By Tony Attwood
This morning on my way to work I voted in the UK’s general election for an MP to sit in Parliament for the town in which I live, and I also voted in the election for local councillors to serve in my part of town.
Unfortunately I couldn’t vote for Blacksheep, for although he is standing as a candidate for the party I support and voted for, I don’t live in the same part of Northamptonshire as he does, so I couldn’t do my bit to help him.
But goodluck Blacksheep. I’m thinking of you.
However the UK’s wild and often odd election process is not really my concern today. Rather I’ve been interested in the dispute in Spain over TV rights and the way Fifa likes to insist that it is totally, utterly and completely above the law.
I am totally a democrat, I believe in the democratic system, flawed though it often is in practice. I don’t believe in clearly corrupt and bent self-perpetuating gangs of crooks who proclaim themselves the leaders and controllers of fascist dictatorships, or come to that world football.
Indeed it is often forgotten that Fifa demands that no government should ever interfere with the activities of a domestic or international football organisation, which when you come to think of it, is utterly bizarre. I do my bit to elect my local councillors and my area’s MP and (when the time comes) MEP. I don’t elect the FA and yet they bend the knee to Fifa, who proclaim themselves and the FA as above national control.
So I am starting to wonder what Fifa is going to do over the spat in Spain about TV rights.
Last week the Spanish government signed off a new law that in essence ensures that instead of Real Mad and Barcelona getting the lion’s share, of TV money, they get only a small lion’s share and the rest is shared out much more equitably. The deal effectively stops the two big boys negotiating their own deals.
The Spanish Football League (Liga de Futbol Profesional – LFP) is a strong advocate of this new approach because it will be good for its member clubs.
But the Royal Spanish Football Federation (the RFEF, the equivalent of the FA in England – and the organisation recently found guilty of colluding with Barcelona over the exploitation of children), and the players’ union (AFE), are against the new legislation.
So the RFEF and the AFE have come up with a plan of protest against the new law, in which professional football in Spain will stop on May 16.
Now, as it happens, I come from a left wing background, and as such just as I am always in favour of a democratically elected government behaving within the constitution to run the country, I am also in favour of workers having the right to strike if they object to the behaviour of their employer. Even though these days I am an employer, rather than a member of staff.
But I begin to get a bit bemused as to where I stand on the issue of the Football Association of a country stopping all football because it doesn’t like a law. That worries me a bit, because it feels somewhat like a bunch of massive businesses shutting shop because they don’t like the government, and saying “we are not producing any more food for the population until business tax is cut to 1%”.
Indeed given the behaviour of banks in the UK in the past 10 years I could imagine them saying, “we don’t like having to pay fines every time we steal the odd billion pounds, so we are closing the banks, until you cancel that law.”
That does not sound like democracy to me, and anyway given half the chance I’d vote for the banks to be nationalised without compensation.
But I’m getting carried away.
Basically my thought is that the Spanish FA (RFEF) decision to stop football because it doesn’t like a law passed by an elected government is really not what I think is right. But my fear is that Fifa, to which most governments bow down and grovel in the dirt, will say, “government interference in football” and go with RFEF. Then the reform of the TV rights will be overthrown. Fifa will rule Spain – at least as far as football goes.
Spanish law gives the Spanish League – the LFP – the right to organise professional football in Spain – including setting dates for games. So for another body to come along and say “no, football is all off” is of course completely illegal.
On the other hand the RFEF accused the government of a “lack of respect” and complained it had not been consulted properly on the TV law.
And yes, special interest bodies should be consulted where a situation develops that involves them, but sometimes it is so clear that they are acting against the interests of the majority that consultation is pointless. The elected bodies should take control.
For there is another important point here. A lot of clubs that end up way down the league each season are in real trouble, and owe the government a huge amount of money in back tax. A more equitable sharing of the funds from TV will help them survive. Barcelona and Real Mad in the sort of utter arrogance that we have seen of late in terms of Barce’s policy over children and Real’s policy over land deals with the council, show how little regard either of them pay for anyone else.
If the suspension goes ahead then we won’t know who wins the Spanish league. It might not affect the Champions League, but it might – which would cause more confusion.
But now here is another twist. As I read the situation the law has not yet been formally approved by parliament. And also many players who work for clubs outside the elite are upset that the deal doesn’t go nearly far enough towards an equal distribution of TV money.
Oh yes, and while we are at it there are protests about the “continuing interference” in football the Sports Council (the CSD). They said that the new law was an “historic achievement” and guaranteed “that Spanish soccer can reach levels of exploitation, profitability and sustainability that were unthinkable up to now”.