Monopolies Choking Latin American Soccer

Like other fans that got caught the World Cup futbol soccer fever, I was elated to see team USA play their games, almost always coming from behind to win them.  I was also obviously saddened to see the USA team get eliminated by Ghana in this World Cup ’10.  Yet, I take solace in that at least USA has been progressively showing some solid signs of improvement in how it measures up against other powerhouses of soccer.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for those Latin American countries that continue to struggle on this arena, that is to say, those countries that are not Argentina or Brazil, among others.  Like many others of Mexican decent, I’m deeply disappointed but not suprised at Mexico’s relatively poor performance in the World Cup, having been eliminated from that tournament once again by Argentina for the second consecutive time.  In fact, the farthest that Mexico has ever gotten in a World Cup has been to quarter finals, and that was only in 1970 and 1986, when it hosted the World Cup.  It wasn’t until the 1990’s that the country started to experience a more consistent level of success, starting in 1994 with consecutive classifications to play at subsequent World Cups.  In addition, since the 1990’s, Mexican soccer clubs have enjoyed a surge in wealth, due in large part to lucrative television contracts.  Outside of Europe, Mexican clubs are currently considered to be the wealthiest in the world, and yet the skill in their players has failed to match up.  If you are a staunch believer of letting the market do its thing with no government regulation, then this notion probably doesn’t compute.   

Oftentimes people complain about how government bureaucracy stifles innovation, but perhaps the bigger threat against progress in Latin American sports has been corporate greed.  Truth is, profit maximization does not necessarily result in better sports talent, and ironically Argentina is living proof of that.  In fact, Argentina’s soccer clubs are presently experiencing painful financial woes, and yet they are still a force to be wreckoned with.  Argentina is not the only example of the disconnect between the uber commercialization of a country’s sports figures v. those athletes’ actual performance in world-class events. Take for example Cuba, which is a much smaller country with far fewer resources than Mexico, and yet it consistently outperforms Mexico in the Olympic games.  So just what is the driving force behind elevating the commercialization of the sport above actual athelete performance?  I would submit that one of the major culprits are the corporate monopolies that function with only one thing in mind as their sole priority: make the most money off of advertising marketing campaigns, wasting time doing TV commercial after commercial instead of sharpening the actual skills of the atheletes.   

So what is the solution? As with any other monopoly that is too big and bloated to aptly adapt to real-world situations, it needs to be dealt with by a force with large enough power to keep it in check.  The only force that can match a monopoly is the collective power of numbers in the populace, in other words, government intervention.  Taking Argentina again as an example, we see how that Latin American country dealt with a monopoly that had a strangle hold on the TV broadcasting of soccer matches.  Their leader, President Cristina Fernández, stepped in and opened up access to watch soccer games to everyone in the country, rather than just the few that could afford to pay for it.  Outside of Latin American, Australia is also an interesting case.  After an embarrassing performance in the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games when the country failed to win a single gold medal, that country’s government said “enough is enough” and so it founded the Australian Institute of Sport.  As a result, Australia went from being at number 32nd highest medal intaker in 1976 to 4th place in 2004.  In terms of sportmanship and specifically in terms of soccer, opening up soccer to everyone and thus grow the best skilled soccer players is key, rather than monopolizing it to those figures that are seen as profitable to make money off of them.   

Mexicans and other Latin American countries that are lagging behind need to get out of their worlds if things are to change, starting with their team trainers, who should be exploring Europe to learn in person the most of that continents’ soccer clubs.  Latin Americans and particularly Mexicans need to stop being afraid of criticizing their own sports systems and for that matter their soccer systems; silence is only breeding complacency.  Take Brazil for example: in that country only the truly best of the best players advance to be the chosen to play in world-class matches; they are not afraid of competition, which is exactly the antithesis of monopolies.  I’m not a connosieur of soccer politics of other Latin American countries that are facing the same challenges, but at least with Mexico I can point to two of my favorite sports commentators that are not afraid to tell the truth: José Ramón Fernández and David Faitelson, who in my opinion have consistently offered constructive critiques of exactly what Mexico needs to do and undo to bring about true change.  José Ramón Fernández has been specially vocal in his blog, posting this video and urging the following:

A radical change is needed, it’s unbelievable how a few monopolize soccer.  We have to look for and grow the best talents, otherwise, another four years will go by and we will be back here on the same spot.  I’ll say again what I have already said in multiple occasions: the boys that could potentially win something for Mexico have not been born yet but are coming … we have to grow our domestic soccer league with better players and create a filter so that we don’t have the unjustified influx of foreigners in our leagues that we have right now, we have to copy of the model of other countries that invest in their basic strengths, we have to have a renewal of our national team and above all we have to avoid the whims of stubborn coaches that cost the team so dearly.

David Faitelson, for his part in his blog, echoes the same sentiments:

Let’s leave behind the hypocricies and apperances: the Mexican soccer structure and its owners need to understand and accept that what happened in South Africa was a failure, that Mexican soccer suffers from an illness and that it needs fundamental in-depth changes, to guarantee that what happened in this World Cup does not happen again in four years. 

The most urgent changes are already well-known: reduce the number of foreigners playing in the Mexican soccer leagues, better quality of work in the development of players and trainers, go back to the tournaments that stretch out for longer periods of time, and place more importance on performance rather than on making profits for profits sakes.  With or without the current group in power, with or without the television stations, with or without Televisa, the owners of the teams have an obligation to push for those changes.  Will they be able to do it?

The first step is to admit failure and accept that the illness exists, which is much harder to do.  To deny that there is something wrong is a mistake, it’s a habit that is ingrained in Mexico’s culture: to envelope the situation in a smoke screen to cover things up.

 As a fan of Mexico’s team, I’m fed up with the state of things and the superficiality of analysis that we get in the major media conglomerates that congratulate mediocrity and with the Mexican government itself that passively chooses to get involved in the process only to do the convenient photo-ops.  I’m fed up with being disappointed every four years, precisely because I know that Mexico can be a winner and has potential to be the powerhouse that it should and can be.  In one sentence: it’s time to rescue soccer from the monopolies and give it back to the people.