In football, Europe has cultivated an international export in a way that no other continent or nation has been able to produce. Outside of the World Cup, the Champions League final is the most viewed footballing event and with the Premier League and La Liga being the most viewed club competition, it is clear that football exists in a Eurocentric state. The same applies when looking at the game monetarily. Corinthians (2013) are the only non-European team to be named in Forbes’ top 20 richest clubs in the world since 2008, a team which cannot be legally seen play in the United Kingdom without a VPN.
Eurocentrism in football leads to a warped perception of the game to where leagues, players, managers and even investors from other continents are often scrutinised, underappreciated and sometimes racially abused upon entering European leagues. Think about how South American players were blamed for bringing diving to the English game, to the language used to describe black players in commentary and to the countless instances of racial abuse levelled from crowds at players of colour. These attitudes arise due to a false idea of European supremacy in football – people have a narrow perception of what constitutes a ‘good’ footballer, match or investor.
Qatar being chosen to host the 2022 World Cup created heavy controversy from those in the European game. This is paired with their funnelling of money into PSG, money gained from their oil empire. The critics of both Qatar and this ownership model were again outraged when rumours emerged that the state had bribed FIFA officials to gain those World Cup hosting privileges. This is, of course, morally questionable and is nothing like the clean and fair game we idealise. However, to put blame on Qatar for degrading the purity of football shows hypocrisy and ignorance of how the European game was able to become what it is today. European football was founded on the murkiest of grounds.
The Crimes of Europe
European dominance has nothing to do with where the sport originated, it is tied to the upper hand Europe was able to gain over the rest of the world through looting resources from across the globe. Throughout the 1800s, rapacious Europeans left their continent with a willingness to commit acts of horror hidden behind the guise of striking trade agreements. Once these agreements failed to fulfil their greed, the Europeans unleashed some of the most inhumane acts ever committed, leaving approximately 35 million people killed by the British in India alone.
The great wealth amassed was able to ease the part of the European conscience that may have been concerned with the total destruction of the global economy. Enabled by these horrors, Europe had the opportunity to invest in its own exports having stolen everybody else’s. And thus, football was turned from a recreational hobby to a product with the creation of the first football league, the English Football League, in 1888 and around 50 years later modern football truly began to take shape with England’s first televised game in history. It is difficult to remove these events from the context of the crimes committed by the British Empire.
As the rest of the world was either still under European rule or were struggling to recover from near-irreversible economic and psychological issues, Europe’s shiny new export was being beamed right into their eyes. As time went on, the skin of those on-screen heroes got darker as the descendants of people brought to Europe as slaves began to integrate into European society, eventually representing and gaining success for their oppressors on an international level.
The passing of time morphed colonisation into globalisation as products beyond the game itself were commodified. Today, it is almost impossible to visit another country without spotting someone sporting the jersey of a top European club. Despite this, I cannot think of a single instance where I have picked out a River Plate or Corinthians shirt in England. There was even a time where wearing a Dortmund shirt classified you as a hipster! Globalisation only works one way and that is to impose Western European culture on the rest of the world.
It also works to demean anyone who plays club football outside of Europe. The worth of a player seems to be defined by how many Premier Leagues and Champions Leagues they win, which is a criminally closed-minded outlook on what success is in football. Because of this, Europe is able to easily take the top talent from around the world, only decreasing the quality of the leagues they come from. That very fact is what inspires such a lack of confidence from investors when it comes to injecting money locally, leaving us with the situation regarding Qatar.
People cite deteriorating ‘purity’ as to the reason why they are so against foreign investment and meddling from states like Qatar, but I find that to be hypocritical considering the more than shady deeds carried out by Europe to establish itself as the status quo. In no way is bribery acceptable and it is difficult to make a case for why Qatar is the ideal location for a World Cup but this is a feature of a system that perpetuates European dominance. Once the rest of the world catches up, they are going to force their way in.
Additionally, massive takeovers of clubs like PSG and Man City from foreign states have been allowed to progress with minimal resistance. Man City in particular have spent a slew of cash on their team since their takeover in 2008, facing no consequences from Financial Fair Play, a strategy devised to prevent clubs from spending money that they do not have. Even the sanctions placed onto the club in early 2020 were inevitably overturned.
European football was founded on exploitation and the modern game is only continuing that tradition, except with a higher focus and suspicion of those who come from foreign lands. Many will decline to even imagine a world where that cycle is broken, but to me that world is brighter.
The Benefits of Dismantling Eurocentrism
Many of the benefits of taking apart a system that only serves Europe are clear – fans would be interested in a myriad of leagues across the world, giving each country an export that would improve their economy, higher visibility for worldwide leagues means fans and clubs can more closely study different techniques, atmospheres and ideas, and broadcasters will never be without a game to show. In addition to this, international competitions will be significantly more competitive, even down to the qualifying stages.
Competitiveness in general would skyrocket as Eurocentrism, by nature, thrives off the dampening of it. The idea of the ‘top five European leagues’ would be demolished and the playing field would take a step towards being level. Players in any league can feel like they are on the global stage and are competing on the highest level, meaning situations where Neymar is stalked by European superclubs at a ridiculously young age do not happen. For players of colour, it means they need not be unfairly abused by the media in a country that sees their league as superior.
Ultimately, dismantling Eurocentrism is about giving football back to the people. Last year’s Copa Libertadores final between Flamengo and River Plate amassed a TV viewership of 41.1 million people with almost half the televisions in Brazil alone being tuned into the game. In Iran, people show up in their tens of thousands to cheer their team on live in the stadiums. These are people who have football at the core of their existence just as anyone else and it is a crime to devalue their experience simply because it differs from the European one.
When divides are made and a narrow idea of what football can, or ‘should’ be is created, it stops people from seeing themselves in the shoes of their heroes. By removing this idea that Europe is somehow inherently superior, we open up an even more global interest in the game, not just for the World Cup and Champions League finals, but at a grassroots level. We all had childhood dreams of playing football at the highest level, let us incinerate the system that filters who can and cannot fulfil them.