Pirates' league or soccer for the people

Updated: 2016-08-15 08:06


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Pirates' league or soccer for the people
Li Min / China Daily

As China has resolved to become a superpower in world soccer within a generation, it can pick the best examples and avoid the worst excesses. At base camp it can decide how it wants to reach the peak.

German or English model? After the disaster of Euro2000, the Germans went back to basics and youth academies. Within 14 years, they won the World Cup.

In England, corporate boxes and hipster "fans" rake in the revenues while the majority is excluded or penalized. Liverpool supporters went on strike recently complaining of exorbitant ticket prices. They knew ticket prices of about €12 ($13.38) are common in wealthier Germany while the English need to fork out an average of €33. It is cheaper to travel to Germany from England to watch a match than staying in England and going to an English Premier League fixture.

Families feature in German stadiums a lot more than in the EPL because it is cheaper. Average attendance of 44,000 in the Bundesliga compare to 34,000 in the EPL. Club ownership is more democratized in Germany where the "50 ± 1" model is followed, meaning a minimum of 51 percent of a club must be owned by its members.

The economics of the EPL does not make much sense. It is built on debt. Transfer fees for stars are mind-boggling. Paul Pogba left Manchester United for next to nothing and was recently bought back for €120 million.

The vicious circle of TV rights feeds a food chain of highly paid executives, millionaire agents representing millionaire athletes and multinational brands capturing a captive audience. In Germany half the revenues go to pay for players, but in England close to three-quarters are paid to players.

But not everything is rosy in the Bundesliga. New TV negotiations suggest it is moving a little too close to the English model. Bayern Munich has an almost unassailable monopoly on trophies, which predictability kills competitive sports.

What about Asian soccer? Gambling, syndicates and expensive imports suggest an unhealthy cocktail may be being brewed in East Asia. Soccer has to be affordable for the fans. It has to be financially sustainable for the clubs. In Europe, it has to become more egalitarian and return to its working class roots. In England, the wealthier classes played cricket on pristine, green fields while the miners and metal workers kicked a ball on the grimy streets in front of their terraced homes.

In this sense, China starts off with a clean slate and can position itself accordingly. It can be bold and innovative too. The foundation of New China in 1949 put women on an equal footing with men.

In a world where players are concerned about leveraging their image rights, a nation has to decide what image it wants to project across the globe. The goal should be to adapt the best of the Bundesliga-providing enjoyable matches watched by families in packed stadiums because of affordable ticket prices.

China is already showing the way by restricting teams to five foreigners. Soccer leagues in other countries should consider emulating it.

Soccer is not only a business. Nor is it merely sports. It is a culture. It is a connector. It can be more powerful than a battery of embassies. How do the Chinese want to be regarded? As friends or foes? Feared and unloved or admired and emulated? Time will tell.

Murad Qureshi is a former assembly member at London Assembly, and Farid Erkizia Bakht is ex-international coordinator of the Green Party of England & Wales.