Football

Letter: English football needs an injection of German-style rules

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In taking aim at perceived protectionist resistance to the proposed “Super League” in football, Nicky Samengo-Turner (Letters, April 21) couldn’t have missed by a wider margin.

It has long been recognised that team sports boast “peculiar economics” and that the idealised assumptions supporting the theory of perfect competition simply aren’t evident in professional team sports like football. For a start, “firms” in football don’t seek to maximise profits, they seek to maximise subjective goals such as on-field success subject to the constraint of staying solvent. Barriers to entry are huge: there really isn’t much room for another large club in north London, for example.

Despite the prevalence of private foreign club ownership in England the clubs retain strong community links and the outcry over the proposed Super League clearly highlights how important fans are as stakeholders. Evidence and theory both suggest that if left to their own devices football clubs battling with each other to attract top talent will bankrupt themselves, leaving large unpaid tax bills in the process. All of this suggests regulation or corrective interventions are required. Of course a highly centralised closed league model is an alternative, but most of European football’s key stakeholders value the traditions of promotion and relegation, the invisible thread that links children with dreams and the least talented players in the amateur game to the global elite. It is these values that are at stake here.

Opposing protectionism or intervention in football on ideological grounds, as Samengo-Turner appears to be doing, misses another key point. The type of intervention football needs is not a sharp lurch to the left, restricting competition and raising the hackles of those worshipping at the altar of free markets. Instead it should be seen as ordoliberal in spirit, encouraging competition but with rules to correct likely market failures. Applying ordoliberal rules in a competitive landscape did countries like Germany no harm, either in industry or in football where she does rather well.

Peter Clarke
London NW6, UK

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