Western Civilisation

Soccer’s Social Licence Red Card

Written by
23 April 2021
Originally appeared in Australian Financial Review

Depending on your perspective, European football (soccer) is either a poster child for, or a cautionary tale about, unbridled capitalism.

Many sporting codes around the world try to level the playing field with salary caps and player drafts, but not in European soccer.

The outcome is that soccer has never been more popular and the continent’s elite clubs are now global brands. Meanwhile, the game’s riches and titles have been accumulated by an ever-decreasing number of clubs, many owned by absentee billionaires and Middle East governments.

Yet somehow the romance of the beautiful game lingers. At least in theory the lowliest team can beat the greatest. (In 2016, as a 5000-to-one outsider, Leicester City famously won the English Premier League.) And in European soccer, every team, no matter how rich, is subject to the iron law of relegation to a lower division if they lose too many games.

With billions of euros at stake, it was inevitable the owners of the biggest clubs would attempt to both maximise their revenue by increasing the number of games elite clubs played against each other and guarantee that income by ensuring they could never be relegated. That’s why a week ago 12 of Europe’s biggest clubs, including Manchester United, Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus and AC Milan, announced their participation in a new so-called ‘European Super League

Almost within minutes there was uproar from princes, prime ministers, and the public. And rightly so. Prince William tweeted: “Now, more than ever, we must protect the entire soccer community – from the top level to the grassroots – and the values of competition and fairness at its core. I share the concerns of fans about the proposed Super League.”

A good description of what corporations are now so willing to do is to ‘prettify’ their greed they dress themselves in the ‘costumes of social justice’.

The ESL would have destroyed the last vestiges of the teams’ connection to their communities and decimated the revenues of non-ESL clubs.

In the free market of European soccer, those 12 clubs were entitled to leave their own domestic competitions to play in a different league. And in return the administrators of those leagues were entitled to ban those clubs’ players from ever representing their country.

The attitude of the league’s architects can be glimpsed at in the way they labelled the 12 clubs’ traditional supporters as merely ‘legacy fans’, unlike the ‘fans of the future who only want to watch superstars’.

Within 72 hours of its announcement, as clubs started backing out, the ESL was dead. The owners of Manchester United and Liverpool Football Club have since made grovelling apologies.

Jamie Dimon should also apologise. He’s the chairman and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase and his bank were the financiers of the ESL. Apparently JPMorgan were to provide a $5 billion loan at an interest rate of up to 3 per cent secured against future broadcast revenues.

Rapacious profit-taking

If Dimon simply acknowledged his aim was to make as much money as possible for his shareholders and himself (he was paid US$31 million last year), there wouldn’t be a problem. But that’s not what he does. Dimon luxuriates in being the ‘human face of capitalism’. Last year he took the knee in support of Black Lives Matter.

In 2019 as the chair of the US Business Roundtable, Dimon was responsible for the organisation’s declaration that corporations should act not only in the interests of its owners but for all its ‘stakeholders’ and the communities in which they work.

In his letter to shareholders earlier this month, Dimon complained about “short-term rapacious profit-taking”. To millions of soccer fans, “short-term rapacious profit-taking” was the ESL’s only purpose.

In that letter, Dimon cried: “When I hear examples of people doing something that is wrong because they could be paid more, it makes my blood boil – and I don’t want them working here.”

It hasn’t taken long for the difference between Dimon’s words and his actions to be noticed. Already a ratings agency has downgraded JPMorgan’s ‘sustainability’ ranking from ‘adequate’ to ‘non-compliant’ because of its involvement with the ESL.

The American journalist Glenn Greenwald has a good description of what corporations like JPMorgan are now so willing to do – to “prettify” their greed, they dress themselves in the “costumes of social justice”.

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John Roskam

John Roskam is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs

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