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Emile Durkheim, Donald Trump and Manchester United: A Short Essay on The Media and Corporate Greed

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Time to “Kick” Corporate Greed Out of Industrial Football? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2924895/Eric-Cantona-wish-d-hit-harder-Manchester-United-legend-shows-no-remorse-Crystal-Palace-kung-fu-kick.html

 

Business Insider recently published a piece with the headline “Manchester United is blaming Donald Trump for the club’s half-year loss of £29 million — here’s why”. Considering that the piece garnered almost 5,000 hits in just under 24 hours I might need to consider using sensationalist headlines myself, but I digress. According to the article, Manchester United FC had to write off £48.8 million ($67.9 million) and “because of US tax cuts imposed by Trump, United posted a half-year loss of £29 million up to December 31, 2017”.

Given that the club’s chief financial officer noted that “It should be beneficial to the club in the long-term”—which should not be surprising, seeing as how Mr. Trump’s tax cut was designed to favor corporate entities like Manchester United—the sensationalist headline was surprising. Indeed, it is so surprising that it is worth delving into. While the headline follows the tendency towards one-dimensional thought in the media—anything negative about U.S. President Donald Trump sells—it also does nothing to further the traditional “watchdog” role of the media. In the past, the media acted as a counterweight to the state/government/dominant narratives; now it seems as if the media merely trumpets out the same old familiar lines day in and day out. It is one-dimensional enough to turn one off from even reading the news—which would be a feasible course of action were it not so dangerous!

What is most disturbing about this headline, however, is that Business Insider (and other outlets who carried the story with nearly identical headlines such as The Daily Mail, Bleacher Report, and The Telegraph) conspicuously ignored the much bigger—and more concerning—picture for football fans and normal citizens alike.

Who, honestly, really cares how much Manchester United loses? Does a £29 million loss really mean a lot to Manchester United, the most valuable team in Europe according to UEFA, with a value of 689 million Euro and a yearly growth of 169 million Euro (32%)? The question journalists should be asking is just why we care that a football team—that is supposed to be for the people (just like our countries used to be)—needs to make such obscene amounts of money. It is this kind of corporate greed which has led the world towards a tipping point; capitalism cannot—and will not—be able to sustain continued growth to infinity. Just like the club revenues of football teams in Europe that have tripled this century according to UEFA, it is inevitable that the upwards trend will end. The question, of course, is when. And it is a question which journalists are clearly not willing to touch.

 

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Where Does it End? Image Courtesy Of: http://www.uefa.com/MultimediaFiles/Download/OfficialDocument/uefaorg/Clublicensing/02/53/00/22/2530022_DOWNLOAD.pdf

 

This kind of greed has had negative effects on working classes and middle classes all over the world, and that is why it is something—one would think—that journalists would make note of. In national terms, this has led to a “bloated” and “unaccountable government” in the United States; as the (conservative!) Washington Times notes

bureaucrats in the information business flout the law, as though they’re above it. While those in charge of our money use it like a never-ending water stream, that is unending and belongs to them [. . .] When the government views the citizen as the servant, we get weaponized law enforcement agencies to be used against us, and law-breaking agency bureaucrats and politicians who see our democracy as an inconvenience to be subverted.

This is why the issue of corporate greed goes far beyond the faux “left” and “right” dichotomy that, clearly, journalists love to underline in order to (you guessed it) sell more news!

Indeed, the United States—like much of the world—is facing absurd amounts of equality even though there is more than enough money to go around. According to the United Nations, the poverty and inequality in the U.S. is “shockingly at odds with [the United States’] immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights”. Similarly, the Economic Policy Institute found in 2017 that “in 2016 CEOs in America’s largest firms made an average of $15.6 million in compensation, or 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker”. As the report shows, this is “light years beyond the 20-to-1 ratio in 1965 and the 59-to-1 ratio in 1989”. Indeed, “the average CEO in a large firm now earns 5.33 times the annual earnings of the average very-high-wage earner (earner in the top 0.1 percent)”. Clearly, the jump in discrepancy between CEO’s and average workers since 1989 (not coincidentally, the end of the Cold War) is not sustainable. What is more alarming, is that this absurd gap is not just confined to the United States; as Bloomberg notes (https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/executive-pay many European countries also have large discrepancies between CEO and average worker, even if they are not as astronomical as in the U.S. (Indeed, in Manchester United’s home country, the UK, the ratio is 201 to 1).

