The World’s Game: Football
The World’s Game: Football

A Sport with Universal Appeal

What sport has the power to create a significant loss of business productivity in England,1 threaten to have half the workers in the Czech Republic to call in sick,2 or create peace in war-torn Ivory Coast?3 Why football of course! (Soccer to Americans). This summer football takes the world by storm, as 32 teams spend an intense, nail-biting month chasing the sporting world’s most illustrious and coveted prize—the 2006 World Cup.

Over 198 national teams have competed over the past two years in order to qualify. Each national team is made up of the best players among that country’s citizens.4 As a result, each team is essentially an all-star team, and the winner of the World Cup can truly be said to be the best of the best.

Without a doubt, the world is watching. Fifteen thousand media outlets are attending the tournament which is being played in twelve German cities, giving football fans around the world up-to-the-minute updates on the progress of the tournament.5 FIFA estimates there will be a cumulative television audience of 32 billion viewers over the course of the tournament.6 On July 9th, the day of the final game, it is estimated that 1.2 billion or 17 percent of the world’s population will tune in to watch.7 In the end, many expect that about 80 percent of the world is going to watch at least one game broadcast, either in whole or in part.8

Football lovers tuning in to the World Cup will most likely be rooting for their country’s team. Since the beginning of the World Cup in 1930, no team outside Europe or South America has ever won the tournament, so fans from North America, Africa, or Asia will need to develop a secondary loyalty. Nevertheless, people are still excited when the World Cup is being played.

Globalization and Football

As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said, “[Football is] the only game in the world that is played in every country and by people of every race and religion, football is one of the few institutions that is as exceptional as the United Nations.” 9 Football may be one of the only sports that can be considered truly global in nature.

As a result, the game is not only a driver of globalization, being a major part of mass global culture, but it is also a product of globalization. Globalization is often referred to as a process that is integrating markets and societies while spreading ideas and technology, yet it could also refer to the diffusion of better ball handling skills or improvements in passing technique.

This year’s World Cup features a number of new countries entering the tournament, like Angola and Serbia-Montenegro. In addition, countries with historically weak football traditions, like the United States are fielding highly ranked teams. Undoubtedly, more countries are qualifying for the World Cup and competing on a higher level with the perennial heavyweights of the football world.

The European Court of Justice Scores a Goal for Globalization

Amazing as it seems, this turn of events is due to a 1995 decision by the European Court of Justice, the Supreme Court of the European Union, which changed the football world forever. The decision, Belgian FA v. Bosman, ultimately lead to the globalization of football by reversing the protectionist policies of European football leagues.

Before the Bosman case, clubs in Europe could only employ a limited number of citizens of other countries.10 In addition, players could not leave their clubs unless the club that held their contract agreed.11 The rules were a form of protectionism that protected European players from competing with foreign ones.

Furthermore, clubs benefited by reducing the amount of leverage players had during contract negotiations and limiting their ability to choose where they wanted to play by giving the club the final say on which teams their players under contract could play for. Clearly, this situation angered many players and it was no surprise that someone would challenge the policy in court. Bosman came about in 1990 when RFC Liege, a Belgian team, refused to allow their midfielder, Jean-Marc Bosman, to transfer to USL Dunkurque in France.12 Bosman sued RFC Liege and eventually the case went all the way to the European Court of Justice.

On December 15th, 1995, the court ruled that RFC was in violation of the Treaty of Rome,13 the agreement that had established the European Economic Community in 1957 and paved the way for freer trade in Europe.14 The court held that the Treaty of Rome allowed for the free movement of labor within Europe. Thus, once a player’s contract expired he could go wherever he chose, without having to worry about a transfer fee.15

Another effect of the ruling was that quotas on the number of foreign players a team could field were eliminated, at least for players living in the EU. As Bosman correctly asserted he had the right, as an EU citizen, to move freely in order to secure employment.16 This forced FIFA to create new transfer rules and paved the way for more player freedom in the football market.17

In the wake of Bosman, European football leagues have seen an influx of foreign players from the Americas, Asia, and Africa. Now, British teams like Chelsea and Arsenal can field teams without a single British player—a feat that was impossible before the Bosman case.

