Greed is the order of the day in top European football clubs
Stories of greed in football were queuing up at a session at Play the Game 2022, where Nick Harris revealed that part of a sponsorship deal for Manchester City was paid by a branch of government in the United Arab Emirates.
The only solution to the overwhelming greed at the top of European football is intervention by the European Union.
That was the key take-away from the final panel of the third day of Play the Game 2022, entitled ‘Billionaires and breakaways: Is that the future of football?’, as a distinguished line-up exposed multiple instances of avarice and self-interest.
The government in United Arab Emirates paid sponsorship deal
Opening the panel, English journalist Nick Harris provided fresh evidence of how Manchester City, which is owned by Emirati royal Sheikh Mansour, managed to get around UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules in a sponsorship deal with Etihad Airlines from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Harris said: “In 2014, after City’s first punishment, an employee at Etihad, via an intermediary, alleged to me that Etihad’s sponsorship department was only paying 8 million GBP a year of the 35 million+ money, and the rest was being paid in disguised – and banned – funding via other entities controlled by Sheikh Mansour.
“The employee could not risk their job and go on the record, and City said “no comment”, and the story didn’t run. Later I got documents that apparently showed it was true, and lots of more documents and correspondence publish by Der Spiegel backed this up,” Harris said.
Harris brandished a falsified invoice from Manchester City to Etihad claiming 12 million GBP in sponsorship. Producing another document, Harris explained: “And here is an email from Etihad to City, saying, but we only have to pay 4 millions of this, you need get the rest from Abu Dhabi’s Executive Affairs Authority, a branch of government in the UAE.”
Where clubs are acquired for sport-washing, budgetary constraints are ineffective argued Professor Klaus Nielsen from Birkbeck, University of London, saying: “They know they will be bailed out. That’s why financial management becomes less important.”
Greed drove clubs to sign up for European Super League
James Corbett, a journalist from Off the Pitch, exposed how the greed of the 12 European clubs, including Manchester City, that supported a poorly thought out breakaway Super League would take 70 per cent of TV money from domestic leagues.
“It was literally a piece of paper circulated to club owners who desperately signed up for fear of losing out,” said Corbett. “There was no new money, it was simply a distribution of existing funds from the Champions League.”
The 12 clubs behind the proposals have not been properly punished and Corbett added: “It is still not clear if those measly punishments that have been handed out have been paid. I believe nothing has changed hands.”
The fall-out from the Super League is due to end up in court later this year, where UEFA’s role as an organiser of competitions is being challenged, but a new European club body to represent less powerful clubs has been formed.
After a powerful attack on how the European Clubs Association (ECA) only represents a handful of self-interested large continental clubs, Katarina Pijetlovic, a reader in sports law at Manchester Metropolitan University, outlined the proposed new Union of European Clubs (UEC).
The UEC has attracted interest from more than 100 clubs but would not replace the ECA.
“This is as much an opportunity for UEFA as the small and medium sized clubs,” added Pijetlovic.
English clubs take money from advertisers linked to prostitution
The avarice of big clubs from the English Premier League was exposed by Philippe Auclair from Josimar and France Football, who detailed how unregulated companies use the competition to advertise to bettors in China, where gambling is banned.
Leaks of a forthcoming UK government gambling review suggest there will be no ban on these betting companies advertising on club shirts. This will allow Premier League clubs to continue to take the 120 million USD a year in advertising revenue from the betting companies, which have links to organised crime and whose operations in the Philippines have caused a rise in prostitution according to a Filipino government report.
“These shirt sponsors are linked to that, but those English clubs will take the money,” said Auclair.
He concluded: “So there is no ban on advertising, no due diligence and oversight but for English football there is plenty of money and that is enough.”
The only option was some form of wider political intervention suggested Corbett, who said: “Clubs just want more. It’s greed. I’d like to see the EU intervene and look at how European competitions are organised and overseas TV rights.”
The value of overseas TV rights for the English Premier League is expected to bring in 5.05 billion GBP between 2022 and 2025, which far outstrips the value of domestic TV rights even in established football economies such as Serbia.
“That has a huge impact on local culture,” added Corbett.
Panel chair Tariq Panja of the New York Times posed the question: “What do you do with a regulator that won’t regulate?”
From the floor, Miguel Maduro, former chair of FIFA’s governance committee, said: “The EU is the only organisation that can do this. We need an agency for licensing.”