October 7, 2008

Sepp Blatter's Narrow Worldview

It's only fitting that my 100th post on this blog address the globalization of soccer, one of the biggest issues and one I care strongly about.

Sepp Blatter has called once again for the provincialization (I think I just made up a word) of soccer, calling for tighter restrictions on club ownership. Had Blatter simply called for better oversight of club finances to ensure every owner or group of owners has enough resources to keep their clubs afloat, I would have applauded his prudence. Unfortunately the FIFA president has decided to leverage the current economic climate to forward his personal agenda. Blatter has long wished for European soccer to return to the days of hyperlocal sport and there is no better opportunity to see that wish come true.

From a financial viewpoint, his argument is sound. Club owners are responsible for the livelihoods of thousands of people. A sudden downturn in an owner's financial situation could cause a chain reaction, threatening the continuity of the league. One idea: no individual is allowed to own an entire club unless the prospective owner can show the league that the money needed to run the club is in a sufficiently low-risk and liquid place. The idea is to minimize risk by either diversifying or guaranteeing the cash flows needed from outside the team. As soccer clubs become big business, monitoring them as closely as any comparable firm is the only direction that makes sense.

I wish Blatter had stopped with the financial argument. Instead he used the global credit crunch in an effort to convince the European Parliament that his bygone ideal should be resurrected. Blatter has called for owners to have a "link with the area," using Swiss property law as a reference. The president of FIFA wants the world's game to enact laws similar to a country that minimizes its interaction with the rest of the world. Why this man was elected to his position I have no idea.

Blatter needs to understand the game cannot be localised any longer. I guarantee the people who can afford Premier League/La Liga/Serie A teams made their money through business in multiple countries. The leagues themselves have become behemoths because of their international presence. To allow only locals the benefits of a global phenomenon shows a lack of understanding of the current economic landscape. Blatter's policies, if enacted, would shrink the game and deny opportunities to countless players and others whose fortunes are tied to the game. I will rejoice when such a small-minded man is no longer in charge.

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