Paris Saint-Germain’s letter to musician M.I.A. threatening legal action unless she takes down her video for ‘Borders’, in which she wears a modified PSG shirt, illustrates how commercial interests rule football in the modern age. The values that football clubs once stood for in their communities are now consigned to the distant past.
In the letter which the rapper posted on Twitter, PSG state: “You unduly took advantage of our popularity and reputation to enhance the attractiveness of your artist and, consequently, the profits of your company”. In her video for ‘Borders’ M.I.A. highlights the Syrian crisis and the mass exodus of refugees from the country across Europe. M.I.A, who is a Sri Lankan refugee transplanted to London as a child, wears a customised PSG shirt with the words ‘Fly Pirates’ in place of the Dubai-based airline sponsor’s name ‘Fly Emirates.’ In an interview with Vice’s Noisey website, the singer says that she wanted to make a video that defined the difference between innocent refugees fleeing a war zone and armed conflict, and militia groups and pirates. Women, children, and peaceful people get associated with these violent groups in the mind of the audience. ‘Borders’ highlights the desperation of the immigrants who find themselves in danger and the lengths they will go to in order to escape it with their families.
The rapper points to the images we see on TV of immigrants wearing football shirts. For many of the poorest people, football is the one thing that gives them hope for the future. In a recent documentary for BBC David Beckham played a football match on every continent on Earth including Antarctica in ten days for his UNICEF 7 Fund. In Djibouti the former Manchester United winger played a game in a refugee camp that was home to 15,000 people. In the site on the Horn of Africa a league had been set up by former professional player for the Somali national team Isaac Ali, where teams had adopted the names of clubs who participate in the UEFA Champions League. The image of Beckham in action against the talented youngsters in full Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund kits is a powerful example of the power of football to inspire hope in the bleakest locations. After the game the retired Galactico was handed notes by the kids asking him to help them live their dream of becoming professional footballers.
Football at the highest level today is so concerned with sponsorship and commercialism that it ignores anything relating to a humanitarian crisis.
Coming to the Middle East on the promise of higher wages and an escape from poverty, workers under the Kafala system, which is likened to modern-day slavery, have their passports confiscated and are subjected to horrendous living and working conditions. In 2014 The Guardian reported that Nepalese workers building infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup were dying at a rate of one every two days. This statistic does not even include Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers in the country. The Washington Post predicts as many as 4,000 workers will die on World Cup building sites by 2020. The human rights violations have not stopped preparations for the tournament which will kick off in winter and split the football season across Europe in two.
The world game’s most celebrated players so often do not stand up for the world’s most vulnerable people. When he signed for Al Sadd, former Barcelona maestro Xavi Hernandez chose to play out his final years in Qatar and ignore the terrible human rights issues in the construction of World Cup stadiums. Pep Guardiola and new Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane are both ambassadors for the 2022 finals with rumours that the soon to be ex-Bayern Munich boss might even take charge of the host nation for the tournament. Zidane is the son of Algerian parents who emigrated to Paris before the Algerian War. The current Bundesliga champions came under fire for spending their winter break in training camp in Qatar with Chief Executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge having to deny it is not an endorsement of the tiny Persian Gulf state.
Qatar Investment Authority have owned Paris Saint-Germain since 2011. The club’s marquee player Zlatan Ibrahimovic is himself the son of Bosnian and Croatian immigrants. The Swedish superstar details in his award winning autobiography ‘I Am Zlatan’ how his father never got over the Balkans war. M.I.A. has accused PSG of failing to see the bigger picture and points to the Angolan and Haitians that also star for the club.
In August of last year ‘Refugees Welcome’ banners appeared at grounds across Europe particularly in Germany where Dortmund fans invited over 200 to a game. At Celtic Park the Hoops fans followed suit while here at home Bohemians supporters showed their support in a display on the Ha’penny Bridge while celebrating the 125 year anniversary of the team nicknamed the Gypsies.
Football clubs have always been at the heart of the community but increasingly those at the top level of the game have lost sight of their roots.
Founded in 1888 by Brother Walfrid, with the aim of helping the poor in Glasgow’s East End, Celtic FC’s philanthropy was at the very core of the club. In fact the Irish monk’s idea to use Celtic as fundraising for the impovershed Irish immigrant community was inspired by the formation of Hibernian in Edinburgh for the very same reason.
St Pauli have a long standing relationship with their Scottish counterparts. The Hamburg club’s left wing political ideals have garnered a cult reputation with football fans around the globe. Hamburg’s famous Reeperbahn Red Light District is just a stone’s throw away from St Pauli’s Millerntor-Stadion stadium near the docks and a motley crew fan culture grew around the side in the 80s. Right Wing nationalists and fascists were banned at the ground while across Germany and Europe hooliganism and racism was rampant. On the terraces of St Pauli though, squatters, punks and students were flying the rainbow flag in support of anti homophobia. The Skull and Crossbones adopted by the fans only adds to the teams left wing mythos.
Widespread FIFA corruption, the growth of fan group organisations, the spread of the Against Modern Football movement, the rise of ticket prices, the birth of Punk football clubs like FC United of Manchester, all point to the disaffection of genuine football supporters. They are seeing the once working man’s game have its soul ripped out of it by business people. The acts of charity by ordinary football fans in showing support for fleeing refugees and M.I.A.’s use of corporate sponsors as a vehicle to highlight their plight – are in stark contrast to the attitudes of the limited companies that were once their local clubs.