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Ronaldo a no show in Korea – Do players truly care for pre-season trips?

Imagine being a soccer fan in South Korea.

You have your local sides such as Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Seoul FC and Suwon Samsung Bluewings. But you prefer the higher quality leagues of Europe.

Your national team’s stars play there, including Heung Min-Son, Lee Jae-sung and Hwang Hee-chan. You dream of one day, seeing some of the world’s best play live.

Then, Italian champions Juventus are announced as the headline pre-season tournament side. You’d be pretty darn excited wouldn’t you?

Australian soccer fans would be over the moon if Juventus came Down Under for a few pre-season friendlies.

Understandably, you want tickets to see one of the greatest clubs in world football strut their stuff.

Paulo Dybala, Miralem Pjanic, Giorgio Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo, just to name a few, will be kicking about in your own backyard.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Usually, this is where you’d see the phrase, ‘If it’s too good to be true, it usually is.”

The only difference this time is that in this instance, it shouldn’t be.

We’ve seen international superstars play pre-season matches across the globe before. English clubs Arsenal, Manchester United and Leeds United sent strong squads to their respective tours.

Granted, younger and lesser-known players were given priority but these stars such as Paul Pogba, Mesut Ozil and Pablo Hernandez still played in front of fans who paid their dues.

Heck, even Real Madrid took new star signing Eden Hazard on their tour of the United States.

They understood and respected how far some fans go for their teams, and that some fans can’t travel to watch league or cup fixtures. They tried giving them lifelong memories.

Autographs, selfies and just the experience of having your heroes out there will do that for fans of these clubs.

Juventus, however and specifically Ronaldo, didn’t seem to care.

Not only was Ronaldo barely sighted during signing and photograph sessions with fans, he didn’t even play!

Imagine taking one the most highly decorated and talented footballers to a country filled with passionate soccer fans, for him to sit on the bench. That’s ludicrous enough.

Now imagine paying to see this match with the promise that he’d be out there playing. That’s where the line is drawn.

Understandably, fans are suing as a result of not getting what they were promised.

The event has gone from a harmless, pre-season friendly to a dumpster fire that the Italian giants have only themselves to blame.

But this begs the question. Do some players genuinely care for their pre-season tours?

Combined with this Ronaldo incident, Arsenal skipper Laurent Koscielny refused to travel with the squad on the Gunners’ trip across the United States.

It is becoming increasingly commonplace in the elite world of soccer and only time will tell if it becomes an unfortunately commonality.

We understand that some players may not want to risk injury and that’s fine. Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea injured his Achilles tendon during a friendly match and is set for a huge stint on the sidelines.

He is one of many examples where a player jeopardises the side after an injury during a non-competitive fixture.

If clubs and/or the players themselves come out and say that they don’t want to risk injuries to their stars, that’s totally acceptable.

But don’t give fans hope for it to be taken away when they least expect it.

Imagine the uproar if Paul Pogba didn’t play any minutes for Manchester United in the Australian tour. Fans would be left feeling totally ripped off, right?

That’s how all South Korean soccer fans feel right now. Trust me, it’s not an enviable feeling.

 

Caelum Ferrarese is a Senior journalist with Soccerscene. He reports widely on micro policy within Australasia and industry disruptions at grassroots level.

FIFA’s mission to expand the World Cup will only damage it

With 166 member nations of FIFA voting to explore the concept of a two-year cycle for the World Cup, questions need to be asked whether too much of a good thing will destroy what makes the competition special.

One of the best parts of the World Cup is the spectacle of it all. The elite quality of the tournament is already being watered down with the changes to the format, with 48 teams instead of 32. 

While allowing more teams in will create new markets for the competition, it isn’t like the World Cup would struggle for viewership without them, as it is the most-watched sporting event on the planet.

The changes to the structure of the cup – with two out of a group of three going through instead of the top two in a group of four – is already challenging the tradition and excitement of the World Cup. If you draw one of the powerhouse teams, like Spain, France, or Brazil, then it is likely your country will be on a plane ride home after playing just two games.

Despite the success of the World Cup, FIFA seems to want to tinker with the competition without any concern for the negative impacts the changes may cause. To build support for this, FIFA is wheeling out stars like Arsene Wenger and Yaya Toure.

Wenger is currently FIFA’s chief of global football development

Why FIFA wants to interrupt what has proved to be a winning formula only has one answer: Greed. More games mean more money. In a 48 team competition, there will be 64 games, compared to 40 in the current format. More games equal more money for TV rights and a wider reach for the game with an added 16 teams.

Combine this with the concept of hosting a World Cup every two years instead of four, and FIFA will be printing money like never before.

The unfortunate side effect of this will a weaker competition in terms of quality. There are always some relatively poor teams featured in a World Cup, but adding another 16 of the ‘best of the rest’ will dilute the talent pool. Combine this with the fact some teams may even go home playing only two games, it will surely make the World Cup a less exciting affair for many appearing in the group stage.

