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The problem with soccer

Stuck in the past, mired in corruption, promise unfulfilled. No, this is not the Labour government, but it might as well be - the parallels between it and the national game are east to draw. The UK economy has grown strongly, as has premiership revenues on the back of lucrative TV rights from Rupert Murdoch’s Sky. Scratch beneath the surface, however, to reveal the cracks. The UK is living off borrowed time, with high levels of personal debt and unsustainable house prices. Few clubs in football, meanwhile, actually make a profit, save for the very richest.

Britain’s manufacturing base has withered over the last few years. For lack of productivity, read cheap foreign imports and the dearth of young, local talent breaking into first teams. For shady club owners (Manchester City’s thuggish Thaksin Shinawatra for starters), Google Cash for Peerages, where political parties whored themselves to the highest lender.

For intransigence, witness the Labour government’s refusal to consider fixed term elections, its insistence on a costly and draconian ID card scheme that will have no bearing whatsoever on preventing terrorism or illegal immigration, or the stubborn refusal to admit that arms deals with Saudi are anything but moral. Similar charges can be made against the FA, which is eager to present itself as a modernising force. Yet when truth be told, it is full the old hacks that ruined the game in the first place.

It is not all doom and gloom, however. There are simple steps that can be taken to improve the game and likewise to enrich politics.

Better use of technology: Video evidence showing whether a ball crossed the line or if a player is offside. This is the political equivalent of government beefing up the Freedom of Information Act so that arms deal and the bribes that accompany them are opened up to proper scrutiny.

Respect for referees: Only captains should be allowed to approach the referee, just like in rugby, and any dissent needs to be penalised through reversal of decisions or the awarding of freekicks further up the field from where they took place. In politics, respect for the rules and rule enforcers will only be attained from young people if youth centres are built and young people are given fun, cheap things to do in the evenings, instead of hanging around ice rinks with guns and being subjected to continued stop and search by the police.

The American Football approach: The worst teams should get the pick of the best players for the following year and premiership teams should give 5% of their revenue to be shared amongst lower league clubs. This represents good old fashion redistribution – a political equivalent of a re-think on inheritance tax perhaps?

Tear up the rule book: Rugby changes its rules every year or so. In football, it took a century to ban the back pass. How about awarding teams an extra point if they have more shots on target than the opposition? Introduce a winter break and ensure that England football players spend at least two months of the year training with each other. Change the offside rule to allow the attacking player to be at least a yard nearer the goal line than the defender as the ball is played. At the same time, government could increase the minimum wage for young people so that they stay in work, allow asylum seekers to work while they await their hearing – no more tabloid tales of milking the state dry – and introduce an electoral system that represents each party in Parliament fairly.

In both politics and in football, radical change is both needed and long overdue.

A sick and twisted system

An incovenient court decision