West Ham and the Olympic Stadium

By Derek Van de Ven

It has long been known that West Ham would take over the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, East London after the Games. Boris Johnson and the government have repeatedly stated the need for it be sold rather than used for various national events, as it would become (and has been) a major drain on the taxpayer. The battle for ownership of the stadium was fought out between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham, with Leyton Orient even arguing that due to their location they should be part of any deal, for fear of fans being taken away. Spurs would have perhaps had a much better chance of filling the stadium, given their possible partaking in the Champions League, and of late, competition for the Premier League title. However, despite West Ham’s relegation worries of a few years ago, they won the rights to the Stadium, largely because they planned to keep the running track (or most of it). The move from current home Upton Park to the Olympic stadium is expected to take place in time for the 2016-2017 season, providing construction is completed. However, up until today, where the necessary funding would come from has been a bit of a mystery. Now it all seems to be in place. The club will have the stadium on a 99 year lease.

In reality, West Ham, despite being guaranteed major occupants of the stadium, will pay only very little of the enormous cost estimated. The Treasury will contribute about £60 million, today confirming an extra £25 million on their part, which is the main reason the move can go ahead. The London Legacy and Development Corporation will provide a loan of £20 million, and another loan from Newham Council will provide 40 million. Boris Johnson is also expected to make a contribution. The go-ahead was finally authorised when the club agreed to up their part of the budget from £10 million to £15 million.

There are several areas that the money will go towards. The venue is not ideal for football, and especially for West Ham who struggle to fill the 35,000 capacity Upton Park, and thus the capacity of the Olympic Stadium will be reduced from 80,000 to 60,000. The main problem with athletics arenas is that due to the running track, fans feel far away from the action. Thus it will be partially brought forward, but not all the way. The roof will also be extended to cover all fans, and this must be completed by 2015 in time for the Rugby World Cup. West Ham want the stadium to be used for athletics in the future and intend to keep the Olympic legacy at the stadium, as well as use it for live music performances. This is the only reason West Ham’s bid was successful.

West Ham of course must pay back these generous loans. They will also pay £2 million annually to rent the ground and have agreed to share 50/50 all catering and hospitality revenue with LLDC, but will keep all ticket and merchandise sales revenue. The club directors, David Gold and David Sullivan have agreed to make a one-off payment to LLDC if they sell the club within ten years, and a proportion of any future sale after that. They stated that “the public should benefit from any money made” by West Ham’s future sale of the stadium.

The move giving West Ham ownership has always seemed an odd decision. Firstly, it is a huge stadium, it will be as big as Arsenal’s Emirates’ Stadium, and the third biggest football arena in England and West Ham are not as big a club as Arsenal. Thus if they can’t fill the stadium on a regular basis there will be little or no atmosphere inside, only harmful to the club. However the main question is of course regarding public money – Boris Johnson made it clear that the future use of the ground must not drain the public purse anymore than it already has. The Tottenham plan for the ground would have been largely privately funded, not costing the taxpayer a substantial amount more. West Ham are planning to contribute approximately 6-8% of the overall finance of the stadium’s conversion, hardly fair given that they will be the principal users. The decision seems to have been made on the emotional grounds that West Ham would preserve the “spirit of the games” something which could have been done much more cheaply. Spurs’ plan would have saved the public a lot more money and would have likely been much more successful for the club. Whilst geographically it makes much more sense for West Ham, in times of austerity it makes much more sense to allow Spurs to move. Thus it was emotions, rather than rationality that won the bid for West Ham.

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Racism in football

By Cressida Smart

In an attempt to tackle racism in football, foreign players and managers
are to be given lessons in British culture. The move is part of a response
by football’s authorities to the Government’s call for tougher action
to tackle discrimination after a series of incidents that have tarnished
the game’s image. Even in a sport whose diverse factions seldom
agree on most football issues, there is a universal desire to stamp out
discrimination and the FA blueprint is expected to receive the full backing
of clubs.

