undermine the integrity of a sport they like, or even love. The associations are not immediate. As I argued earlier, Nike’s ability to weather storms is based on its credibility and its preparedness to own up to its own sins and meet the challenge set by the consumer market. My guess is that Nike will emerge unscathed, its position as the world’s market leader in sportswear unchanged.

 

 

 

WHY DOES THE REST OF THE WORLD LIKE SEPP BLATTER (WHILE MOST EUROPEANS HATE HIM)?

Joseph Sepp Blatter

Q: Let’s cut straight to the chase: will the World Cups take place in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022?

A: Yes and possibly: it’s too late to change Russia, but the current investigation into Fifa will probably lead to revelations about how the bidding process for the World Cups was flawed by corruption and bribery and this could force Fifa to change the host nation for 2022. Qatar is already an unpopular site, anyway. Head of the English Football Association Greg Dyke doesn’t think Fifa president Sepp Blatter (pictured above) will survive his next full term of office (4 years) and he’s probably suspecting the trail of the current FBI case will lead all the way back to 2010 when the results of the Fifa vote for the World Cup hosts were announced.

Q: I heard you talking on radio last week and you seemed to think the big sponsors, or Fifa’s partners as they call them, would wonder whether their own brands are likely to be tarnished by their associations with Fifa. I guess you mean the likes of Coca-Cola, Budweiser, adidas, McDonald’s and the others, right? Surely they’re big enough to survive the latest scandal.

A: No doubt about it, though Visa, one of the major sponsors, has expressed doubts about Fifa and publicly declared that it will ask the organization to account for itself. Visa and each sponsor pay roughly $30m a year to be featured on official Fifa merchandise and have their logos plastered all over the screen when the games are being played. These global brands don’t throw money at Fifa out of the goodness of their hearts: they get good value from the exposure.  If they thought they’d suffer, they’d pull their money in a heartbeat. I imagine several others besides Visa will make pronouncements over the next week or so, but they’ll probably declare that they’re holding meetings with Fifa and expecting to get assurances that the type of corruption we’ve been hearing about will be stamped out. The usual anaemic platitudes, in other words.

Q: Were you surprised Sepp Blatter retained his presidency, despite the turmoil 48-hours before the election? His credibility must have been shaken.

A: I thought this initially, but now I’m not sure. After all, he had no credibility in Western Europe anyway. In North America, he was held in suspicion, and the Aussies have mistrusted him since Fifa voted down their bid to host the 2022 World Cup — the one that was awarded to Qatar. By the way, I think Australia will go on the offensive and try to snatch the World Cup from Qatar in the future. So Blatter was never banking on the support of those nations: his friends and stalwart admirers are in Africa and Asia. He can do no wrong with these nations.

Q: You’ve hit on an interesting point here: our media has been scathing about Blatter, but elsewhere in the world they haven’t been so destructive and, as you say, he enjoys support from many other parts of the world outside western Europe, North America and Australia. Why is that?

A: One of the first terms I learned when I was a sociology undergraduate was ethnocentricity (sometimes, ethnocentrism): it means evaluating other people and cultures according to the standards of your own culture. That’s what we’ve been doing. I was listening to Greg Dyke recall how, at last week’s Fifa election, he was talking to delegates from Africa and Asia who weren’t concerned about the allegations and whether they implicated Blatter. It “didn’t worry them at all,” said Dyke, “if you get into a position of power, you take cash.” In other words, there is a more relaxed approach to casual bribery in many parts of the world. It lubricates wheels. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that we’re above this; it’s just that we take a disapproving attitude that’s not so apparent elsewhere. So Blatter isn’t seen as the unscrupulous figure he is over here.

Q: All the same, a change of leadership would’ve made a difference, wouldn’t it?