The Internationalization of Football

It is hypothesized that those players who can go abroad to play in superior football leagues, as a result of the Bosman case, will improve their skills as they play with better players and under tougher conditions.18 At the same time this increased the disparity in player quality at the club level, between rich teams and poor teams since good players are bought up by the affluent teams (mostly European). However, at the national level this inequality does not exist since FIFA rules limit national teams to their own citizens.

As a result of the FIFA rules, there has been a leveling off in the quality of national teams. In order to play in the World Cup, those players who play for foreign clubs have to come home to play for their home countries’ teams. They return home with improved skills which benefits their teams greatly.19 Confirming this is a study by economist Branko Milanovic who examined the average goal differential between winners and losers during the World Cup quarterfinals and above. He found that the difference in scores between elite teams (like England, Argentina, Brazil, and Germany) and new participants (like Turkey, Senegal, and Nigeria) has decreased over the years from more than two goals in the 1950’s to the present average of one.20 As such, newcomers to the World Cup have benefited greatly from having their players go abroad. When they return to play for their national teams they have improved their skills in the international marketplace.

In the World Cup this year there are four African teams that have never made it to the tournament before, Ghana, Angola, the Ivory Coast, and Togo. Without a doubt, these countries have relied heavily on those players who went abroad and then returned to play for their countries’ national teams. If this trend continues it is possible that one day, not far in the future, we may all be surprised when we see an African team take home the World Cup.


1 Rebledo, Fred J. and John Henderson. “Locals anticipate World Cup.” Pasadenastarnews.com. 8 Jun 2006. http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_3911827
2 Brijnath, Rohit. “Soccer: The world is ready for the World Cup.” MediaCorp News. 8 Jun 2006. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/sportsnews/view/212556/1/.html
3 O’Neil, Devon. “$0.02: Step aside, civil war. Soccer’s here.” Summit Daily News. 6 Jun 2006. http://www.summitdaily.com/article/20060606/SPORTS/106060044
4 “The World Cup.” Sports. BBCAMERICA. 8 Jun 2006 http://www.bbcamerica.com/genre/sports/FIFA_World_Cup_FAQs.jsp
5 Hardy, Alfean. “Avaya network link World Cup together.” The Edge Daily. 9 Jun 2006. http://www.theedgedaily.com/cms/content.jsp?id=com.tms.cms.article.Article_b87913fe-cb73c03a-1d1082f0-76de3041
6 “Soccer: Billions of people across Asia to watch World Cup.” Yahoo! Asia News. 1 Jun 2006. http://asia.news.yahoo.com/060601/5/sports211211.html
7 “Japan to Draw Most TV Viewers in Soccer World Cup, Report Says.” Bloomberg.com. 30 May 2006. http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=10000101&sid=aQfxTzgBQEHQ#
8 O’Neil, Jim. The World Cup and Economics 2006. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. 2006. pg. 2. www.gs.com/insight/research/reports/docs/WCB2006.pdf
9 Ferreira, Emsie. “In praise of football, by Kofi Annan.” AFP. Yahoo! News. 4 Jun 2006. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20060604/ts_afp/fblwc2006gerun_060604105843
10 Fordyce, Tom. “10 years since Bosman.” BBCSPORT. 14 Dec 2005. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/4528732.stm
11 Ibid.
12 Zeigler, Mark. “King of ‘chaos’.” SignonSanDiego.com. 21 Dec. 2005. http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/20051221-9999-lz1s21soccr-1.html
13 Fordyce.
14 Ibid.
15 Enander.
16 Pearson, Dr. Geoff. “Fact-Sheet One: The Bosman Case, EU Law and the Transfer System.” Football Industry Group, University of Liverpool. 8 June 2006. http://www.liv.ac.uk/footballindustry/bosman.html
17 Fordyce.
18 Milanovic, Branko. Globalization and Goals: Does soccer show the way? World Bank and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 23 Dec 2003. pg. 6. www.worldbank.org/research/inequality/pdf/soccer.pdf
19 Ibid, 16.
20 Ibid.

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