Titled ‘English Football’s Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Action
Plan’, the document includes, in addition to such lessons, mandatory anti-
discrimination clauses in contracts and fixed bans for all racist offences,
with a minimum in excess of the four weeks John Terry received for
abusing Anton Ferdinand. The Professional Footballers’ Association
chief executive Gordon Taylor said, “Up until now we have had cultural
awareness courses for our apprentices and the plan now is to extend these
to senior players and coaches, including those coming from overseas. We
want to make sure there is no misunderstanding with regards to the rules
and regulations on discrimination.” It follows a Downing Street summit
on racism in football last February. The FA proposals, which are under
the name of chairman David Bernstein, have been discussed at board level
by the Premier League and Football League. It is expected they will be
rubber-stamped early in the new year following club meetings.
The need for action was further underlined by the recent criticism from
Kick It Out chairman Lord Ouseley over the handling of the Terry and
Suarez cases. Ouseley, who is threatening to resign from Kick It Out and
the FA Council in protest, said there was ‘very little morality’ at the top
clubs and claimed a lack of leadership had left ‘a moral vacuum’ in the
game.

Racism has long been an issue.

The media is awash with its coverage of racial incidents in football.
Yet why are we pretending that racism in football is a new issue?
Furthermore, it is not just the footballers, but fans too that are guilty of
this crime. Racism in football in English football can be traced back to
1930s when the Everton player, Dixie Dean, faced racist comments as he
left the pitch at half time. In the 1960s, West Ham United players, Clyde
Best who is black and from Bermuda, and Ade Coker were subjected
to “monkey chants” and had bananas thrown at them during West Ham’s

games. In the 1980s, racism in football in England reached fever point.
Paul Canoville was abused by his own fans when he warmed up for
Chelsea before making his début. Garth Crooks was regularly subject to
racist chants and banners from opposing fans during his time at Spurs.
Cyrille Regis endured monkey chants from Newcastle fans on his away
début for West Bromwich Albion and was later sent a bullet in the post
following his call up to the England squad. In 1987, John Barnes was
pictured back-heeling a banana off the pitch during a match for Liverpool
against Everton, whose fans chanted ‘Everton are white’.

In 2004, Millwall became the first club to be charged by The Football
Association over racist behaviour by their fans. One of the most damning
incidents occurred in the media by Ron Atkinson. On 2004, he was
caught making a racist remark live on air about the black Chelsea player
Marcel Desailly. Believing the microphone to be switched off, he
said, “…he [Desailly] is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy
thick nigger”. On 6 March 2007, it was announced that the Metropolitan
Police were investigating apparent anti-Semitic chants by West Ham
fans before the match with Spurs two days previously after a video of the
offence surfaced on the internet.

Last season was overshadowed by the Suarez and Terry incidents.
Only four months into the 2012/13 season and the Premier League has
seen numerous examples with recent incidents at Tottenham Hotspur,
Sunderland, Swansea City and Manchester City.

Will the proposals work?

Why now is there a sudden call to arms to stamp out this type of
behaviour? There has been increased intensity and exposure in the media.
As a result, more criminal cases are being brought to court. Does the FA
feel that because of this, they have been pushed into a corner and must
show to be taking action? The Government has now weighed in on the
subject either because they believe that it needs to be tackled or because it
is a quick way to earn some brownie points amongst his voters.

The proposals are a step towards combating racism in football, but it
is difficult to see exactly how much effect that will have. Suggesting
that foreign players take cultural lessons to learn about England and
the English game will not solve the problem. It is insulting and could
further distance foreign players from a solution which can be accepted.

One of the underlying fundamental problems with racism in English
football seems to lie with certain groups of fans and the way they are
brought up to watch and be involved around football. There is still a
large element of fathers taking their sons to watch football matches and
there is still a huge hooligan element to English football which is where
many racism problems originate. Racism can therefore be engrained
onto younger supporters from a very early age which will naturally be
damaging because 60% of the players in the Premier League are not
British born and raised.

The current method which is being proposed will simply stop foreign
players from using certain words, in a similar way that Uruguayan Luis
Suarez called Patrice Evra a racial term last season which is accepted
in parts of Uruguay. Instead of eradicating racism from the game, it is
side stepping the problem and will simply cause players to think outside
the box in terms of the language they use when talking back to a player.
A much better way to tackle this problem is to educate fans filled with
prejudice and hatred from a very early age and impose bans which stop
any racist fans from watching football. Whilst hard to enforce, education
on racism should extend to the sets of supporters responsible and try to
educate them over the cultural backgrounds from where many players
hail. It may even be useful to engage with English footballers, especially
those accused of racist remarks and identify why it is that they choose to
use language that is offensive.

