By Rosie Harrison-Nirawan
The European Super League has been the focus of national news headlines in recent weeks, piquing the interest of several people far beyond the football community. Six English teams’ plan to join a new, separate league formed by the excessively wealthy owners was condemned by senior sportsmen, fans and the government. Prime Minister Boris Johnson even went so far as to announce during a Coronavirus press conference that the League amounted to a ‘cartel’, morally denouncing them as ‘propelled by the billions of banks’.
Such an anti-corporate stance from a Prime Minister who is currently embroiled in a corruption scandal (let’s name it for what it is) might seem more than a little hypocritical. The definition of a cartel is, after all, ‘an association of manufacturers or suppliers with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and restricting competition’ – so, much like awarding tax cuts to billionaire chums like James Dyson in order to prevent him from providing goods elsewhere.
The widespread pressure put on the ‘Big Six’ to withdraw from the ESL was commendable, with slogans such as ‘created by the poor, stolen by the rich’ forming a bittersweet reminder of various working class, anti-capitalist struggles throughout modern history. And, of course, the protests were almost immediately effective, with the ESL plans indefinitely suspended within three days of their initial announcement, proving a victory for the government and fans alike, as well as for the act of protest.
But such inspiring moments of a passionate appetite for democracy must beg the question, ‘why can’t other such injustices against capitalism and elitism be met with the same level of enthusiasm?’. Even within the realm of football there are several other injustices, such as a seemingly indestructible culture of racism that continues to exist without the same level of widespread outrage. And further afield, the topics deserving our attention, anger and protestation are infinite.
It seems an unfortunate truth that the UK harbours a culture of political passivity in which protestation is not a tool that is always used as effectively as it could be. The ESL scandal has proved that where people really, genuinely care, they can make their voices heard in demanding change. If people really, genuinely cared about the ongoing Greensill and Dyson affairs that reveal the same kind of elitist dominance on a national scale, changes could also be made and key actors could be held to account in the same way that Stan Kroenke, the Arsenal owner, is currently suffering.
One need only look over to our neighbours in France to see the functions of a successful culture of protest, where the art of zealous demonstration has been a longstanding element of their society; they have since formed a codified constitution, dissolved the monarchy and overturned various laws or bills that they disagreed with. But it is not difficult to think of several examples in British political history wherein great injustices, far worse than the ESL, have slipped into the abyss past care and concern. Like, for example, the little known and well-concealed fact that the Conservative Party’s new tax-funded, £2.6 million renovation of the Downing Street briefing room includes a new feature of Tory control over broadcasting. This means that, as has already happened, their awkward fumbling at the hand of an uncomfortable question holding them to account, can be tactfully concealed. Problem solved, injustice brushed under the carpet.
It is worth remembering the various widespread protests that have occurred since the Coronavirus pandemic began: the Black Lives Matter movement saw global participation after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, whilst the murder of Sarah Everard lead to women’s protests against gendered violence. Demonstrations can and do occur, but it is crucial to note that of all the grievances aired during this process, it was the ESL scandal that was met with the quickest and most high-ranking response. It would be over-simplistic to suggest that this was a result of football fans’ method of demonstration being the most advanced, and instead seems to point to the fact that the government were more than happy to appear onside with the struggle for equality, all the while handing out lucrative business deals with members of the cabinet.
The ESL affair must be seen as a positive one: the rich’s attempt to take from the poor was stopped in its tracks and a much-loved game returned to the democratic control of its fans. But the scale of victory is only a small one if we allow the fight to end there.