Soccer is a fantastic game. It’s easy to follow, it unites people, and there’s nothing quite like it for fixating the world on a single (literal) goal. Yet there are those who look askance at soccer. They say it’s a game which promotes violence, corruption, unhealthy habits, and a dubious sense of tribalism. What’s behind these perceptions? And are they at all justified?
To truly understand the deal with soccer’s poor rep, you have to look at soccer’s heartlands. In Europe – where it’s known as ‘football’ (or linguistic variations on that theme) – soccer is a really, really big deal. Unfortunately, football is so big within Europe that it’s become top-heavy, and developed a number of significant problems. These problems denigrate the sport as a whole.
The world has recently been rocked by corruption scandals within Fifa – the governing body over most of the world’s soccer. Several major officials have been indicted on corruption charges. Bribes, kickbacks, and financial misdemeanor have apparently been rife within the world of soccer for some time. Furthermore, forums for gambling addicts reveal telling details about the cynical exploitation of those with gambling problems. While the fact that this corruption is being uncovered probably indicates a move towards more ethical governing practises in the future, the scandal does little for soccer’s reputation. Particularly when combined with other problematic issues affecting soccer.
At its best, soccer brings people together behind a single cause. The sport is fantastic for promoting a sense of togetherness, cohesiveness, and camaraderie. However, in certain circumstances, this camaraderie can curdle into tribalism. England is renowned for ‘football hooliganism’ – a phenomenon which began in the 1970s. No longer content with battling opposing teams on the pitch, gangs on both sides who identified strongly with their own teams would go out after the match with the intention of bashing merry hell out of each other. Football strip colors became tribal signifiers. Although the riotous violence which frequently followed matches was complicit on both sides, it could be horrific. British football riots have largely died away, but their legacy remains. And to this day, England fans abroad have a reputation for drunken, loutish behavior which drags down the game’s reputation.
Overpaid And Oversexed
Then there’s the money issue. ‘Football’ is big business in Europe. One of the reasons why Fifa was so corruptible was the sheer volume of money at stake. ‘Footballers’ get paid vast, vast sums of money. Young ‘footballers’ with more money than they know what to do with are almost constantly getting involved in sex and drugs scandals. There are many who are firmly of the opinion that the problem is not with the game or the players themselves, but with the amount of money involved. European football used to be played for the sake of the game and the sake of the fans. Now, it’s played for the sake of the money. It’s become a business rather than a sport, and its spirit is suffering as a consequence.