A: Would it? Again, I’m reminded of my undergrad years: one of the writers that struck a chord with me was an Italian scholar named Vilfredo Pareto (pictured below), who lived 1848-1923, and who analyzed how ruling groups, or elites, clung to their power no matter what the political regime, whether capitalist, socialist, communist or whatever. There are always cliques that rise to the top and engineer ways of staying there. He called it the Circulation of Elites. If he were around today, he’d probably conclude that, in a largscale organization like Fifa, which has reserves of about $15 billion, it really doesn’t matter who’s in charge: the people in positions of power will try to feather their own nest — make money for themselves. Even organizations committed to democratic ideals succumb to the rule of a small, self-serving elite. By the way Pareto was part of a group of scholars known as Machiavellians — after the Italian nobleman and author Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), who advised rulers that, if they wanted to hold onto power they would have to use devious methods.

Wikimedia Commons - Vilfredo pareto

Q: As usual, your cynicism guides your understanding. But what should the nations that are genuinely alienated by Blatter and want to show their disgust at the way he’s governed the football world actually do? There’s talk of a boycott. Will this help?

A: Why leave it at a boycott? If you want to get out, there’s nothing to stop national football federations pulling out of Fifa completely. If say, Germany, Italy and Holland decided to withdraw from Fifa, they would probably expect to be joined by Australia, USA, France, England and a few others. They’d only need eight nations and they could easily get one of the global media corporations, such as NBC, Disney or Fox, interested. One of them would part with $500 million or so for exclusive English language rights. And it would rip the heart out of Fifa’s World Cup. There have been breakaways in cricket, tennis and boxing; and all of those sports survived. So it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility. Michel Platini, the president of Uefa (the European governing federation) is a known critic of Blatter, but we’re not sure how brave he is: he could propose a complete Uefa withdrawal from Fifa. There would be strong dissent from Russia, which hosts the 2018 World Cup, of course. Russian president Vladimir Putin is an outspoken critic of the FBI’s investigation into Fifa. Spain wouldn’t be keen on leaving Fifa either. Even so, the football world could split. The World Cup is as big as the Olympics at the moment, but that could change.

Q: One final question: is this whole affair really so bad for football?

A: No one likes to admit it, but scandals like these keep interest alive: the whole football narrative is populated by notorious characters who indulge in repugnant behaviour that turns the rest of us into moral judges. We like tut-tutting and issuing condemnation; it’s satisfying. When scandals like this make the lead stories not just for a day, but — in this case — for three straight days, we can’t escape them. How many sports can boast as many high-profile scandals as football? Historically, boxing and baseball have come close, but today football is dominant. Scandals make football the most fascinating, exciting, most pleasurable sport of them all. The least interesting aspect of football is the 90-minutes of play!

Could the World Cup be fixed?

… and what about the German fans who blacked-up? Racists?

Q: That question in the headline: you’re kidding, right?
A: Who knows? If you saw the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme earlier this week, you’d wonder if anything in football is genuine. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned how Fifa, the organization that runs the game, is corrupt and many of its officials have taken bribes. We also know that referees have been straightened in Europe and probably beyond. Add to this the stories involving Asian betting syndicates, players who have taken money and managers who have taken “bungs,” and you get the picture: this is not a sport where fair play rules.
Q: But surely not at the World Cup?
A: It’s devastating to think that the most prestigious tournament in the sport would be susceptible to corruption, but ask yourself how difficult it would be to do it. The team that wins the World Cup needs to play a total of six games. That means that you would need to straighten six referees. A penalty, a red card, a disallowed goal. It’s not inconceivable that a few key decisions can influence the destiny of the trophy.
Q: That’s preposterous. Referees are upright people.
A: Referee Robert Hoyzer wasn’t: in 2006, he confessed to taking bribes. He actually went to prison as a result. It’s naive to assume he is the only one. And the Italian scandal that resulted in some big clubs, including Juventus, being punished, exposed the depth and breadth of corruption in football. So even if the vast majority of referees are honorable people, it only takes a few to destroy the entire spirit of fair play.
Q: You seem to take delight in spoiling it for us football fans; I mean, you’re always putting a damper on things.I’ve been reading your new book Football’s Dark Side in which you and your co-author Jamie Cleland take apart the sport piece-by-piece and show that’s it’s corrupt, pockmarked with racism, homophobia and violence. Why?
A: Because I’m a realist: I don’t get carried away with myths and fairytales: football is a professional game and wherever there’s money, there’s corruption. That’s as sure as night follows day. If you and fellow sports fans want to believe the fantasy that sport is pure and untainted, go ahead. But I have pretty convincing evidence that that isn’t reality. I prefer truth to falsity.
Q: OK, while we’re on the subject of football, what did you make of the German football fans who blacked-up when Germany played Ghana?
A: It shows you just how behind-the-curve some nations are. For some reason, these white fans thought they were being amusing by blacking their faces like the old minstrels. Maybe they didn’t understand how crude, insulting, offensive, abusive, objectionable and provocative their behaviour truly was. I know we always see fans ribbing each other and this is part of the cut-and-thrust of football; but this wasn’t amusing; it just caused other people, particularly black people, to feel resentful, annoyed and justifiably upset.
Q: Oh, you’re taking this too seriously.
A: If you think that, ask yourself: what’s funny about it? I doubt if any of the African nations, their players or fans, thought this was anything but an insult.@elliscashmore

