Governance | FREE - Part 2

Archive for the category : Governance

December 2, 2013

No Frenchman at PSG !

Picture from, yesterday, Paris Saint-Germain started their game against Olympique Lyonnais without a single French player? And this attracted a great lot of attention. This is hardly surprising since the number of foreign players in club teams is a staple of the media. It is more surprising the topic is still attracting media & public attention, since this is hardly the first time. English club Chelsea first did it on Boxing Day 1999. In France, OM did it on 8 August 2003 & Arsenal played with an all-foreign squad (11 players who start the game plus all the potential substitutes) on Valentine Day 2005. It is also surprising, since after a few years of researching the issue for a PhD at the University of Cambridge (Trinity Hall & Centre of International Studies), it appeared very clearly to me that the presence of foreign players in a team is actually a non-issue for the supporters of the club.

To sum up quickly the results presented in my book Foreign Supporters and Football Players: The Old Firm, Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain (an abridged version of my PhD published upon joining ESSCA), supporters are on the whole very happy with foreign players because:

(a) The identity of club is rarely national : it is above all local – this may come as a shocking surprise to some but a player from Manchester is as ‘foreign’ to an Arsenal supporter as a player from France or Sénégal ; & in some case it is even worse to come from the territory of a team seen as an ‘enemy’ than from abroad. Ask a PSG supporter whether they’d rather have a Marseilles-through-and-through player or a player of equal sporting value from Germany? Of course, players which have similar roots as the supporters are on the whole more supported: this why Ashley Cole’s leaving for Chelsea was seen as a betrayal for a majority of Arsenal fans. For an Arsenal, he was ‘one of us who made it, who accomplished our dream’. For that reason, there is little doubt that Mamadou Sakho or Adrien Rabiot attract more support from PSG fans than some other players with no link with PSG, Paris or its suburbs.

Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Governance, Identities, Memory, Public Sphere - 1 comment

November 3, 2013

Taxes, polls and strikes – welcome to France!

These days, French football is not so much about goalscoring, match results and league tables. Much of the football talk is dominated by the exceptional tax of 75% on incomes above 1 million that the Hollande government is decided to impose on all companies operating in France over a period of two years.

The club presidents leave the Elysée like their players leave the pitch after a lost match.

Needless to say that the professional football clubs are all up in arms against the nex tax. And they react like each other French business interest representation would react: first, they take an appointment at the Elysée. Then they try to win over public opinion through a communication campaign mobilising opinion polls and publishing ‘open letters’ to the President in major newspapers. And if nothing else helps, they threaten to go on strike at the end of November.

There is something strangely ridiculous about some of the club presidents’ arguments. According to several simulations in different media, the tax (which is limited to 5% of a company’s total payroll) would actually concern only 13 top-tier clubs, for the salaries of 115 players and 8 coaches, and almost half of the total cost of 44 million Euros would be on the shoulders of the PSG. Surely this would not be ‘the end of French professional football’ as the Union of Professional Football Clubs (UCPF) wants us to believe. Like in all other big leagues, football clubs in France are notorious deficit-makers. Due to a unique, particularly favourable configuration in the private television market, they have benefitted for over a decade from a situation in which they received a disproportionately generous revenue from their broadcasting rights. And just like in all other big leagues, any benefit a football club may be lucky enough to generate, almost automatically disappears in inflated players’ salaries. And, again, like in all other big leagues, as soon as any external factor interferes with this eternal vicious circle, the clubs cry out for help in order to ‘save the competitiveness of our football in Europe’.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Posts - No Comment

October 4, 2013

What happens when money does not buy (enough) titles?

Cristiano Ronaldo and Arda Turan

Cristiano Ronaldo and Arda Turán. (C) LauraHale [CC-BY-SA-3.0

In the last year the football order in the Spanish capital, Madrid, has been turned upside down. For the first time in years Atlético de Madrid has defeated twice in a row Real Madrid at the Bernabéu stadium. And one of the victories was on the Spanish Cup (Copa del Rey) final, where the ‘Colchoneros’ of Atlético came from one goal behind to lift the trophy with an emphatic 2-1 win over their city rivals. Not only that, but Atlético is winning titles whilst Real Madrid is licking its wounds and witnessing how their arch-rival FC Barcelona are crowned as European champions three times. Admittedly, Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho have won a League, a Cup and a Spanish Super Cup. But it all seems too little for a club that has broken twice in less than five year the record of the most expensive football transfer with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.