 

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Its Not Just an American Problem. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/130354.pdf

 

The scariest part of these figures is that while CEO pay has increased from 843,000 USD in 1965 to a projected 15,636,000 USD in 2016, the annual average wage for private-sector production/nonsupervisory workers increased from 40,000 USD in 1965 to a projected 53,300 USD in 2016. That is an astounding 936.7% increase in CEO pay between 1978-2016 and a mere 11.2% increase in average worker pay during the same time period. Needless to say, the issue is not that there is not enough money to go around; the issue is corporate greed. And it should be clear that this system is not sustainable, it will—quite literally—lead to the end of world civilization as we know it. And the solution will certainly not be found if the media continually ignores inequity in the favor of furthering their own bizarre sensationalist agenda based on the imagined “left” and “right” divide.

 

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It Is A Sad Sight Indeed. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.epi.org/files/pdf/130354.pdf

 

Here, French sociologist Emile Durkheim is quite relevant. I quote from George Ritzer’s The Development of Sociological Thought (8th ed.), the text I use in my class:

In Durkheim’s view, people were in danger of a “pathological” loosening of moral bonds. These moral bonds were important to Durkheim, for without them the individual would be enslaved by ever-expanding and insatiable passions. People would be impelled by their passions into a mad search for gratification, but each new gratification would lead only to more and more needs. According to Durkheim, the one thing that every human will always want is ‘more’. And, of course, that is the one thing we ultimately cannot have. If society does not limit us, we will become slaves to the pursuit of more (Ritzer 2008: 81 [Emphasis mine]).

We would all do well to keep Durkheim in mind given the massive amounts of inequality we see in the world. It is our responsibility—as citizens—to keep our journalists aware that they exist to serve the people, and not their corporate sponsors. Their job is to print news that keeps business and government accountable, not sensationalism that panders to the zeitgeist of the day.

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Live by the Sword, Die By the Sword: Globalization, Sports, and Media in Turkey

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Given the recent geopolitical events in Turkey and the wider Middle East, it is no wonder that Turkey is swiftly being seen as a “dangerous” destination. After the United States ordered the families of Consulate staff to leave Istanbul, UEFA made a statement to reassure Manchester United fans ahead of the team’s visit to Istanbul. The Express reported that UEFA told Sky Sports: “Whilst there is no information that the threat to US citizens in Turkey also extends to UK citizens, UEFA has today sought the necessary security guarantees from the Turkish Football Federation and the local public authorities regarding the visit of Manchester United and their supporters to Istanbul.” The Manchester Evening News also reported that United fans visiting Istanbul for the match would be given an armed police escort to and from the stadium. The letter sent to fans read “Manchester United advise all fans to remain in the Taksim Square area of Istanbul ahead of kick-off, where a security bus service available to catch outside the Dolmabahce Mosque will run to Fenerbahce’s Sukru Saracoglu stadium. The hour-long journey will be under armed police guard”. Never mind that Taksim square would be the last place I would want to be in Istanbul in terms of safety, but then again I’m not sure that Manchester United’s staff has any real knowledge of Istanbul—other than, of course, that it is “dangerous”. After all, another UK sports figure, golfer Rory Mcllroy, pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open golf tournament on 31 October 2016 citing security figures. Once again, I am not sure that Mr. Mcllroy has a deep knowledge of Turkey—or really any other place, for that matter—either; he also pulled out of the Olympics due to fear over the Zika virus.

I do not, of course, blame either the Manchester United club or Mr. Mcllroy for their fears. The fact that Turkey has become so unstable in recent years is directly tied to globalization; the conflict in Syria has spread across the Middle East, fomented by backers in Russia, Europe, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and the Gulf. While Turkish society (and by extension, sports) embrace globalization for its economic benefits, the country itself—in the context of geopolitical reality—falls victim to the globalization of conflict. The state can live by the sword of globalization but must also be prepared to die by the sword of globalization.

The third axis of this kind of globalization—that one that exacerbates the fear portion—is, of course, the media. The stories written tend to increase, rather than decrease, misconceptions about the country and disseminate them to the global media. For starters, none of the three British papers cited even know what the capital of Turkey is:

30 October 2016-Manchester Evening News: “Istanbul has a history of football violence. The capital was recently the centre of an attempted military coup in Turkey.”

