Friday, June 02, 2006

...and speaking of Globalization...

Interesting article in last week's New Statesman (sorry this isn't more current, but it takes awhile for my subscription to arrive here). The gist of it is that football, requires institutions to survive, and in Africa footballing institutions are thin on the ground.

Fifteen years ago, the number of world-class, world-renowned African players could be counted on one hand. Now, Arsenal alone have three world-class African players, and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'o is arguably the best player in the world who won't be attending the World Cup. What's changed? Basically, it is the ability of European clubs to identify and abscond with African talent.

But this expansion of African talent hasn't resulted in an improvement in African team fortunes because, to be blunt, very little of the value associated with these players makes it into the country itself. When Everton found Wayne Rooney, they turned it into a 30M GBP profit. No African club has ever receive more than 3M GBP in transfer fees for a player. The result? African footballers are a series of "one-offs" that will never, at the national level, collectively amount to much.

Now if you're inclined to the more jejeune theories around globalization (and, unfortunately, the New Statesman more often than not fits this description), this provides an excellent metaphor for world politics. Just as the west, which is run by US multinationals, sucks the third world of human and physical capital, leaving behind weakened and despotic political institutions, so the west (in this case personified by the G-14 and Chelsea) sucks Africa dry of talented footballers, leving behind weakened and despotic footballing institutions.

Sepp Blatter, whose position at the head of FIFA more or less depends on sucking up to the people who run these weakened and despotic footballing institutions, is, naturally, now busy trying to find ways to stop the flow of African players to Europe on the grounds that such movement amounts to "exploitation". Maybe so, but while keeping good African players in Africa where their talent is sure to be under-rewarded seems might please crowds and club presidents, it's hard to see how this could be fair to the players themselves.

And therein lies the problem - African FAs have long been known as dictatorial and corrupt. Rare is the international competition where some African team threatens not t oplay amid runours that their match bonus money has been embezzled. If you were an African footballer, would you want to play there?

In the end, globalization may not be benefitting African football, but it's very hard to see how it is harming it: footballing institutions may be in bad shape, but not obviously any worse than it was twenty years ago. It is, however, benefitting two groups: European clubs and the individual African footballers themselves, who are now sought-after commodities.

It's not perfect, but it is a postive balance sheet, no matter which way you look at it.


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