IT is a well-know fact, even to basketball-crazy Filipinos, that football—for most parts of the world - has become the equivalent of religion.
In Manchester, for example, Church of England Sunday services are now rarely attended, especially by younger parishioners. In contrast, Old Trafford, home of the world-famous Manchester United team, draws tens of thousands to its Sunday matches.
It is, thus, a surprise when one hears a word that is probably not always equated with successful phenomena of this magnitude. That word is slavery.
Yes, slavery. A word with connotations of squalor and poverty. One that denotes bondage and oppression, and so far-removed from the success and opulence that those in the game now enjoy.
Sepp Blatter, president of football’s governing body FIFA, made the allusion recently in describing the situation facing Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo—arguably one of the game’s best players today—and who is reportedly linked with a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
The move makes good commercial sense for both parties.
Ronaldo has recently won the Champions league with United —an accomplishment seen as second only to winning the World Cup. Real Madrid, on the other hand, although considered “Kings of Europe” for having won the tournament the most number of times, has not done so in recent years. For them, having a player of this caliber just might propel them to their former heights of glory.
For Ronaldo, on the other hand, winning it with another team will prove that he did not achieve victory the first time around simply by riding on the coattails of a great team like United. It will recognize him as a truly one of a kind player that wins tournaments for teams, and not just with them.
Just one hitch stands in the way of this dream partnership, however. Ronaldo is still contracted to United for a few years to come yet—until the Olympics come around to England in 2012, to be exact.
This is where Sepp Blatter steps in and pronounces the player’s situation as “slavery.” He further advises United to respect his wishes, and to let him go to Real Madrid, should it be his desire to do so.
FIFA has never had good relations with English football for a variety of reasons, and Blatter and Alex Ferguson, United’s fiery Scottish manager, have never gotten along particularly well over the years. But this perceived interference by Blatter in the club’s affairs did not exactly qualify as diplomacy on Blatter’s part.
Today’s players of Ronaldo’s caliber are simply no slaves, in whatever terms we may describe slavery to be. They earn in a day far in excess of what even top executives in the Philippines can hope to make in a year. They and their dependents are set for life, and this through doing the thing they love the most – playing football.
How many of us can claim to enjoy such privilege?
The business of slavery is alive and well in the modern world.
Young girls from Eastern Europe and Asia are trafficked against their wishes to brothels in the West, where criminal gangs make huge amounts of money from exploiting them.
Modern sportswear manufacturers realize huge amounts of profit by sub-contracting their goods with sweatshops in China and India, employing child labor at ridiculously low wages. And back home, syndicates employ street children to beg and steal for their benefit.
Yes, slavery is still a thriving business in the modern world. But it would do Sepp Blatter well next time to think twice before comparing Ronaldo’s dilemma, to the real slavery that confronts us every day in our part of the world.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 26, 2008.