The beautiful game is turning ugly thanks to the exorbitant sums of money involved.
I am always amused when I see the game of football referred to as “The Beautiful Game” when, in my view, it would be more pertinent to call it “The Greedy Game.”
How on earth can a young man, who happens to be blessed with the ability to kick a ball around a field, earn £150,000 (Rs 11.3 million) a week for playing in the English Premier League? Just do the sums for his monthly salary and then work out how much he earns in a year! The highest-earning players in England earn in one week what the British Prime Minister earns in a year! In one week! It is utter madness.
When Cristiano Ronaldo was transferred from Manchester United to Real Madrid in July last year for a world record price of £80 million, making the 23 year-old Portuguese player the most expensive footballer in the history of the game, I felt that somewhere in our sporting fabric, in our business acumen, we had all lost the plot. How can such staggering sums of money be justified for “buying” human flesh just to kick a football around a field? To me, it is crass; it is an anathema; it is immoral.
We are all affected by the amount of money that is being thrown around the sycophantic world of professional football. Somewhere along the line, the man in the street has to contribute, either by paying to watch through the clubs’ turnstiles, or paying to watch on television.
The massive amounts of money that television companies pay for broadcast rights is the only reason that some of England’s football clubs exist. Without the handouts from the television companies, they would not survive. They could not afford to pay the players their vast salaries. It is a spiralling problem and one in which there would seem to be no limits on the sums of money involved.
The quandary is not just restricted to club level. In five months’ time, the 2010 FIFA World Cup gets underway in South Africa. Football’s showpiece to the world is the biggest sporting event on television watched by more eyes than any other sport.
FIFA, football’s world governing body, has 208 national associations affiliated to it, all of whom have to pay for the rights to watch the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That is understandable. The World Cup is big business and there has to be a premium to pay to be able to watch it in the comfort of your own home, if you cannot afford ludicrously expensive packages to actually travel to South Africa to watch the action in the magnificent new stadia that country has built — and is still building.
This year, though, FIFA has hiked up its prices and it is not a level playing field. I live in Singapore, a football-loving nation, but as of now, there will be no World Cup football on Singapore television screens. Imagine living in one of the world’s most modern societies and not being able to watch the football World Cup, because a price cannot be agreed between football’s governing body and the television companies in Singapore?
Two Singapore telcos (SingTel and StarHub) have put in a joint bid for the TV rights to the tournament which kicks off on June 11th, said to be a sum of around $40 million, but FIFA has allegedly demanded a staggering $100 million for the entire package of 64 live matches from South Africa, after it had learnt that SingTel had beaten StarHub in a bidding war for the 2010-2013 rights to the English Premiership, at a cost said to be $400 million.
Television viewers in India will be able to watch the 2010 Football World Cup in its entirety after ESPN Star Sports won the broadcast rights for a reputed US$40 million. ESS outbid both Ten Sports and Neo Sports for the South Africa package of matches. The price paid illustrates the escalating costs of watching sport on television: the 2006 TV rights (for India) were bought for $8 million. The 2002 edition for just $3 million.
Furthermore, the 2006 World Cup was watched by over 50 million people in India alone, which was a 44 per cent increase on the 2002 broadcast. The rights for 2010 are for India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. Meanwhile, football fans in Singapore will simply have to hope that a deal will be reached between FIFA and the telcos of Singapore, both of whom have joined forces as a single entity to bring the biggest sporting event in the world to the city-state. The current impasse could well see a government intervention to resolve the issue. So now, FIFA wants more, considerably more than the $10 million StarHub paid for the 2002 World Cup rights and $15 million for the 2006 edition, for which cable subscribers were charged between $15 and $26 extra for the month.
What has happened to FIFA’s declared mission of developing the game in non-traditional regions, through exposing the people to top-grade international football? There is just so much that television stations and fans anywhere are willing to pay. Beyond that, it is extortion. So “the beautiful game” becomes ugly and expensive, like a botched operation from a cosmetic plastic surgeon. The inflated sums of money involved are already making the game less attractive. It is taking it further out of reach from the man-in-the-street. Now he can’t even go home and watch it on television because the ransom is simply too high.
FIFA needs to get real. Football needs to get real. What the game is doing right now is a pretty good job of shooting itself in the foot…hardly the right part of the anatomy to destroy.
ALAN WILKINS is a TV broadcaster for ESPN Star Sports. Inside Edge appears every alternate week