 

Should taxpayers pay for football clubs?

Q: I notice Coventry City Football Club has been involved in a long-running legal case to determine whether a £14.4 million Coventry City Council loan to the 32,000-seat Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. What’s all this about?
A: Coventry City was formed in 1883 by workers at Singers’ cycle factory and is now owned by a company called Sisu, which bought the financially troubled club in December 2007. Presumably, the company believed that the club could win promotion to the Premier League and would then start prospering. The club’s previous owners had sold the club’s old Highfield Road ground but then spent all the proceeds. So Sisu club rented the Ricoh stadium in Coventry, which is run jointly by Coventry City’s council with the Alan Edward Higgs Charity as Arena Coventry Limited (ACL). The council spent £14.4m of council taxpayers’ money building the arena. So all parties were satisfied with the arrangement: Sisu could afford the rent, the city got a revenue stream, and the citizens of Coventry got a club playing at a terrific brand new stadium. But things didn’t go according to plan and Sisu lost about £36m on players’ wages, transfer fees and other losses. Then worse: the club got relegated from the Championship. Then the £1.2m annual rent for using the Ricoh started to feel unaffordable and Sisu went back to the council to ask for a renegotiation. These took place with ACL and the Higgs charity, but no deal was done. Then in March 2012, Sisu said it couldn’t afford to pay the rent and just stopped paying it.  To stabilize the position, the council borrowed money to pay off ACL’s mortgage, effectively becoming ACL’s banker itself. Here’s where it gets complicated: Sisu actually sued the council, arguing it had acted illegally.  This claim was thrown out when the judge said Sisu “had caused rent to be withheld as a means of exerting pressure [on ACL] in their commercial negotiations”. ACL sued for the £600,000 owed; then, when Sisu still did not pay, applied for the club to go into administration. Sisu were by far the largest creditor due to the hedge fund millions they had put in as loans, and so were able to buy the club back from administration. Last year, ACL offered Sisu dramatic rent reductions, but Sisu refused and instead decided to move Coventry City to Northampton where it rents a smaller ground for its home games.
Q: Hang on! So Coventry City has been playing its home games in Northampton, which is 35-miles away?
A: Yes. And the fans have been boycotting them. With attendances plummeting from an average of 10,900 at the Ricoh Arena to 2,348 at Northampton, the financial losses are punishing. I hear the club has committed itself to playing at least two more seasons there.
Q: So the club will go under, right?
A: Not so quick: we’re now waiting for a legal decision that will determine the future of the club. Sisu have requested the judge orders another hearing to allow the club to seek damages from Coventry City Council. There’s just been a three-day hearing at Birmingham High Court to determine whether the £14.4million Coventry City Council loan to Ricoh Arena operators ACL amounted to unlawful state aid. Taxpayers could be hit with a bill for millions of pounds if the owners of the Sky Blues have successfully proved their case.
Q: But why should taxpayers get stung for the bill if the football club loses money?