Another factor that needs to be considered is sustainability. We’ve already seen that major sporting tournaments often leave countries with huge stadiums without any use for them.

Engineers Against Poverty say that hosting a World Cup leaves a “legacy of white elephants”, with stadiums built for the 2010 South Africa World Cup and 2014 World Cup in Brazil “hemorrhaging taxpayer’s money”. 

A white elephant refers to a possession whose cost of maintenance is well beyond its value, and whose owner cannot dispose of it. An apt reference to what World Cup stadiums have become for countries that do not need bumper stadiums.

Four cities in Brazil that hosted games at the 2014 World Cup –Manaus, Cuiabá, Natal, and Brasília – have no major football teams to play in the humongous stadiums built for the event.

South Africa spent $2.7 billion to build 12 new stadiums for the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives off an average of $242AUD a month

Polokwane, a city of 130,000, now pays $2.7 million a year in maintenance towards the legacy of the South African World Cup.

Peter Mokaba Stadium, Polokwane, South Africa

Russia is also struggling with issues related to stadiums built for the 2018 World Cup. In Saransk, local authorities are dealing with the upkeep of 300 million rubles (AUD 5.5 million) to maintain the stadium built for the event.

Major events don’t just lead to empty stadiums either. For the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Russian Government built a $13.5 billion tunnel system to connect Sochi to the rest of the country. The operation and maintenance of this underutilised infrastructure cost taxpayers $1.6 billion a year. 

FIFA has praised the joint World Cup bid from the United States, Mexico and Canada for using existing infrastructure instead of building new stadiums, however, few countries already have the facilities to host games. 

By expanding the World Cup to every two years, many countries will  be hosting for the first time. This will inevitably lead to similar cases to South Africa, Brazil, and Russia’s stadiums becoming a burden on citizens. 

FIFA risk damaging their premier competition in the pursuit of greed. It needs to be asked why they seem hell-bent on changing a winning formula, especially one that has already been embraced worldwide.

Bundesliga looks to become the first sustainable league in the world – will Australia follow?

The German Football League (DFL), the body which governs the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga, recently outlined their ambitions to become the world’s first carbon neutral domestic football leagues.

On August 19, the DFL announced that clubs would take a vote in December of this year on whether to include environmental sustainability as a part of its licensing requirements.

Environmental sustainability has been placed at the forefront of the DFL’s objectives over the past six months, through their Taskforce for the Future of Professional Football.

The taskforce, which is made up of 36 business, sport and political experts also looks to focus their energy on other topics such as financial stability, communication with fans and supporting the growth of the professional women’s game.

“This is only the first step of a marathon,” Christian Pfennig, member of the DFL management board, explained to Forbes.

“Our goal is to anchor sustainability oriented to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals as another key factor in our licensing program by 2022/23. Then the following year, we want to introduce incentives, but also sanctions should a club fail to meet the minimum criteria.”

The criteria itself will be finalised with external experts in the coming weeks and months.

Multiple German clubs have been extremely well received for their commitment to sustainability over the years.

Wolfsburg, who are currently first in the Bundesliga this season, were ranked the most environmentally sustainable club earlier this year in a report conducted by Sport Positive.

The report highlighted Wolfsburg’s dedication to using 100 per cent green energy across the club by using bioplastic cups and for ensuring zero landfill waste, whilst offering vegan options at their stadium on game-day. The club’s website also contains a corporate responsibility page with information about climate protection and environmental initiatives, as they plan to be carbon neutral by 2025.

Freiburg have used solar energy at their Schwarzwald-Stadion since 1993, with their new stadium to follow suit when it opens in October. The new facility will also have green energy storage and plug-in charging stations.

In 2010, Mainz became the Bundesliga’s and one of the world’s first carbon neutral football clubs.

These promising examples and many others have generally been taken individually , but the DFL now wants to centralise its approach to sustainability.

“The most important step now is to create a framework for the different clubs that are part of the DFL, from a Champions League participant to teams promoted from the third division,” Pfennig said.

It’s a significant task, but the DFL believe they have to play a role in pursuing the best practices in tackling social issues, but they keep a realistic head in their objectives.

“There is no ideal world or ideal football, Pfennig said.

“We are aware that we will have to adjust our goals, also taking into account the background of an enormous change in all areas of life. That’s why we need a framework and always work in improving our goals.”

The centralised method has been successful for the implementation of other initiatives such as Supporter Liaison Officer’s (SLOs) and improvement of youth academies.

These works, which are part of the DFL’s licensing framework, have been copied by other countries around the world and Australia should be keeping a keen eye on them.

While looking to Germany may be a good guide for improving fan to club relations and youth academy developments, they should especially look to follow their upcoming sustainability guidelines.

Australian clubs should be further focusing on improving their efforts towards sustainability, in a country which generally fails to meet any of those types of objectives.

It may be a difficult initial transition but clubs will eventually benefit from this push in the years to come.

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