31 October 2016-The Express: “But UEFA are concerned that recent terrorist attacks in the Turkish capital and a failed military coup could affect safety of travelling fans.”

1 November 2016-The Mirror: “English football has a troubled relationship with the Turkish capital – two Leeds fans were stabbed to death before the Uefa Cup semi-final in 2000.”

The capital, of course, is Ankara, so to expect neutral or objective reporting from outlets with such amateurish editing standards may be asking too much. And that is without even getting into the content. The Manchester Daily news, in back to back sentences, links “football violence” to an attempted military coup. This, of course, is misleading to the reader. (Never mind, also, that they believe a city can be the “centre” of an attempted military coup; a city could be the “focus” of an attempted military coup, but probably not a “centre” of one). The Mirror, taking a different approach, links Istanbul to hooligan violence in 2000 with no context at all. The Express provided the content that is nearest to anything remotely objective.

As a humorous anecdote, The Mirror added a story about Manchester United’s 1993 visit to Istanbul for their tie with Fenerbahce’s arch-rivals, Galatasaray. United famously crashed out after the tie, but it remains in football-fan folklore as the “Midnight Express” of football. Thankfully, the Mirror added Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor to their piece, writing “Even hardman boss Sir Alex Ferguson suggested ‘the police were even more frightening than the fans’, though he did add he’d seen worse at a Glasgow wedding”. Sir Alex Ferguson’s humor aside, the point here is twofold. The first point is that Turkey’s rise (driven by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP)), has been characterized by an unquestioning desire to support and join the global capitalist system and neo-liberal economics. The country lived by the sword when foreign capital came streaming in, they began dying by the sword when the Syrian civil war (which the government, along with a number of other external actors, exacerbated) began to spill over the border. The second point is that global media is rarely neutral; the supposedly benevolent journalist is rarely interested in telling the full truth. Rather, they tell the “truth” that pays the bills—and that money tends to come from those who (again) benefit from the global capitalist system.

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Cantona Escorted Off the Pitch (Top); United Are Welcomed To “Hell” at the Old Ali Sami Yen Stadium in 1993 (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of: http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/manchester-uniteds-bryan-robson-istanbul-9173277

 

Author’s Note: As I publish this, Turkey is experiencing the latest repercussions of the globalization of conflict I mentioned above. A blast has hit police headquarters in Diyarbakir, the main city of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, after 11 pro-Kurdish MPs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) were detained. At the time of writing internet services–which represent the globalized world–such as WhatsApp Messenger and Twitter have been shut down in Turkey.

(Industrial) Football Shirts from England to Eibar

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For those who complain about government’s role in people’s personal lives, the British government has come out against—of all things—the price of football shirts. On Tuesday, April 1 British newspapers blasted US Sportswear company Nike for pricing England’s World Cup Kits at 90 GBP—certainly an exorbitant amount, it is almost 150 US Dollars. Nike countered that 90 GBP was for the exact replica of what the players will wear on the field; a simpler version costs 60 GBP—still almost 100 US Dollars. Sports minister Helen Grant agreed that the pricing “needs a rethink,” while Prime Minister David Cameron supported his Sports minister, saying that Nike is “taking advantage of parents”.

His spokesman, meanwhile, made it clear that “it is ‘clearly not’ the role of the Government to set the price of football shirts, but that £90 is a ‘lot’ of money.” At least they had that much sense to acknowledge what the government’s role should and should not be. In my opinion the opposition Labour Party’s sports spokesman Clive Efford may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “The anger generated by the 90 pound price tag for an adult England shirt is symptomatic of a wider issue of the games traditional fan base being edged out by the growing costs of being a supporter.”

This spat between Nike and the British government will clearly not cause a rift between the United States and Britain but it is still emblematic of the role of corporations in the changing face of world soccer. I remember when, as a kid, I started out on my shirt collecting odyssey. I had no income, so I was reliant on my parents, and even the 45 GBP for shirts in the early 2000s and late 1990s seemed exorbitant. Now the price of shirts has doubled, but with no corresponding doubling of worldwide incomes. Even in my travels during the last few years I have never paid the equivalent of 90 GBP for a new shirt—most shirts I have acquired hover in the 60 to 80 dollar range.

