Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On entertainment, identity, football - and tax havens

This is about British football, but it could apply in one way or another to many countries as of late. Here is a speech by Paul Marshall, the co-founder of Marshall Wace, (and Manchester United fan) to the Liberal Democrat autumn party conference on Monday night. It is repeated on the FT Alphaville column, which focuses on finance.

It's long, but a few choice segments are worth drawing out.
"Does it matter if a lot of money is wasted by irrational owners and that money winds up in the pockets of players? Well, in many respects it does not. These are consenting adults.
. . .
The problem arises when the owners have no shared identity with the supporters, when they are not part of the community and instead of supporting the community, they actually take money out of the club – as in the case of the Glazers (or Liverpool’s current owners). Then we have the reverse of community. We have something antithetical to the spirit of a football club. We have the rape of a community."
One is reminded here of the comments of John Maynard Keynes:
"Experience is accumulating that remoteness between ownership and operation is an evil in the relations among men, likely or certain in the long run to set up strains and enmities which will bring to nought the financial calculation.
Football seems to have proved him right, once again. Marshall goes on to outline the three big purposes of a football club: to provide community, identity and entertainment.
"A football club should not be seen either primarily, or even secondarily, as a means of making money."

And he goes on to look at international comparisons, the corporatisation of British football, and possible legislation to bring football back home to the community again. It is interesting stuff, and worth reading for any football fan.

There are several elephants in this particular room, and he describes some of them very well. But he misses a big one: the offshore angle. And this is where it gets interesting.

For more on this, read Christian Aid's Blowing the Whistle: time's up for financial secrecy, which set out to try and find the true owners of football clubs in the English, Welsh and Scottish league, as well as the Irish League in Northern Ireland and League of Ireland in the Republic of Ireland. As it says, in the context of offshore secrecy:
"This secrecy – core to which is the anonymity offered by tax havens – has hidden the financial meltdown of a number of football clubs from view until too late. Stakeholders, club supporters in particular, have been betrayed and the football authorities caught napping."
Why does this angle get overlooked so very often? (And if football and tax is your thing, then don't overlook this horror: FIFA's African tax bubble.)


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