No level playing field in football’s globalisation

From The Guardian, a piece on how the free market is even screwing up football/soccer, or at least some parts of it, and how FIFA may provide an example of how to make things better for poor countries.

The forces of globalisation are hindering the chances of another Derby
or Nottingham Forest pipping Chelsea or Manchester United for the
league title as they did in the 70s but are likely to make this
summer’s World Cup more competitive, according to a World Bank
economist.

An in-depth study of the free market in football confirms
what Premiership fans have long suspected: the influx of overseas stars
has improved skill levels but at the expense of growing inequality
between the elite clubs and the rest.

 

Yet national teams of poor countries have benefited from mobility of
labour says an article by Branko Milanovic in the latest Review of
International Political Economy. Since the national teams of rich
countries cannot buy the best in the way that their clubs can, when a
Didier Drogba returns home from Chelsea, the Ivory Coast team gains
from his experience.

Using
basic economic theory, Milanovic came up with the hypothesis that
putting a good player with other good players would lead to all of them
becoming even better players – or increasing returns, in the jargon of
the dismal science. Given that some clubs are richer than others, he
says you would expect a small group of clubs to dominate.

At club
level, this is precisely what has happened. A study of the Champions
League (formerly the European Cup) showed that there used to be a far
better chance of an unknown or unfashionable club making it to the last
eight than now. In the five years from 1958 to 1962, 30 different teams
made it to the quarter finals (out of a possible maximum of 40), but
between 1998 and 2002 this had fallen to 22.

A separate study of
Serie A – Italy’s equivalent of the Premiership – told a similar story.
From the 1960s to the 1990s, there used to be three or four clubs on
average from the poorer regions of the south. In 2002, for the first
time since the second world war, there was not a single club from the
south in Serie A.

Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, has condemned the greed of the
modern game and, in words that could have been uttered by an
anti-globalisation protester, accused Europe’s top clubs of conducting
themselves increasingly as "neo-colonialists" indulging in "economic
rape". At the international level, Fifa has maintained limits on the
inequality generated by the "leg drain", preventing rich countries from
buying the national teams of poor countries. As a result, poor
countries are able to capture the benefits of higher skills acquired by
their players abroad when they temporarily return home to play for
their national squads.

Adopting Fifa’s approach to the "brain
drain" of skilled workers, the paper says, might mean that the doctors,
nurses, teachers and scientists who emigrate to the west should be
obliged to spend one year in five back in their home country.

Milanovic
says the ability of poor countries to hold on to their best players has
made the World Cup more open. In the late 1970s and 1980s it was highly
unusual for a newcomer to make it to the last eight of the competition
but each tournament since has thrown up at least of couple of newcomers
– including Cameroon, Nigeria and Turkey – who have made life difficult
for fancied teams. Matches, the economist adds, are also getting
tighter, suggesting some nail-biting nights for England fans this
summer as the spectre of the dreaded penalty shoot-out looms.

· Globalisation and goals: does Soccer show the way? Branko Milanovic; Review of International Political Economy; www.tandf.co.uk

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