A: Well perhaps they shouldn’t: if you think the club is just like any other business, it should stand on its own two feet. If, on the other hand, you think a football club is an organic part of the local community and contributes to the cultural life of the city, then you could argue that the residents should chip in.
Q: I’m guessing people who take the latter position would point to the jobs created by a football club, the tax revenues it generates and the civic pride it brings. Is this a legitimate argument?
A: Again, it depends on your perspective. In the USA, cities clamour for prestigious sports clubs and are often willing to build state-of-the-art stadiums and training facilities to attract them. And we’ve seen something like this in Manchester where the stadium built specifically for the Commonwealth Games was rented out to Manchester City at a knockdown rate. Nobody in Manchester has ever complained about this, presumably because the city has thrived and the club has won the Premier League title a couple of times. In fact, Manchester City are the current champions. You can imagine this row in Coventry wouldn’t be happening had the club gone from strength to strength. But it’s grown weaker. That’s happened in many American cities where taxpayers have discovered their hard-earned money has just been sucked into a black hole of debt. Aggravating the situation is the fact that the players, whether baseball, football, basketball or hockey players, all earn huge wages, whether the club loses money or not.
Q: I’m still not getting a straight answer from you. Should taxpayers contribute to a football club?
A: Sorry to be evasive. I guess my answer is: ask the citizens. We’re going to see a referendum in Scotland soon, so it seems logical to stage a vote among taxpayers for a direct decision. You could ask, for example, are you willing to have an extra £5 per week added to your council tax if we promise to spend it on the football club?
Q: A Sky Blues Tax?
A: Effectively, yes. You can’t assume everyone would vote in favour. Sport is popular, but maybe not as popular as we think. I mean, we all loved the London Olympics. But I wonder how we would have voted if, we had been asked in, say, 2002: are you prepared to pay £200 to bring the Olympics to London? That’s about what it cost taxpayers. I’d like Coventry to get its club back. I think the club has been part of the city’s identity and I can remember back in 1987 when the club won the FA Cup. But equally, I’m not from Coventry, I don’t live in Coventry and I don’t pay my taxes to the city; so I don’t count. I think it’s the responsibility of the club’s owners to run the club in a way that doesn’t lean on taxpayers. Equally, I think the Ricoh owners have to be realistic and realize that the club is struggling so badly that it needs an even bigger discount on the rent, even if only for the short term. One thing is for sure: the club can’t possibly survive for much longer if it continues to play its home games at Northampton. Fans are alienated already and are showing no signs of changing.                                                                                          Q: Knowing what a media whore you are, I’m surprised you haven’t been on tv talking about this subject.
A: Er, I’m afraid you spoke too soon. I’m on this week’s Sunday Politics at 11.00am on BBC One, Sunday 22 June 2014. Sorry about that.

Sponsors care about Fifa’s corruption. Do fans?

FOOTBALL IS MORE ADDICTION THAN ATTRACTION

Qatar 2022: Fifa partner Sony call on governing body to investigate World Cup corruption claims