The arrival of former player Diego Pablo Simeone to Atlético de Madrid has given a new sense of pride to the team, the club and the fans. ‘We play finals to win’, stated recently the Argentinian manager. A very different mental setting for a club that used to be known for its predisposition to bad luck and to shoot itself on the foot. Atléticos are now winners, whilst the supporters of Real Madrid seem to be left with no clear direction. Some in Madrid blame the club’s chairman, Florentino Pérez. Others, specially the sport press, blame José Mourinho, despite his success in stopping Pep Guardiola’s Barça and restoring Real Madrid to winning ways. There are even those who accuse the players, and specially the club and national team’s captain Iker Casillas, one of the heroes of the 2010 World Cup final with his vital saves over Arjen Robben.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Competitions, Governance, Posts - No Comment

December 7, 2012

From mega-event to multi-event

As the readers of this blog know well, the FREE project has decided to organise eight different events in eight different European cities. It seems that Michel Platini and the UEFA executive committee have taken inspiration on this scheme of intelligent decentralisation. For the sixtieth anniversary of Henri Delaunay’s invention, the Euro will not be hosted in one single country (as in 1996 and 2004), or two neighbouring ones (as in 2000, 2008 or 2012), but all across Europe in 12 or more different cities.

True enough, with 24 participating teams the whole thing is somewhat larger than the FREE project, which only counts 9. And while our consortium’s travel budget is well provided for by the European Commission’s generous support, the potential fans of Euro2020 already started to complain in internet forums and football chat rooms about the distances when Michel Platini started to float the idea at the end of June.

But that’s not really an argument. At Euro2012 you could possibly travel from Poznan to Donezk and cover a distance of approximately 2000 km, which is significantly longer than Milan-Madrid or Manchester-Munich (without even mentioning the distances to be covered in FIFA’s next World Cup host nations Brazil and Russia…). Moreover, Europe is, after all, the paradise of budget airlines and high-speed trains, which football fans already extensively use during regular Champions League seasons.

There will be lots of spontaneous criticism all over the web: UEFA takes the magic out of the championship, the show-case effect for host nations will be lost, the atmosphere will go down the drain,  etc. etc. But these objections are mainly due to the online zeitgeist of permanent distrust in governance institutions and elite-bashing by principle.

As a matter of fact, the idea is excellent, especially in terms of sustainability. Europe already has a wonderful infrastructure of football stadia all over the place – why charge a future host nation to build oversized arenas (and hotel capacities) in peripheral cities without regular tenant that may have little use for them after the tournament and remain heavy liabilities on the home cities’ tight budgets. Or does anyone believe that Lviv (2012), Klagenfurt (2008) or Leiria (2004) will be, over the coming seasons, home to many exciting football highlights with packed terraces? ‘Play the Game’ has made the absurdity of such buildings very clear in their World Stadium Index, and Gosia Kowalska also asks interesting questions about the long-term  legacy and legitimacy of mega-events.

'Politicians ask the question. Football gives the answer!' Cartoon by Chenez (L'Equipe) published on the 50th anniversary of the European Cup.

Of course, one can easily understand that the Turkish federation is disappointed (and was the only one to vote against the project yesterday). This was to be their Euro, finally. On the other hand, the UEFA decision will perhaps give their simultaneous Olympic bid more credibility and increase its chances. And, who knows, maybe UEFA will be elegant enough to schedule the semi-finals and the final in Istanbul. This would not only be a nice nostalgic reminder of the initial format of the Euro tournament before it was blown up to 8, 16 and now 24 participants, but also a rather appropriate symbolic gesture with a championship played out all over Europe and converging for the final showdown in Turkey.

One way or another, UEFA deserves credit to have the courage to leave well-trodden paths and switch from a logic of mega-events to one of a ‘multi-event’. The European Championship will thus become an embodiment of the oft-quoted motto ‘Unity in Diversity’. UEFA claims it will be an exception, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it became the rule.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

December 4, 2012

Football’s come some way

Five years ago, in December 2007, I went to a workshop organised at Sciences Po Grenoble by the small but dynamic European Studies Section of the venerable French Association of Political Sciences. The very detailed call for papers had asked for contributions on ‘Likes and Dislikes between Europeans’, listing a whole series of possible topical approaches, none of which included sports or football. I nevertheless decided to present a paper on the affective dimension of our favourite ‘European Passion’ and was pleasantly surprised not only to see it accepted but even very warmly welcomed at the conference itself.

