People protesting in the streets, politicians threatening to take “whatever action necessary” in order to stop proposals, major institutional heads referring others to be “snakes” and “liars”, is the sort of serious reaction that shouldn’t be taken lightly, so when I saw that this was all a reaction to a sports decision, I was a little confused.
This three day long chaos was Europe’s reaction to proposals of a new soccer Super League, a league consisting of the 12 most prominent and wealthy soccer clubs in all of Europe, referred to as the “dirty dozen”. What made this league so “super” was that it would bypass the “pro-rel” traditions baked into the European sports model. In this model the lowest three teams in a high league are relocated to lower ones, while high performing teams in lower leagues are promoted. This assures that teams have to give games their all, for if they lose too much, they lose not only social prestige, but their spot in the high leagues as well. Assuring that, theoretically, teams can rise and sink through their own merit, or lack thereof, rather than money alone.
The most interesting thing to me, as an American, is the accusation that this Super League platform as an extension of the “American system” of athletics. An accusation with weight when you consider that the owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, The Boston Red Sox and La Rams owners were also presidents of English teams that helped form the breakaway league, which itself was backed by JP Morgan Chase, but there must be something else going on here.
Most of the important clubs in Europe today were formed by immigrants or workers. A priest was responsible for the forming of the Celtics, hoping that the team could help lift Irish immigrants from poverty. Because of this history, there is an almost mythical reverence for these clubs. When your favorite club is founded by average people rather than businessmen like most NFL teams, it’s easier to feel a deeper connection to them. They don’t only represent your city, they represent you. They’re not fighting for their team, they’re fighting for you. So when American businessmen come in, funded by American banks to eliminate that unique competition with press releases calling you a thing of the past, a “legacy fan”, they’re insulting not only your sport, but an arena of ideas, where any team could rise to the top leagues. Why wouldn’t you be upset?
European sports aren’t this purified world of athletics though, there are still plenty of ads, team names adorned with Red Bull logos like Red Bull Salzburg, and high performing clubs often dominate their country’s respective league, but there is still the idea that these clubs are by the people, for the people.
Hopefully, if anything, the Super League fiasco has helped us to understand just how powerful and universal sports can be and how much they can represent. With cricket, former colonies can beat Britain at their own game. With the Olympics, the world can come together. With soccer, anyone can take the field. Perhaps we shouldn’t be pushing our business-oriented system on others, but sit back and learn a thing or two.
To learn more about the Super Soccer League visit: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/04/19/sports/soccer/super-league-announcement.html
Read more about the announcement that stirred up fans: https://thesuperleague.com/press.html