Futsal is becoming quite popular in Europe, and the country where I am originally from (Portugal) is not an exception. I actually think that this type of football is a good match with some of the characteristics Americans usually appreciate: it is fast-paced, with more interruptions (marketing opportunities) and there are usually many more goals than in traditional soccer. Now, to play it really well, you most probably need to be short/small…something not very common on this side of the ocean!
The team that I am a fan of (Sporting Club de Portugal; www.sporting.pt) had a terrific season this year winning 3 of the competitions in which they played! (Let’s not speak about the regular soccer season, ok?) But not all news is good news – by the end of the season, 4 of the first league teams announced that they cannot afford next season and decided to stop their activity.
By now you might be thinking, “So what…what is the connection with politics?!” In fact, there actually is a connection, at the local, national and even higher levels.
Let’s start local: In Portugal (in Europe?) it is a very common situation that one of the main sponsors of a team is…the city hall, something that I recognize does not make much sense here in America. So here is the first point to consider: when teams announce that they must quit for financial reasons, should the city halls step in and continue sponsoring them, keeping them alive? Given American standards, the answer to this question seems very straightforward: No! If they can’t survive in the competitive sports market, they are out. End of story. But things are never that simple, at least for Europeans. A very important fact to consider is that most of the teams that quit are from small towns, away from the coast. Having a team there was actually one of the few ways to put their town “on the map,” attracting visitors, and in this way bridging (somewhat) a tremendous development gap that exists between the coastal areas and rural areas (Note: Should we really speak about coastal and rural areas in a country that takes less than 3 hours to cross from west to east?) It seems to me that only public investment cost-benefit analysis can give an accurate answer to these questions. And how many city halls do you know of that make their decisions based on cost-benefit analysis?
There is also sort of sports politics/management to consider. Does a national league, in a small country, necessarily need to include teams from all the different parts of the country, or should it be divided into say two zones (North and South) and only the playoffs would be played at the national level? To me, the answer is clear: it should be divided. It is true that there would be fewer games at the national level involving the main teams, the ones with more supporters; but, on the other hand, teams would have to make smaller trips, significantly decreasing their annual expenses. (Do not forget that in Portugal/Europe, highways involve the payment of (very!) high tolls and gasoline is expensive!)
Another question to consider with regard to sports politics…the top two teams of the championship had great (great!) teams, with several excellent players. You know what that means, right? Correct, very high budgets! So what does this mean? It means that they won maybe three quarters of the season games very easily and only towards the semifinals did they really have to play their best. How can you avoid this? Well, I have an idea…teams should only be allowed (uhhh, this is a big word!) to invest so much, meaning having a cap in their maximum budget. If you have an ambitious mind by now you are thinking: Wait a second, where does my ambition fit with your idea? Let me reply with another question: Do you really want your ambitious team to be involved in a 2 team league? Don’t smaller teams/towns have the right to dream about having a team in first league? No team left behind…
What about the nationality of the players? If you are open-minded, you might think: I don’t care, we live in a globalized world, where human beings/players should have the freedom of movements that they want. Ok, sounds great…but here is the reality: some of the teams that quit, in their initial 5 players had…5 Brazilians players (which by the way are fabulous!) and the same phenomenon is happening at the national team level…how would you feel if the US indoor soccer national team would play the next Olympics with 5 initial players born in…Brazil? In Mexico? In Canada?
The last point that I would like to discuss involves a bigger scale. It has been all over the news that Portugal needs a bailout from the EU/IMF/ECB to get out of a recession situation. Going straight to the point: should soccer teams (either indoor or regular) be allowed to have budgets as high as they want, when the rest of the country struggles to pay the credit that it has received? Well of course, some might say, considering that public and private economies have nothing to do with each other. You might want to re-read the last sentence and spend a couple of seconds reconsidering…Are public and private economies really separate from each other? Can we simply ignore the connection between public and private economies in a country? Lets see if I got this right: every single penny of public investment in Portugal (and Greece…) will have to be authorized by the EU…but soccer teams can spend the millions that they want, without any control…doesn’t this sound at least a bit awkward to you?
Food for thought! I am looking forward to learning from your perspective and point of view.