Q: Sony is demanding that Fifa “appropriately investigate” the corruption claims that have been flying about lately. What authority has Sony got?
A: The authority that comes when you pump $305 million per year into football, that’s about £182 million, enough to buy a pretty decent Premier League club, every year. So Fifa will take notice of this.
Q: I guess Fifa depends on corporations like Sony for sponsorship money then, eh?
A: And how. Coca-Cola and adidas have pumped money into Fifa for years. And more recently credit card giant Visa and Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, and Hyundai, the car manufacturer have joined them. They each sponsor Fifa. Collectively, they contribute probably close to £1 billion per year. The World Cup alone is expected to fetch Fifa $730 million, or about £445 million, in sponsorships. So Fifa will not want to get on their wrong side.
Q: But the sponsors have made noises before, haven’t they?
A: Yes. In 2011 when Fifa was in the middle of another corruption scandal, Visa said: “The current situation is clearly not good for the game and we ask that Fifa take all necessary steps to resolve the concerns that have been raised.” Coca-Cola, the single biggest sponsor, released a statement: “We have every expectation that Fifa will resolve this situation in an expedient and thorough manner.” That was three years ago, remember. So they must be thinking Fifa have not just failed to resolve the matter, but have become involved into an arguably more serious episode — this one, as we know concerning the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. There could come a point at which the likes of adidas and Hyundai ask themselves: “Are we doing the image of the company any good by associating ourselves with a sport that is tainted?
Q: I suppose so, but, so far, only Sony has spoken up and the electronics giant hasn’t threatened to pull its money, has it?
A: No. That’s because Sony, Coca-Cola and the others are confident football is so incredibly popular that, by the time the World Cup is over, everyone will be feeling so jubilant that they’ll have forgotten about how dirty Fifa is.
Q: Are they right?
A: I suspect they are: Fifa has a habit of riding out these scandals and stay in tact. The reason is simple: fans don’t much care.
Q: You’re kidding, right? Fans surely care that the game they love is riddled with corruption, bribery, matchfixing, bungs and all sorts of other skulduggery.
A: Well, they know association football is endemically bent. But I’m not sure they care that much. I mean, once the big games start on Thursday, this crisis will vanish and all the fans will care about is the tournament. Tom Peck, of the Independent, wrote a biting story the other day, in which he suggested: “When the whistle finally blows in Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo on Thursday night, a football-addicted planet will get its first sweet quadrennial pull on the World Cup crack pipe and all will be right again.” And I think he’s right. I’m not sure his conclusion is accurate: “It is this addiction that hides from the football fan the extraordinary truth.” Fans know the truth; they just don’t care that much.
Q: That’s a bit of a compliment with a criticism inside it, isn’t it?
A: Let’s put it this way: fans are clued-up, they know about the politics of the sport; but they also realize that, in practical terms, there isn’t much they can do about it.
Q: But, as we both know, there is.
A: I see what you’re getting at. Imagine if football fans decided to boycott, say, Budweiser beer, McDonalds, or Johnson & Johnson products. They’re all sponsors and stand to benefit from football’s greatest tournament. They could force change in the way in which the global game is run. Sony is probably aware of the potential impact of negative publicity and that’s why it’s put out this statement. Remember: some sponsors are quick to sever links with athletes who are convicted of doping offences: they think their brand will suffer by association. Others just ride out the storm, assuming sports fans are just not motivated enough to put their convictions into action. Are they really going to stop buying adidas gear or scissor their Visa cards?
Q: I’m asking the questions … are they?
A: No. I’m afraid I agree with Peck: football is more of an addiction than an attraction. I hate to say it, but I think this scandal will have been forgotten by the time the whistle blows to end England’s first game. All the same you have to wonder if anyone benefits from all this. I bet Nike, Pepsi, Toshiba, Burger King and the other rivals of Fifa’s main sponsors are having a quiet laugh. Nike, in particular, has opted to capitalize on the World Cup and other Fifa tournaments with ambush marketing and sponsoring national teams, like Brazil’s. But, as Nike has no direct link to Fifa, it won’t incur collateral damage. The others’ reputations are vulnerable.

Is it time for football to dump Fifa?

Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice, say fans


World Cup: FIFA in spotlight at first conference since corruption claims

The latest scandal to engulf Fifa is the most damaging in a long series of calamities that has underlined what most people already knew: that this is the most corrupt, venal, amoral, unprincipled sports organization in the world, staffed by mendacious, self-serving officers who prioritize their personal interests over those of the most popular game in the world – a game they are meant to govern with integrity.

