The JFK assassination. The moon landing hoax. The diminishing portion sizes served at Oporto.
Whatever it is, the Sporting Regard appreciates a good conspiracy theory.
While some may dismiss the following as “conspiracy-talk”, you would have to be ozzie the ostrich (or Daryl Summers) not to ackowledge the reality of this frighteningly pervasive undercurrent in professional sport.
What I am talking about is dirty money. Or how professional sport, in particular football, is increasingly used as a vehicle to advance nefarious financial or political objectives.
There is a lot of money in professional football. This is undeniable. We’re talking serious cheddar.
In the past decade we’ve seen countless football teams bought by rich oligarchs/monarchs/businessmen, who then invest obscene amounts of money into these teams. Given this level of investment the teams are generally successful, but run at a huge financial loss.
Think Manchester City, who after being bought by Sheikh Mansour, spent hundreds of millions acquiring some of the world’s best players and as a result won the English Premier League in 2012 – yet in the same year recorded a loss of £197m, the biggest in English football history.
There are generally two attitudes towards this situation.
The first is, fuck yeah my team is winning and I don’t care if some rich oil baron lost a lot of money in the process.
The second attitude is, this amount of money is ruining football – and its corollary, I wish my team got bought by a rich oil baron and enjoyed this level of success.
Both of these reactions avoid the critical point – why is some outrageously wealthy individual prepared to foot such massive losses in order to see his team win trophies?
Make no mistake. This is not about some diehard fan throwing his away so he can see his boyhood club achieve their dreams.
To explain more, here is Matthew Syed.
If you couldn’t be bothered watching the video, here’s the précis:
– Roman Abramovich is a rich Russian oligarch who made his wealth through dodgy privitisation deals with the former Government in Russia. The current Russian Government does not like the fact it was fleeced.
– Mr Abramovich bought Chelsea Football Club and spent a lot of money making it successful.
– Mr Abramovich is not in Chelsea to make a profit; he bought it for political protection.
– By associating with a highly-visible British institution, Mr Abramovich insulates himself from potential retribution from the Russian Government trying to reclaim their money.
The take-home? These massive football clubs are not bought for business reasons. They are bought for political reasons or as Syed says, for rich people to exploit “the cultural significance of football clubs”, many of whom have done so through ill-gotten gains.
The effect of dirty money on football is not simply consigned to the big clubs in wealthy countries.
As the Economist points out, gangsters and “businessmen” across the world see football clubs as the perfect vehicle to launder money – and do so a variety of means including exaggerating gate receipts, inflating or deflating the transfer value of players, third-party ownership of players and of course, through fixing matches.
But what does all this matter if you can still turn your TV on to watch Wayne Rooney launch a 40 yard through ball for Robin van Persie to dispatch a volley into the top corner?
It matters because sport needs integrity.
Sport is enduring because it’s pure. People love it. In a hectic world governed by blurred rules and no simple answers to life’s most vexing questions, sport gives us something simple to appreciate. Two teams. A rigorously enforced set of rules. A final outcome.
When you start messing with that fabric by corrupting the rules and distorting the parameters of the game then you ruin something beautiful.
So instead of sitting back and trying to enjoy our sport on face value, maybe we should think a little harder about what goes on behind the scenes.
Just like hyper-conscious inner-city hipsters asking if their $300 distressed wool pashmina was made in a factory that uses slave labour or if the coffee beans in their $4.50 large piccolo latte is free-trade, perhaps it’s time we starting asking where the money behind our football teams come from and what effect it has on the game?
Maybe it’s too hard to uncover the nefarious motives driving this huge financial investment in professional sport. Maybe the entrenched interests are too strong to be broken down.
More likely is that we can’t be fucked confronting the painful truth. There’s probably just no audience for these type of stories. The viewing public just want to watch sport and not think about bigger issues.
Don’t bother us with the harsh realities. Let us get back to enjoying our delicious bread and delightful circuses.
“Me Chelsea huv wan the leeeg – who cares wha tha mooneh came frum?”