A week or so before the start of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, I was walking in the Mexican coastal city of Zihuatanejo in the southern state of Guerrero when I passed a group of children playing soccer with plastic bottles. of Coca-Cola. They looked as good as any group of kids playing football anywhere, while a bottle of Coke was, I thought, sadly appropriate in a world dominated by corporate toxicity.
It was especially fitting, perhaps, because Coca-Cola and football go way back. The company, which has been supporting the World Cup since 1978, entered into an agreement with FIFA in 1974 – although its logo has been filling the World Cup events since 1950. apparently there is nothing better for the development of young people than drinking brown water that is bad for human health.
Of course, that partnership is just the tip of what has happened in the face of global capitalism’s efforts to suck the life out of football and remove any vestiges of the original excitement by monetizing and selling everything on and off the pitch. Thanks to the flood of corporate propaganda we call “sponsorship”, the unsuspecting football watcher could be forgiven for thinking Adidas is a football club – or that a match is played between Emirates and Etihad Airways.
And there’s nothing like sponsoring the biggest football tournament to make a world record. Chinese companies have also worked – leading the way in spending on the Qatar World Cup.
In his book, El Fútbol a sol y sombra (Football in the sun and the shadow), first published in 1995, the famous Uruguayan writer and die-hard football fan Eduardo Galeano mentioned how every football player became a “marketer” – even if he didn’t. everyone was happy with that plan. In the 1950s, he recalled, when the famous Montevideo club Peñarol tried to force corporate advertising on its shirts, 10 members of the team went to the field with modified jerseys while the Black player Obdulio Varela refused: “They refused. They were dragging us Blacks in the ring nose. Those days are gone.”
To be honest, it’s not all fun and games when there’s dirty money involved. Take the case of Horst Dassler – the son of Adidas founder Adi Dassler, who was a former member of the Nazi Party – who in 1982 founded a company called International Sports and Leisure, which acquired advertising and TV rights for FIFA activities, including. World Cup. This was done by bribing FIFA President João Havelange – the same Havelange who appeared in sympathy with Argentine dictator Jorge Videla at the 1978 World Cup in Buenos Aires.
That dictatorship was responsible for the killing or killing of another 30,000 suspected survivors of an ugly seven-year war that was green-lighted by – who else? – The United States, which always wanted to have the worst right-wing regimes to make the world safe from capitalism.
In 1998, Havelange was replaced by Sepp Blatter, who is also accused of vote-buying and spending money and, according to Galeano, made Havelange look like a “Sister of Mercy”. Galeano died in April 2015, a month before the United States Department of Justice indicted fourteen FIFA officials and government officials on corruption charges, with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch complaining that the individuals “corrupted the global soccer business to serve their own interests and to enrich themselves”.
But as the US knows well, self-inflicted corruption and corporate negligence is business as usual in capitalism – which has also led to “enhancing” the game, as researchers have shown. A study published by the Royal Society in December 2021 found that the “overinvestment of football” had led to an increase in the number of teams in Europe’s biggest leagues and an increase in the results of matches. Although those responsible for managing the game say that it is international football, in reality, the process is similar to the disagreements that exist between companies.
Indeed, the very spirit of professional football has been tarnished by the corporatisation of the game – which has brought about a fixed and technical game aimed at turning players into robots. As Galeano said, this way of football “stops all fun”; for the sake of increased productivity and increased profit, “it opposes happiness, kills fantasy, and violates the law”. Magic, after all, is not profitable.
Mercifully, however, there have been people who refuse to join the program. According to Galeano, the Brazilian footballer Mané Garrincha, born in poverty in Rio de Janeiro in 1933, was the player who brought the greatest joy to the audience throughout the history of football, making the game “an invitation to a party”. So much for the doctors who had hope for a future in the game of “this starving and polio survivor… (Capitalism won in the end, and Garrincha died, poor and alone, in 1983.)
Argentine soccer legend Diego Maradona, also from the wrong side of the tracks, has broken boundaries, too – including criticizing televised abuse of sports, advocating for workers’ rights in soccer, demanding financial transparency from soccer clubs, and supporting the Palestinian cause. , is usually the driving force that is above the wall. On the field, he continued to inject old school magic into the modern world until he was eliminated from the 1994 World Cup.
Meanwhile, the latest backlash against football’s soulless, money-driven decline was seen last year, when angry fans in the United Kingdom helped collapse a Super League scheme designed to line the pockets of elite club owners.
Indeed, capitalism has indeed found a major purpose with professional football.
But the game is still a source of popular entertainment and confirmation for many people, in stadiums, stadiums, grass fields and patches from Mexico to Mozambique – away from the billions of dollars that circulate in the football industry.
As the 22nd World Cup kicks off in Qatar today, Galeano would no doubt have criticized the entire television show. And yet he would no doubt be watching his TV, beer in hand, hoping to see some forbidden entertainment – a moment of wisdom untainted by beauty. Because just like kids kicking Coca-Cola bottles around Zihuatanejo, there’s something about soccer that capitalism can’t kill.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect Al Jazeera’s influence.