Globalisation of Football

The British tabloid, Daily Mail, earlier this week published an opinion piece talking about the commercialisation and globalisation of football. The article highlights the performance of British clubs in the UEFA Champions League:

You may not have noticed, or even care, that out of the eight clubs that have just made it into the last round of the European Champions League, four are English.

That may not sound like a big deal.

But if one considers that clubs from dozens of European countries are eligible, and that these countries collectively speak for hundreds of millions of people, it is interesting that half of the finalists should come from a single country – England – with a population of only 50 million.

Germany has one team out of the eight, Spain another. Italy and Turkey account for the other two. (France, note, has none.)

It then goes on to talk about how football in Britain has been transformed in the last 25 years with higher attendances; racism has been stamped out; stadia are now state-of-the-art.

If that’s not enough evidence of the commercial nature of football, England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008 is believed to cost the British economy ¬£1billion.

My interest in football is only really a passing one but what I found really interesting was how this article looked at football from an economics viewpoint and then argues for protectionist policies.

To take some of the Daily Mail’s articles in turn:

Protectionism РProtecting British footballers 

In the same year that four “English” teams have made it into the last eight of the Champions League, England’s national team has failed to qualify for this summer’s European Cup.

The article argues that because so many foreign players are playing in British sides, British players never get the opportunity to reach the top flight. This is a parallel argument to trade barriers in international trade. Some countries argue that if they import lots of food from abroad cheaply, domestic farmers will never be able to develop and would have to shut up shop.

According to economics, protectionism is a very bad thing. Let’s take tea: in Britain we import our tea from countries such as India. Why? Because they’re better at producing tea. They can produce more tea, and sell it for less. We could impose some trade barriers and encourage British tea growers. But our climate and weather just don’t suit growing tea. So we use greenhouses and contribute to climate change and our tea costs more to produce. Or alternatively, we could stick to producing something that we’re good at (e.g. financial services). If we trade our financial services for tea from India, then both countries benefit.

Bringing this all back to football, does foreign players playing in British clubs really damage the chances of British footballers? I don’t think so. Football brings a lot of money into Britain; money which then goes towards academies and training for youngsters. A substantial number of young people in Britain do play football in their school breaks.

A loss of national identity

And yet this loss of local or even national identity in the Premier League is an extreme version of what has happened in our country. Mass immigration is justified on the grounds of greater economic efficiency. One consequence, though, is the weakening of a sense of belonging.

An interesting way of arguing against immigration, a favourite topic of the Daily Mail. But of course immigration has brought huge benefits for Britain. Migration-friendly policies mean that companies situating in the UK have access to the best workers from all across the world. These companies and workers contribute to the economy through taxation as well as greater efficiency.

Of course, there has been a homogenisation of city centres across the world. You’ll find a McDonalds in almost every large city across the world. But what is happening is that we’re all gaining from being able to experience more cultures. Visiting a typical city centre, you might have a choice of Japanese sushi, Italian pizza or American hamburgers. Are we really losing our identity or are we just benefiting from access to more?

The free movement of labour has also done wonders to for tackling world hunger and poverty. We might have nurses come to Britain from poor African countries; they earn money here and send it back home. They may, at a later date, take those skills home. Indeed, it is believed that globalisation and trade has done more for the third world than handouts ever have.

Similarly in football: who’d have expected some of the poorer third-world countries to participate in the World Cup? Skilled footballers playing for British clubs gain experience; this benefits their national side in the World Cup.

Globalisation is a win-win situation. It makes no sense to argue for protectionism: everybody loses out. That applies both to international trade and to football.

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