I was even more surprised one year later that Politique européenne, no doubt one of the best European Studies journal on the market, should indeed accept and publish my paper on football. But had anybody told me then that it would one day even publish an entire special issue on ‘The European Space of Football’, I would hardly have believed my ears.

But there’s no denying it: issue 36 of Politique européenne has the word ‘football’ on its cover. I have to pay homage to William Gasparini (Strasbourg) and Jean-François Polo (Rennes) for having convinced the editorial board of the relevance and timeliness of their topic. And the special issue they deliver provides for interesting reading.

It opens with an introductory article by the two editors that distinguishes between the two different angles from which the constitution of a European space of football is studied. On the one hand, there is an institutional approach focusing mainly on the impact of regulatory measures taken increasingly on a transnational or supranational level. On the other hand, there are case studies that deal with what is aptly named ‘the variable geometry of identification’ (p. 16), i.e. the symbolic space constructed by individual and collective actors.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

November 30, 2012

Football supporters present their vision for the game in Brussels

From left to right, William Gaillard (UEFA), David Lampitt (SD) and Emmanuel Macedo (EPFL). (c) Supporters Direct

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the Brussels launch of Supporters Direct Europe (SDE) position paper on football governance. The event was organised in the premises of the European Parliament and hosted by the prominent centre-right Belgian MEP Ivo Belet. The turnout of the event is testimony to the work that Supporters Direct Europe has done over the last five years. Congratulations are certainly in order to Antonia Hagemann, the bright, efficient and hard working mind behind SDE. Most of the speakers reminded that five years ago, in the same building, the launch of SDE as an organisation only managed to attract a handful of persons. The work of Supporters Direct and other sister organisations such as Football Supporters Europe (FSE) have established the supporters as recognised stakeholders in football governance. Perhaps the latest and definitive endorsement was the award by the European Commission of several projects under the preparatory actions in the area of sport to networks of supporters organisations. They are also a recognised observer in the Council’s expert group on governance.

Post by : Borja García in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts - No Comment

November 11, 2012

The legacy of mega-events

In his recent article published in The Guardian on the day of the presidential election in America, Aditya Chakrabortty discusses the polarised US politics and recalls playwright Arthur Miller’s question from the 2004 election: “How can the polls be neck and neck when I don’t know one Bush supporter?” Despite the biggest and most expensive campaign in the country’s history, the two sides never talk to each other, and, as Chakrabortty argued after the conference he attended earlier this autumn, even the leading technical experts cannot agree on the judging criteria for the discussion: they just express their subjective opinions, followed by no discussion.

I would argue that it is not only American society that has become divided and lacks common ground for meaningful debate. At the recent conference “From London to Rio: Social Change and the Sporting Mega-event” held in the British Library in London, when discussing the legacy and future of the Olympic Games, the speakers seemed to be using two incongruous languages. One was the language of capital growth, development, international recognition, competitiveness and entrepreneurship; the other, of the needs and hopes of local communities and the quality of life of the present and future generations of citizens. Those who spoke the latter stressed the fact that while mega development projects open public space for capital investments and consumption, they very often cordon off space to its regular users. The rhetoric of the first language used people’s passion for sport to justify the gigantomania behind the new projects. One wished the debate could have gone beyond discussing the pros and cons of “the London model”, as well as beyond the final argument that although mega-events are unsustainable by definition, we cannot really do anything about this situation because, well, they do take place. It should have rather reflected on the legitimacy of all the capital expenditures being implemented everywhere around our planet.

Last summer, over the course of a few days I conducted research in the Balkans and visited Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the host city of the 1984 winter Olympic Games. After just a few years, the Olympic venues were turned into battlefields, and today the scarred stadium neighbours a formidable graveyard of the predominantly young victims of the Balkan Wars. The ruins of the Olympic stadiums in the current turmoil of Greece, photographed by Jamie McGregor Smith for his project Borrow, Build Abandon, should teach us the very same lesson of humility. Not that we did not learn it from history lessons on the once proud and invincible ancient Greek and Roman empires. Right?

