Play Like a Girl – Against Modern Football

The last few weeks this GIF surfaced once again on various social networks like Tumblr and Twitter. It shows a glaring look into the distorted world of top tier professional football (soccer) and the strange behaviours therein that many already have internalised and accepted as the norm. First and foremost of course, the images are meant to combat sexism. It shows a contrast to the stereotype of delicate, vulnerable women and tough, brave men.

But there is more to it. The image shows but one aspect of a world riddled with problems. These problems are caused by capitalism, commercialism and toxic masculinity.

Football and Money

On the highest level of football we see players repeatedly diving, faking injuries and exaggerating pain to get their opponents booked, sent off or to provoke and vex them to influence their performance. Apart from this we also see tricks to run out the clock, asking the referee to give opponent a booking, or appeal for a foul an opponent didn’t commit (e.g. by raising a hand or call out a foul while none is actually committed). In a lot of matches this kind of behaviour is visibly more dominant than actually trying to win by scoring goals, and the game is significantly slowed down and over-saturated by it.

Football players are given a sense of entitlement and unhealthy mentality that now majorly revolves around winning for the sole purpose of having to win; not out of honour or joy.

Then we also a tendency for clubs to buy players not for the reason of improving the team, and paying players a salary that is not based on the revenue they bring in. Clubs are expected to buy players at the start of every season, often now with the sole purpose of attracting media attention and drawing more audience to the stadium and selling more merchandise of said player. The reason the clubs can allow themselves to do this is because they have money to spend. Their ability to spend money attracts other elements to make a use of this and they drag clubs and players into a carousel that can’t be stopped.

Every football player now has an agent. Agents live on the commission they receive for selling players. This leads many people to pick up young promising footballers, make them sign a contract with them and start to peddle them around Europe. A player doesn’t move from team to team anymore because he wants to or because the team sees him as an improvement. They’re being marketed to keep the system working. Football at the top can only work if the large amounts of money keep flowing around. Even if there is none. Most clubs are in huge debts, are bought up by foreign investors or can only survive by constantly selling off players.  

The Origins of Sport

Let’s break down how a football team would come to exist in a healthy, organic fashion, untainted by the dialectics of capital. A football team is a product of the community. A group of people in a community will establish a club where people can come to play sports. A club like this will have a social symbiotic function: people play sports, come to watch sports, help out with everyday tasks for organisation and maintenance. It keeps people busy, happy and healthy. The club benefits from the community, the community benefits from the club.

Things go wrong from there on out as soon as capitalism comes into play. The organisation will charge entry fees, membership contribution, charges for food and drinks and club merchandise. Initially to cover the costs for the maintenance of the grounds, material, et cetera. But with capitalists in charge things will eventually go wrong. Tickets and merchandise can be sold for a higher price to make profit, the profit can be used to pay salary to players and managers so they can work at the club full time. This will raise the quality of the club to a higher level, which means it will attract a bigger audience, which leads to more tickets sold and so forth.

Now, at first this will not be negatively received. The community will enjoy seeing the team doing better and the club grounds improving. There is however a very clear point when things go wrong. At some point the club will reach a level of professionalism where young people from the local community are not allowed to join their junior teams unconditionally. The club will make demands, have trials and will let youth players go if they’re not good enough, and will rather buy players from elsewhere than giving a place to their own people. Also, the ticket prices will reach a level where lower income groups can’t afford them anymore and the team will rather outsource jobs and hire externals than to provide jobs for the community.

This process will continue until it reaches the point where we are now. Football is at an maximum end of existence based on profit. And this has provided the climate in which the sport is so intoxicated with classless unsportsmanlike behaviour. This is the reason why women’s football is marginalised and the sport is widely marketed as a men’s sport. Nothing in it is in service of people as a whole; the only reasoning is performance and profit. The exclusion of women ensures an unhealthy disbalance and toxic male dominated culture of chauvinism.  

Running Things Into the Ground

In the last two decades, the difference between the world’s best teams and the lower class ones has grown exceptionally big. Effectively it means that a declining group of clubs is appropriating a bigger share of the winnings. All the sponsor, television rights and merchandise concentrates on that small group. To maintain their status in this shrinking group and to defy the marginal differences between them; players can’t compete anymore on a competitive level, so they resort to cheating and deceit to get an edge. This creates a climate in which this becomes normal. The fierce competition, the dog eat dog mentality and the take no prisoners attitude moves the sport forwards in a direction where nothing is a taboo anymore.

Only the tough minded, egoistic and mean spirited people remain. Because they have been drilled by the system to act that way. They learn to be deceitful and classless because it’s rewarded. Players don’t have a connection to the community around the club and the community doesn’t feel a connection to the player. The absence of women’s football from the media is largely connected to the institutionalised sexism and false idea that women don’t play as well and their matches aren’t as entertaining to watch. This however, is a self sustaining image that can only be broken by letting go off the same commercialism that brings on all the other negativity too. Women don’t get media attention because the media can’t make money with what they think is inferior, but at the same time the women teams can’t invest in anything without the media attention. Released from the shackles of profit-driven goals, media can show what the community wants to see and this can include women’s football too. 

The only way forward; away from toxic unsportsmanlike tendencies, expensive ticket prices, television deals and franchising is socialism. This starts exactly where it all began: at the community. Sport teams have to “re-realise”what their primary function is: because their existence is not based on succes. A team does not exist to succeed; it exists by the grace of the community that build it and it can only keep existing if it keeps serving the community. Sportive success is a result; not a goal.    

The Alternative

The only way for football to become healthy, classy and sportsmanlike again is by removing every element of commercialism. No sponsorship, no television deals, no for-profit enterprises, no commercial ownership and no priority of success over service to the community. Without sponsors and investments a football club is forced to function again what it is meant for. It doesn’t need to make profit and it doesn’t need to make money to be able to keep paying its squad. It can employ people for a fair wage and allow locals to participate in every way possible. The club can enter a state of collective ownership and its performances will be based on local talent rather than having the biggest wallet or the most shrewd and cunning leadership.  

This allows too for equality in men’s and women’s football both in media attention, inclusion in the community and sportive successes. And it will help to iron out the inequality, the toxicity and chauvinism that’s ruining an otherwise perfectly fun and positive past time.

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