Belfast Telegraph

Cost of sport spiralling out of control towards a huge crash

By Ed Curran

What have Fabio Capello's salary and the price of a pint of Guinness at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin got in common?

No, this is not a trick question. The answer is that both belong to the obscene economics of sport today.

Signor Capello earned £24m during his four failed years as England coach.

I gave the barman a €10 note for two pints at the Ireland versus Wales encounter and he asked me for 80 cents more.

Different sports, different costs but in the end the same message - Capello and my pint are both part of the seemingly uncontrollable cost of professional sport in these days of deep austerity for the people who pay to spectate.

The rugby train special to Dublin passed by umpteen soulless housing estates and apartment blocks in which tens of thousands of Irish people are trapped in negative equity. No doubt across Europe the scenes are the same yet the poorer the country or city, the more expensively extravagant seems to be the international sports arena.

The skyline of Dublin is a financial fairyland. Within a couple of miles of one another stand Croke Park and the Perspex palace of the Aviva stadium.

Across Europe, the Greeks, the Spanish and Fabio Capello's native Italy are all in the same Costa Concordia boat, their economies listing desperately to starboard.

However, tell that to Real Madrid, the richest soccer club in Europe, standing at the heart of one of the poorest countries.

Or hear the turnstiles still clicking in Athens, Milan or Rome where the state of the economy is just as despairing.

They clicked all too sadly in Paris at the weekend for 10,000 Irish supporters who travelled all the way to France, only to leave with much lighter wallets.

Whoever decided to play a rugby international at nine o'clock on a bleak February night in the depths of a dreadful European winter had no regard for the paying public. Cancelling the game with the stadium full of shivering spectators was the final insult. A spear tackle would be too good for those responsible.

Nearer to home and again in total disregard of the religious feelings of some players and spectators, other European rugby chiefs have insisted that Ulster will play on Easter Sunday afternoon. To pot with Easter, the God that is Sky Sports sets today's times of worship and the devil take you if Rupert Murdoch doesn't get his commercial way.

The worship of sport has created the new cathedrals of Europe despite the recession from Athens to Madrid, from Rome to Dublin. If John Betjeman were around today, he would probably be expressing his poetry about Sunday attendance at sports stadiums rather than churches.

Maybe future generations will look in awe at these vast sporting emporiums in much the same way as we marvel at the lavish appointment of old churches whose opulence bears no hint of the abject deprivation of the times in which they were constructed.

That two pints at a rugby international now costs almost €11 or a ticket for a modest vantage point on the third tier of the grandstand behind the goals can be €75 is the price sport demands even in a country like Ireland where 100,000 young people - enough to fill the Aviva stadium twice over - have left their native land to find work elsewhere since 2009.

All of this begs one question. Have we lost the run of ourselves with regard to our interest in sport? The media appears to have done so in the past few days. Had George Osborne handed in his notice as Chancellor, I doubt if he would have made bigger headlines than Fabio Capello, Harry Redknapp and John Terry.

England's soccer future is thrust to the top of the television news agenda, rated more important than the European debt crisis, the ongoing scandal of breast implants or the atrocities of President Assad in Syria.

Politicians jump up and down demanding cuts in public services and bankers' bonuses but who cares about the £24m or the pay-off which Signor Capello took with him on the plane to Italy or about the millions more his successor will receive from the FA?

The same spectators who cheer footballers paid millions each year are on radio phone-ins complaining about "fat cat" public servants who earn less in a lifetime than Wayne Rooney will in a season.

Professional sport exists in a separate world governed by different values. Everywhere we look, the economics are breath-taking. In London what's another £40m for the fireworks and opening ceremony of the Olympics when the overall cost will be £9bn?

Who is to blame? We all are because we have become sporting slaves, like the 80,000 who turned up at the Stade de France on Saturday night and should never have been there in the first place.

Yet, just as the bankers blew it, the property market collapsed, and the Greeks, the Irish, and everyone of us has suffered in our pockets, the cost of sport is heading in the same direction as Fabio Capello.

Out of a job and out of control.

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