Should we be surprised? Only if we are pathologically gullible. Fans are certainly not. My recently published book, with Jamie Cleland, Football’s Dark Side collects the views of over 10,000 fans on a variety of football related subjects, particularly corruption and bribery in the sport. Their conclusion is “Fifa is an organization run by self-serving individuals with little interest in the health of the sport and an overpowering motivation to satisfy their own avarice.”
With this in mind, fans have little hope that Fifa can ever reform. Is it beyond redemption? The timing of the latest leak could not be more damaging for Fifa, coming as it does barely a week before the opening of arguably the most prestigious tournament this side of the summer Olympic Games.
Illicit payments and underhand accounting involving present and former Fifa officials have now become commonplace. Fans have practically accepted that men they despise run the sport they love. But the latest vote-rigging story is breathtaking. Think about it: if true, it means that the destination of the World Cup is decided by a group of people, many of whom weigh up the alternatives purely by asking one question: “What’s in it for me?”
Everyone in and out of football knows that Qatar is wholly inadequate for staging a tournament such as the World Cup, no matter what time of the year. Russia too is woefully inappropriate in the light of its antigay legislation, which sits oddly and contradictorily with Fifa’s own equalities policies. Evaluated objectively and with a rational mind, neither bid would have progressed any further than the first round.
Now Fifa faces the prospect of re-voting. The likelihood of this happening is, actually, remote. After all Fifa is not subject to any overarching judicial panel or answerable to any other organization: it is a self-perpetuating club and can, if it wishes, ignore the scandal. Fifa’s President Sepp Blatter is well versed in the art of scandal management: he has navigated his way through many calamities over the years and emerged with his reputation in ruins, but his power base intact.
But this time is slightly different: he faces the probability that Fifa itself is shown to unequivocally corrupt. Even in the administration of its most prized tournament, it has abandoned integrity and awarded the tournament to the country that has greased most palms.
Of course the official report will not be published for about seven months and we should remind ourselves that we are dealing with leaked information. As such this information is still conditional. But the likelihood is that the leak is reliable and that Fifa will have to respond quickly. Resignations, forced or voluntary, are most probable. Blatter himself could theoretically order another vote. But what rational voter would change? It would almost be an admission of guilt. Chances are the voting would still yield the same result.
One thing is certain: Fifa is not, to use a phrase of today, fit for purpose. Other sports have created new governing organizations either to replace or as alternatives to existing regulators and this is possible. But the omens are not good: think about boxing, which now has several competing governors, all with their own champions. Tennis too has threatened to splinter at some points in history. Frankly, any organization that rose up in the wake of the latest scandal would be welcomed. But corruption follows money with the same inevitability as night follows day. It would be naïve in the extreme to imagine any organization charged with the responsibility of governing a major professional sport in which revenues are measured in billions will remain pure for long.

Have Fifa and Qatar done the rest a favour?

Qatar World Cup 2022 ‘revote’: Now Australia’s bid could face ethics investigators as Fifa rocked by corruption allegationsShould it go ahead the proposed World Cup will cost Qatar more than US$200 billion. Read it again: $200 billion, that’s £120 billion, or 147 billion euros. This by far eclipses the record-busting $57 billion Russia spent on the recent Sochi Winter Olympics. Even allowing for the fact that Qatar’s climate and its lack of football stadiums means additional spending, a World Cup tournament would cost any successful bidder about the same as the total trade between China and Africa for 2014.There is a widespread myth that global tournaments like the World Cup and the Olympic Games are valuable to a nation. Correction: they are valuable to strategically placed people who stand to profit either in terms of personal prestige (like Lord Coe) or from the political uplift (David Cameron et al.) and the heads of corporations, including construction companies, hotel chains and, of course, the media organizations that carry the events.But since 1976, when Montreal hosted the Olympics – and incurred a debt that took 30 years to pay off – global sports tournaments have hurt rather than helped the economies of host nations. Athens, for example, went broke shortly after the 2004 Olympics and needed the scale back dramatically spending on hospitals, schools and roads.The London Olympics cost … well, actually no one knows for certain, probably not even Lord Coe; but the most recent estimates suggest about £9 billion – an appreciable amount, but still only 4.5% of the 2022 World Cup. Host nations can’t possibly get close to breaking even and, even if sports fans argue there are intangible benefits, such as national pride, export boosts, infrastructural improvements and that old saw the “feelgood factor,” the price is often ruinously high. Add to this the security issues typically associated with high-profile events such as World Cups and you begin to understand why the negatives far outweigh the positives.So maybe the Aussies, Americans and English should be thankful that they were the victims of what now appears to have been a seriously flawed and apparently corrupt bidding process. Sometimes a cynic like me is forced to wonder if there is divine retribution.