Racism in football will not be eradicated overnight and it is naive to
think that cultural lessons are the answer. The problem lies as much in
our English footballers and fans. Education at all levels is the answer
and until that happens, the beautiful game will continue to be marred by
racism.

UEFA’s financial targets: crossing the line or fair play?

(C)jeanfrancois beausejour

By Andrea Masini

Usually, AC Milan’s dealings are always strictly connected to the political career of its owner Silvio Berlusconi. In 2009, when the Brazilian player Kakà was about to be sold to Manchester City, Berlusconi interrupted a negotiation that would have cost him a lot in terms of votes in the upcoming European elections. The signing up of Ronaldinho was often mentioned during electoral meetings as an example of a promise to the fans that had been kept. Lately, Berlusconi said that Cristiano Ronaldo might wear one day the rossoneri shirt. However, the recent transfer of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain for 62 million euro doesn’t have anything to do with Berlusconi and politics. This time, it’s all about money.

Football fans all over Europe know well how once troubled and not very successful clubs have now reached the top of their leagues. It has all been very simple. They have been taken over by extremely wealthy owners, willing to bring the club to the football Hall of Fame. It has happen to Chelsea and Manchester City in the English Premier League, to Malaga in Spain and lately to Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1. Is it fair to invest millions of euro in football in times of crisis? Probably, during these dark times, it’s suitable to find foreign investors to maintain the football circus. Panem et circenses, “bread and games”, were the main ingredients of mass distraction according to the ruling class of the Roman empire. However, in this article the question “Is it fair play?” refers to the economic competition between “old”, traditional clubs and the newcomers. Is it fair to bring fresh money to invest and spend millions of euro to buy the best players? Is it part of the game or is it unfair competition with the other clubs?

The financial fair play project was introduced by UEFA’s chairman Michel Platini in 2009. According to this, clubs should have a balanced budget in order to reach the final goal of financial self-sufficiency. Also, there are certain investment goals to be pursued. Firstly, investments should improve the infrastructures of the club, particularly the stadium. Secondly, the development of the club’s youth teams should be a privileged target. Finally, clubs should put the brakes on players’ salaries and transfer costs, in order to decrease inflation in the football market. Hence, the definition of financial fair play doesn’t consider unfair that some clubs are wealthier than others. Nevertheless, rich clubs should also stick to the investment goals set by UEFA.

As things stand now, the wealthiest football clubs of Europe surely comply with the first goal. Stadiums have been renovated and surrounded by leisure infrastructures (hotels, restaurants, etc.). But when it comes to the other two main investment targets, these clubs do not adhere to the rules of financial fair play. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on the youth teams. Instead, they have a short-term strategy based on buying the best players around, like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. As a consequence of this strategy, the wealthiest football clubs completely break the third main principle of financial fair play. By offering outstanding contracts to players and paying huge amounts of money for their transfers, the rich newcomers of European football do nothing but increase the inflation in the football marketplace. In doing so, they have a monopoly on the strongest players, creating a bigger and bigger gap between themselves and less wealthy clubs.

Is it fair play? On the one hand, it is. Foreign investments, especially in the football circus, and particularly in times of economic crisis, are more than welcome. There is nothing wrong with Malaga, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain replacing AC Milan, Juventus or Manchester United as the unbeatable teams in their respective leagues. On the other hand, the new tycoons of European football are not playing fair, in that they do not completely adhere to UEFA’s investment guidelines. They are paying too much for transfers and players’ contracts, and they do not have a long-term plan to grow young players in the youth teams. In this sense, Barcelona’s cantera (the “reserve” of champions coming from youth teams) is the right model to follow. Only if the new powers of European football start to play fair can there be a future for the game of football. If they don’t, we might have a “football-bubble”, ready to explode.

Why did no women make the BBC Sports Personality of the Year 2011 shortlist?

By Cressida Smart

Upon reading the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award, many were shocked.  No women had been included.  However, in all honesty, how many can name the sports that women have excelled in this year, let alone any of their names?  I doubt they roll off the tongue.  It would be foolish to demand women be included or suggest a quota for the fairer sex. Instead, it would make better sense to identify the reasons why this situation has arisen.  Two spring to mind – the lack of media coverage awarded to women and the apparent cross-section of magazines and newspapers who submitted shortlists. Read more of this post