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Sensemaker: Football’s disaster

Tuesday 20 April 2021

What just happened


Long stories short

  • Four drugmakers, including Johnson & Johnson, went on trial in California over claims they played down the risks of opioid addiction and fuelled the opioid crisis.
  • Cities across the US braced for protests as the jury in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer accused of killing George Floyd, retired to consider its verdict.
  • The Office for National Statistics found that home workers did almost double the amount of unpaid overtime per week than office workers.

Football’s disaster

Harm to the best-loved of sports is a fairly direct way to make a lot of people significantly unhappier. And that, at root, is why the proposals for a new men’s football “Super League” are important. 

At the moment, to get into the Europe-wide competition for top football clubs, the Champions League, teams need to finish high in their national leagues. But some supposedly elite clubs keep missing out on this: other teams, for some reason, insist on beating them. 

To combat that, a group of 12 rich clubs have decided to set up a new Super League – and decreed they should automatically qualify. They will recruit a few more permanent members – and will allow five other teams to join them each year. But they want a league from which the permanent members cannot be relegated.

The 12 contain some big names – the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Juventus, Liverpool and Man Utd. Promising unending matches between these famous sides promises to make some very serious money: €4 billion a year, which will largely run to those permanent members. 

This plan aims to make these clubs more saleable to consumers outside Europe. But that comes at a cost borne by other clubs – and by the existing fans. This plan has big implications. 

First, it cuts across the tradition of European sport: teams should be able to get relegated and promoted. It is, as the chairman of my beloved Crystal Palace pointed out yesterday, “abhorrent” to move to a system where teams like Palace have no right to break into the prime European competition.

Second, because of the money. This proposal will kill any future hope of little teams like Leicester winning again by increasing inequality within the domestic leagues. You think money is important in football? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. 

Third, it would also destroy the lustre of pan-European football. This accountants’ league will not have Bayern (six Champions League wins) or Ajax (four wins) as permanent members. It will, though, have won-nothing Spurs. The prospect of a great unknown, perhaps from a small nation, storming to rule Europe is somewhat diminished if teams like Porto or Celtic can never get into the cup. 

The club owners have bet that ministers won’t take action to secure the emotional interests of fans over the legal interests of the owners. 

But, as of yesterday, lots of options are on the table in the UK – home to half of the 12 clubs. They are discussing windfall taxes that strip these clubs of this extra cash. Ministers are looking for routes to hand them over to fan control. The owners of these clubs have overplayed their hand.


Belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

A green wave?
Angela Merkel’s party, the CDU, has only been out of office for only around 20 years since the inauguration of the Federal Republic in 1949. But it is in trouble. It retains a poll lead, but a faltering one: its leaders have elected to stick with its expected candidate for the chancellorship at this year’s elections – despite some grave misgivings. There had been talk of ditching Armin Laschet in favour of the leader of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, the CSU. But there is something new here: the second-placed party is, for the first time, the Greens. This would be both a historic moment – and quite a turnaround. The new chancellor could well be from a party that won 8.9 per cent of the vote last time out. 


New things technology, science, engineering

A use for LinkedIn
The worst social network has a problem: spies are using it for approaching would-be moles, the FT (£) reports. The UK government is warning academics and officials to be careful. “Posing as recruiters, foreign spies lure their targets to meetings in person where they may be subjected to bribery or blackmail in order to obtain intelligence.” Two Americans have been prosecuted for espionage after being approached on LinkedIn. 


The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

India’s Covid crisis
Delhi is now in lockdown: Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the city, announced a lockdown until 26 April. Delhi joins other chunks of India in restrictions – including Maharashtra (which covers Mumbai). India has been reporting more than 200,000 cases daily since 15 April. The death toll is hard to gauge, however: the official tally of 180,000 is assumed to be much too low. India has vaccinated 100 million people. But a lot of sadness to go. 


Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Argentine misery
There is a distressing account of Argentina’s past year in the NYT ($). Of course, this has been a year of much sadness around the world – and Argentina has had 60,000 deaths. But the country’s economy has contributed to a double-disaster: Its economy shrank nearly 10 per cent in 2020, the third straight year of recession. Inflation is above 40 per cent, and more than four in 10 Argentines are mired in poverty. It also owes $45 billion to the IMF, money it has no hope of repaying. Their road to recovery looks long. 


Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Cutting back
Britain will announce plans for a steeper reduction in carbon emissions this week. “Prime minister Boris Johnson will in coming days announce a new pledge to reduce emissions by 78 per cent by 2035 compared to 1990 levels”, the FT (£) reports. This will require decarbonising the electricity system, less meat and dairy, upgrading home-heating systems and planting more trees. 

Stay safe, wash your hands, open windows when you can. 

Chris Cook
@xtophercook

Photographs by Getty Images


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