The ESL failed. How can we now improve sport for all?

Sam Wood
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Should we have been surprised by the ESL?

Following the controversial proposal and quick collapse of a European Super League (ESL), which was globally condemned across the fan, political, commercial and wider football strata, Dr Geoffery Z. Kohe, Lecturer in Sport Management and Policy in the School of Sport & Exercise Sciences said:

‘Though the proposal of an exclusive competition among Europe’s top football teams failed quickly and substantially, it should not have come as a surprise. The ESL was in step with the march of the professional game toward capitalist largesse, political insularity, commercial agendas and perpetuating sport resource inequality. Forthcoming government reviews, and calls for enhanced corporate regulation and commercial oversight notwithstanding, the ESL is new reminder that we must critically rethink what sport is, what is does and who it should be for.

‘This is not exclusive to football, though hitting the top leagues of Europe provides grounds to reconsider the entirety of national, regional and international sport systems. While sport (from the grassroots to professional) contributes opportunities broadly for communities, the practice of large organisations led by wealthy individuals and private companies holding sway over economic resources and political power leads to ideological and strategic myopicism and inequities across the sports sector.

‘While those in control have ensured grassroots sports are catered-to through various philanthropic initiatives, resource inequalities in sport remain wide-spread and profound. Unfair distribution of resources, and increased concentration of power away from sport fans and community stakeholders, invariably contributes to a small elite minority prescribing which sports matters, how it looks and who it is for. Ultimately, disenfranchised fans provide loyalties and investments that are not matched in organisational representation, and inequalities of participation and athlete talent pathways in sport, based on ethnicity, gender and class continue. Concentrated economic investment and practices that privilege sports’ upper tiers, coupled with inconsistent State-funding, also create context of austerity and inequality that erodes communities’ capacity to service their constituents’ sport and physical activity needs. This, in turn, creates further disparities and socio-economic divisions. Sport, as world football shows, is not yet a level playing field.

‘However, the fervour the ESL saga has generated is also an opportunity. There is space, invariably, to try crafting the pitch anew. Be it by new regulations, organisational restructure, sponsor pressure, or fan activism, there is now a chance to challenge what we want sport to be and to ensure the benefits and opportunities become truly universally accessible. Transforming football is only a start.

‘Within many other sports, concerns over parity of representation, political and organisational oversight and resource division remain. From athletes, coaches, volunteers, administrators and wider-stakeholders, we must ensure sport systems (and the political and economic structures that underpin them) work for all, not for few. It is up to those for whom access to sport (and related physical activity) remains an important part of cultural and social life to work together, more often and more loudly than ever before to fan the flames of change.’

Dr Geoffery Z. Kohe, Lecturer in Sport Management and Policy, School of Sport & Exercise Sciences

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