Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood… on the Football Pitch?

Posted: June 23, 2010 in Sport
Tags: , , , ,

The World Cup of Football. The biggest sporting event on earth. The beautiful game. Anarchy by the French squad. Yes, all of this. But not anarchy in the mere silly sense of chaos. Something else. The Sun newspaper of England called it “French Revolution II”, a wild exaggeration to be sure, but perhaps closer to the truth than even the author of that article understands.

Reports had already surfaced that coach, Raymond Domenech, and others on his staff, were not getting along with some of the national players when striker, Nicolas Anelka, verbally lashed out at Domenech during half-time of the squad’s second match. The French Football Federation (FFF) subsequently scurried to the defence of their head man sending Anelka packing back to France after he refused to apologize. The footballers, in turn, rallied behind their team mate by boycotting a training session and calling a traitor the one among them who had blabbed details to the public. At this point, the dominoes fell only in one direction with increasing clatter.

The team was chastised in public discourse. Television pundits denounced the players’ behaviour as disgraceful, a “suitcase of shame” as my tele-snubby labelled it. Corporate sponsors dropped their support. The French Minister of Sport was dispatched to address the players, and, predictably, that sickly, cloying sentiment, Honour of Country, was spooned out as caramel over a burnt crêpe. One final match against the host country, one more horrible performance by Les Bleus, tournament over, regrets and apologies voiced by the players. Never mind, let this be a lesson to footballers to shut up and “do their talking on the pitch” in future.

Professional athletes the world over are bought and sold as chattel. Of course they often receive ludicrous wages, a fine sum of hush money to be sure. But is it really the duty of players to acquiesce to that authority figure known as the head coach? Or even more radically: is it writ in stone that the team even needs this field marshal with his cadre of officers? Obviously the entire game –and virtually all sport –is organized this way. But does it need be? Is it legitimate? Suppose the players decide that their coach is a clown (and this one might be, for he refused to shake hands with the South African coach after his team’s loss)? Could they organize their own affairs? Do they need someone to tell them how to train? Clearly they have trained a good deal for much of their lives. They probably have it figured out already.

Self-organizing teams. No bossy coaches. No hierarchy. A flat peer structure. Just imagine it. Not in my lifetime, but when it happens, I bet it’ll be the French who will kick it off.

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