This change in price stems from the English Football Association’s new deal with Nike, which replaced Umbro as England’s kit manufacturer last year. Umbro was—until Nike acquired them in 2008 for 285 million GBP—a wholly English brand. Founded in Wilmslow, Cheshire in 1924 Umbro started as the official sponsor of the Football Association. Their iconic double diamond graced classic England kits (the World Cup winning side in 1966 wore them, which coincided with the start of Umbro’s golden ageLiverpool won four of their five European cups in Umbro shirts1977, 1978, 1981 and 1984). More recently Umbro’s classic Manchester United kit—which they won the 1999 treble in—comes to mind. Indeed in terms of kit manufacturing as well we can see Clive Efford’s words being echoed—traditional fans and traditional brands are both being pushed out as the game becomes more and more globalized and thereby more commercial. The tradition of an English brand sponsoring English football was ended with Nike’s acquisition of Umbro.

Although not about kit manufacturers a story on Spanish football from ESPN.com is worth presenting here, as it is related. Sid Lowe wrote a moving piece on the struggles of Spanish second division side Eibar in the face of industrial football. Eibar, hailing from a small town of 27,000 in Northern Spain’s Basque country, are facing an uphill battle for promotion to Spain’s top-flight, La Liga. Strangely, that struggle has nothing to do with results on the field. Against all odds Eibar sit top of the second division poised for promotion despite playing in the division’s smallest ground to the smallest crowds—they average 3,000 a game—with the smallest budget (3.5 million Euros—how many England shirts will that buy? Answer: 32,294. Enough to clothe all of Eibar and then some). What is even more shocking—at least for a Spanish side—is that Eibar stay within that budget, even while pursuing promotion—they are 422,253 Euros in the black. And where is the rub? It is that Eibar must raise 1.7 million Euros by the end of the season in order to achieve promotion, regardless of results on the pitch.

This stems from a law—Real Decreto 1251/1999—which decrees that “every team has to have a capital equal to 25 percent of the average expenses of all the teams in the Second Division, not including the two clubs with the biggest outgoings and the two clubs with the smallest outgoings in the division”. Thus, the team needs to find the 1,724,272 Euros that will raise their value to the 2,146,525 Euro threshold that will allow them to continue playing in the professional divisions. Sid Lowe notes gravely that this “figure [is] set not by their budget or their ability to guarantee survival, but by everyone else’s.”

I certainly hope that Eibar can survive against the odds since grassroots football is what we all grew up on. 1,724,272 Euros isn’t so much, is it? It is only 15,910 Nike England kits. For a bit of perspective, that number is just half the 30,326 population of Wilsmslow, Cheshire where Umbro were founded 100 years ago.

 

The Controversially Priced England Kits That Could Save Eibar (Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/09/england-2014-world-cup-home-and-away.html).

England 2014 World Cup Home Kit England 2014 World Cup Away Kit England 2014 World Cup Home Kit (1) England Font

Chisinau Republican Stadium, Chisinau, Moldova – Moldovan National Team (DEMOLISHED)

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There is certainly a bit of history in this post since the stadium in question no longer exists, its demolished state visible at the link. I visited the Chisinau Republican Stadium in the summer of 2007 and it was clear then that the 8,084 capacity stadium–built in 1952–had seen better days. It was a Soviet relic. I was reliving the Cold War years as I walked through the crumbling gates.

Perhaps this stadium is best known as the one that witnessed David Beckham’s first appearance for the English national side–the first of his 115 caps came at this most unlikely of venues. I can only imagine the culture shock that Chisinau would have provided in 1996.

Now that the stadium is gone it remains, in my mind, as a testament to an era of world history that is soon disappearing in the face of Industrial football. After all, the Kiev Republican Stadium shares only the name of its predecessor and not much else.

 

The Welcome mat is laid out:

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Soviet Realism juxtaposed with modern lighting on the stadium’s facade:

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A stadium struggles to keep up with the times:

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A classic Soviet Stadium gate crumbles:

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Chisinau’s Republican stadium has seen better days:

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At least a semblance of control is taking place:

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The pitch that saw Beckham’s first appearance in a Three Lion’s shirt–Its a long way from Manchester…and Madrid…and Milan…and Los Angeles…and Paris:

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Goodbye:

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