Soccer off-pitch

A soccer ball consists of no more than leather and air, but its movements carry huge political and economic interests along with it. If passionate fan interest alone were enough to make someone buy a team, we would have to accept that Silvio Berlusconi took over Milan out of true love. Similarly, self-advertised good intentions and excessive rhetoric about catharsis are not enough to free soccer from its voracious priesthood: the entrepreneurs, agents, paid so-called fans, publishers of newspapers that specialize in nurturing fanaticism and, of course, politicians. Yesterday’s statement by the deputy government spokesman that the government is not interested in the intrigues of sports federations (including the Greek Soccer Federation), and won’t intervene, is as close to the truth as PASOK officials’ statements that when they were in power, their only concern was to clean up soccer. Party mechanisms won’t allow the tiniest club in the remotest township out of their embrace; surely they show their real interest in federations that handle vast sums and through whom they can truly play the game. Besides, the ease with which parties switch their patronage of high-ranking soccer officials – and with which the latter change party allegiance – leaves no room for one to believe that the target is reliability, transparency and other fine-sounding matters intended for pre-electoral consumption. If only footballers played soccer, all would be fine. But others also play, not in sports uniforms but in those of power and money. No matter how brightly the Euro 2004 trophy glowed, the web of entanglement and bartered favors ran no risks, nor will it ever. The big game will still be played outside the grounds. One regime will succeed another and those accused of shiftiness will get the support of their accusers and so can act as the angels of catharsis.