Post by : Gosia Kowalska in the category : Governance, Memory, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

October 22, 2012

Victories & cheats (Armstrong, Juventus, Marseilles)

After a few weeks of media speculation, l’Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has relented & decided to uphold the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)’s decision to suspend Lance Armstrong for life & to deprive him of all his results since 1998, which includes all of his 7 Tour de France victories.

This is a momentous event in the history of sport. The Tour is arguably the world’s third or fourth most important sporting event, in terms of spectators, behind the Olympics, the football (FIFA) World Cup & on a par with the football (UEFA) Euro, all of which are four-yearly events.

Some (& this includes  the management of the Tour de France which, ironically, have no say on the matter) say that Armstrong’s victories should not be reattributed. This would not be a first. In 1993, Olympique de Marseille was stripped of its Division 1 title in France (but not of its Champions League title) & relegated because of a corruption scandal. Yet, Paris Saint-Germain, which finished second, was not handed the title. Same happened in 2006 when Juventus lost its 2005 crown for the same reason. The title (unlike the 2006 title) was not reattributed.

Although well-intentioned, this sort of decision raises more issues than it solves. For example, OM supporters regularly call for the 1993 title to be re-attributed to OM. This would, of course, be very incoherent since OM were clearly convicted of cheating.

Post by : Dàvid RANC in the category : Governance, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

September 17, 2012


This week  the Champions League starts again, celebrating at the same time the twentieth anniversary of its inception. There is a lot that can be said against its rationale, its accessibility and its consequences, but even the most nostalgic of observers will have to admit that from a purely marketing point of view, the Champions League is a formidable product.

The Champions League was the iPad of football: it was not really a new product, just a kind of extremely carefully packaged crossover of existing formats, and consumers had not really expressed any urgent desire for replacing the good old European Champion Clubs’ Cup. But it imposed a new ‘premium’ product category with an extraordinary well-defined and well-designed brand identity. And it did its job of eliminating UEFA’s potential competitor – the project of  a break-away Super-League by a closed circle of European top clubs.

Unchanged for 20 years already: the Champions League logo.

What the marketing experts at TEAM in Lucerne managed to create is an event that, like the Tour de France, is more important than the champions themselves, whatever their individual prestige. It did so by imposing the same audio-visual environment on all participants: an excellent new product name that was not yet connotated in any way and easily translatable into all European languages; an omnipresent logo with a high recognition value; the same pre-kick-off ceremony imported to club football from the national teams but with only one – transnational – neo-baroque anthem; the same exclusive event sponsors flagged at the same places in all stadia concerned; and most important of all, the rigorous simultaneity of all matches.

Given the huge difference across the continent in time perception, especially when it comes to the definition of ‘evening’ or ‘dinner time’, the fact that the Champions League has defined and imposed 8.45 pm as the definitive ‘prime time’ of the Europe of football is a most striking example for the power of markets in setting new standards. Imagine what the reaction would be if any political entity imposed a ‘standard’ time slot for, say, evening TV news all over Europe… The Champions League has created a transnational time zone of its own, and everybody has accepted its dictatorship.

Post by : Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Governance, Posts, Public Sphere - No Comment

May 3, 2012

Are football supporters any different from Madonna fans?

Madonna at Berlin Film Festival.

The american singer Madonna - (c) Siebbi - CC A 3.0

Over the last few years a debate has emerged on the importance of involving supporters in football governance structures. Some examples of that discourse could be the creation of Supporters Direct by the British Government, the unequivocal case made by the Independent European Sport Review of 2006, UEFA’s support of fans networks or the creation of the clubs’ supporters liaison officers as part of UEFA’s licensing system. Most people seem to accept that fans have a right to have a say on how their clubs and their game are governed. But, come to think of it: why? Back in 2008 over a very amicable chat I challenged the representatives of the supporters attending the European Sports Forum in Biarritz: why should supporters have a say on football if, for example, Madonna fans are not involved in how she runs her career? It may seem trivial, but serious academics are well advised never to take anything for granted, aren’t they?

Post by : Borja García in the category : Governance, Identities, Posts - No Comment

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