Football still has time to avoid the fate of other sports...
On the same day that the clash between the FIBA and the EuroLeague played out so crudely the final of the Davis Cup began in Lille, between France and Belgium. Tennis is another sport, among many, in which the conflict between the old order and the new is clear and present. The Davis Cup has also suffered because of differences in agreement between the International Tennis Federation the ATP World Tour, which organises the professional circuit. In days gone by the Davis Cup was the jewel in tennis’ crown but today is seen as little more than a further strain on the already overstretched players and diminished by the frequent absence of the game’s biggest stars. And it faces new threats, from the nascent Laver Cup to the proposal to stage a World Cup of tennis in Australia, before the Open in Sydney.
The federations are rolling out their regulations and championships in a different age. Professional associations, which came into being later, are constantly at loggerheads with their forebears. It has been the case in many sports, to the detriment of the fans who pay to watch them. We all enjoy the major tournaments born of the rise of professionalism, but we also enjoy seeing nations going head to head. Whether it be a World or European championship in any discipline, the Davis Cup or the Olympics, which is not yet under threat but for how long remains to be seen. We don’t want to have to make a choice but to consume them all alternately, like steak and fish. But we are on the verge of a collision that can only be avoided by the generosity of both parties.
There are disputes over calendars and sponsorship money, and also for the pure lust for power. At the moment, football has not been dragged into it, perhaps because its governing bodies feel responsible for a toy that belongs to everyone. Uefa regularly cede to the pressure of the big clubs, forcing the modification of European tournaments in order to keep them under their authority. The fixture schedule is being put together under increasing pressure and tension but the preferences of clubs and national teams have to be taken into account. However, football does not operate entirely outside the clouds of change. The European Club Association, which represents the interests of, among others, the continent’s most powerful club sides, has long mooted their own breakaway project, which will be damaging to national leagues and international football in equal measure. Let us hope that the ECA’s avarice does not lead us down the unfortunate route of others.
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