WORLD CUP WILL BE A MONTH-LONG ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN

Q: What’s this? The first World Cup ad?
A: Yes, adidas has launched the first commercial of its campaign and, as you can see, it’s provocative.
Q: Why provocative? I can recognize Kanye West on the soundtrack, but so what?
A: Because adidas have edited the track so that the references to “cocks” and “muthfuckas” and so on have been expunged.
Q: Perhaps that will make adidas appear edgy and appeal to the demographic they want. But, hang on a minute: doesn’t Kanye do something similar for adidas’s arch rivals Nike?
A: He did. Last year, he switched to adidas: the terms of the new deal mean that, just after the World Cup, there will be a new lines of shoes and apparel bearing the Kanye West imprimatur.
Q: Eh? What’s an imprimatur?
A: A sort of personal guarantee. West licences out his name. Most A-list celebs do this sort of thing nowadays. It’s pretty standard practice: you’ll notice Kanye West-themed adidas gear everywhere.
Q: I can see the logic of this if an athlete endorses the clothes and shoes. I mean, Nike and Michael Jordan was the most productive marketing tie-up in history. But Kanye West is a musician. What’s he got to do with sportsgear?
A: The only thing that matters is that consumers know and identify with West. Precisely what he’s known for is irrelevant. Sports stars are used to advertise all sorts of products that have nothing to do with sport. Musicians can reverse the process. Anyway adidas has done its homework: the company will know its customers like and follow West.
Q: It’s clever marketing for West too, I suppose.
A: Definitely. He’s trailing the new track “God Level” in an ad that is going to be seen and heard globally. So it’s effective advertising for him as well as adidas. It’s called cross-promotion. Advertising today combines products in such a way that the consumer isn’t expected to know it’s actually an ad at all: they just immerse themselves in the video. In this sense, I think you’d have to conclude the new ad is successful.
Q: This is the first seriously big ad campaign, isn’t it?
A: Yes, over the next couple of months, we are all — and I mean everybody in the world — going to be bombarded with ads for so many products it will make our heads spin. The World Cup is, on one level, a sports tournament; on another level, it is an marketing extravaganza. It has become such a globally popular event that advertisers know they can get the attention of literally millions. Fifa has been criticised for inflating viewing figures, but there is still nothing to touch the World Cup when it comes to bringing viewers to their screens; and remember people will be watching on portable devices too this time. You also have to remind yourself that the advertising doesn’t stop when the whistle goes. Hoardings will display ads for the whole game, players will wear branded footwear and, on commercial tv, halftime breaks will be crammed with advertising. Britain’s ITV will probably charge £300,000 for 30-second slots during the pregame, halftime and postgame intervals.
Q: I hate to bring this up, but it strikes me that when we are watching the games, the advertising will still be working on us.
A: Which leads us to ask: are we being entertained by the competition, or are we being sold stuff? The answer is, as you’ve already guessed: both. Everything comes with a price tag, right? Even watching a game on commercial-free BBC will implicate you in an advertising interaction. Consumption doesn’t just mean buying products for their use: it’s become a relationship through which we gratify ourselves and, strange as it seems, make our selves. Things are parts of our identities. adidas may sell products, but they also provide identity accoutrements.
@elliscashmore