DEBATE: Should the government intervene to stop the European Super League?

Benedict Spence and Eamonn Butler

April 20, 2021

Benedict Spence, freelance journalist and political commentator, argues YES

Football is not a normal business. To those emotionally uninvested it may appear to be, but then so might the Catholic Church. To such people, selling a cathedral or dissolving a monastery might make financial sense (if you assume there’s no chance the faithful break down your door afterwards, at which point it begins to look rather expensive).

Football is somewhere between faith, politics, culture and entertainment, but it is only the last of these that is prized. That’s what can be packaged and sold to be consumed elsewhere; the rest is left by the wayside, of significance only to the truly devoted who, it is reckoned, will never turn apostate. This week though, we see that while hooligan culture may be gone, cold, holy fury remains in the blood.

With most traditional community institutions and rituals gone, clubs represent things many don’t actually want to disappear. They operate as church, public forum, catwalk, and substitute battlefield. They provide outlets for myriad human emotional needs; a Swiss Army knife for the soul. At the core of it all is that peculiar British sense of fairness; no matter the odds, in this sport, you have a chance.

Now imagine why a government of a country undergoing a profound identity crisis might be worried about this?

Football fans can be found in every constituency across the country, and in significant numbers. Destroying the football pyramid — allowing the imposition of barriers on the majority to success they can never overcome — will be blamed on government if it does nothing. These are meant to be conservatives — guardians of national heritage, community and identity. If you thought people were angry about cold, dead statues being defaced by amateur marxists, wait until the living, breathing football ecosystem is uprooted for the benefit of casual viewers in China.

Gary Neville and others have played a blinder tempting the likes of the PM into making promises on the issue, because now he’s on the hook, and will pay a price if the European Super League comes to be. The question is not so much “legally, can the government intervene,” followed by questions over the potential fallout of doing so. Rather, it is “politically, can it afford not to, if it gets that far?”

Eamonn Butler, Director of the Adam Smith Institute, argues NO

No doubt Boris Johnson’s moan about the proposed European Super League strikes a chord with most football fans, former players and pundits. But it’s yet another case of politicians getting involved in things that are no business of theirs. And I would say that whichever side of the argument I was on.

Yes, there are legitimate government concerns. Many of our top clubs are listed public companies, so they are bound by competition policy — and a cosy super-league might seem a good way of restricting competition. But that is for the courts to pronounce on, not politicians.

Sadly, though, politicians seem to think they have a legitimate right to pontificate on any and every part of our lives — what we eat, drink, or inject, for example — even if nobody is affected by ourselves. They even tell us what opinions we can and cannot voice.

Democracy (aka politics) is a way of making the few crucial choices that we cannot make as individuals. Limited to that, it sort-of works. But how football clubs — or for that matter churches, gardening clubs or knitting circles — organise themselves should be a matter for them and their supporters, not something decided by politicians, majorities and elections.

Government exists to protect our rights and expand our freedoms. When politicians spout on other subjects, they perpetuate the idea that the majority can legitimately dictate how we live. That’s not legitimate democracy. It’s gang rule.


Written by Benedict Spence and Eamonn Butler

Benedict Spence is a freelance journalist and political commentator and Eamonn Butler is the Director of the Adam Smith Institute

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