Earlier this week, the German football journalist Ronald Reng has asked a question that concerns all football fans and supporters. Could it be that there is too much football? Could it be that other sports are pushed away by soccer?
His point needs some further context.
Last Sunday the citizens of Hamburg were asked to vote whether or not they want the city to apply to become a host city candidate for the 2024 Olympics. The result was that a small majority voted against the application. They did so with some justification. Their reasoning was to vote against Olympic Games but for their city to be refurbished. They voted for urban redevelopment instead of glitzy new venues that may become white elephants as soon as the Olympic Flame has been extinguished. This sounds a very reasonable No. And it surely is.
Recent incarnations of the Olympics have shown that the Games are nothing but megalomaniac events that burden the tax payers excessively for no evident benefit to the public. On top of that there appears to be a general mistrust towards international sporting organizations such as FIFA and IOC.
Reng argued somewhat differently.
His point is that the no campaign won because any other sports except do not interest the public any more. At first glance this may be true. Any look in any newspaper – online or printed – will confirm Reng’s view. Football dominates the sports pages and often spreads into other sections. Rarely does this happen to other sports, only during peak times, this changes, mostly when a major sporting event takes place … such as the Olympics, Tour de France, the Athletic World Championships (provided of course Usain Bolt is participating).
The television schedule for German terrestrial channels ARD and ZDF sees more than two hours given to football; the Sportschau at 6:30pm begins this football feast before the Sportstudio concludes the sporting day. Both formats no longer deserve to be called anything connected with sport but should be re-named in Fussballschau and Fussballstudio respectively. The former is presenting exclusively football, the latter features other sports in less than 2 minutes at the end of the show.
Across the Channel Sky Sports is based upon football; transfer deadline day is a beacon in their programme schedule in January and August.
The argument Ronald Reng brings forward bears some truth. Football is everywhere and can be consumed at any time on any day. The existence of this very blog is proof to that. Part of this ubiquity is football’s simplicity and the simple fact that in most games the outcome is unclear. However, in recent years the Champions League has become utterly predictable as have the national leagues in Europe. Football’s predominant position in Germany is due to the support it receives from the state, which has also prevented it being sold off to pay-per-view channels as it happened in England. Though this did not stop the number of subscriptions for Sky to go through the roof in the UK.
And yet, it is not always football’s fault. Handball for instance is Germany’s top indoor sport, on a level with Test Cricket in England. Yet they decided to sell off their television rights to small sports channels. This of course limits the presence of Handball in the public mind. He adds that Olympic disciplines simply do not get enough interest. This surely is not true when considering the millions of viewers who tune in every time there is an Olympic event, either winter or summer.
Finally, he sees the media as guilty parties. Of course, he is right. Over years, decades even television and newspapers have pushed football and squeezed other sports out of the picture, except for short periods of time. Part of that is in the nature of the football season which commences in late August – just after the summer holidays and concludes in time before we take off to another stint of sun bathing or conquering the beaches.
Either way you turn it, Reng has a point and he is wrong. Football is incredibly popular but to hold this against football and accusing the sport and the surrounding business of pushing other sports aside is too simple. Olympic sports still interest and more importantly, they matter. Just as with the amount of news increasing and thus creating a feeling of being overwhelmed, football could do with a lot less hot air and fuss to focus on what matters most: 22 playing, trying to score a goal, winning a game.
Ronald Reng is a German sports journalist and author of a number of very good books. Among them are the Keeper Of Dreams and a biography of Robert Enke. He is also on facebook.