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Keeping our eye on the ball after football's £200m transfer blowout

By Matthew Cunningham | 1 February 2011

Algerian writer and goalkeeper Albert Camus once wrote that all he knew ‘most surely about morality and obligation,’ he owed to football. The chances of him saying that today would be pretty slim, I think.

The hours up to yesterday’s transfer deadline saw English Premier League football clubs alone spend an eye-watering £200m on players.

With 824 million people still going hungry every day - and at a time when the UK is figuring out if it can afford libraries – the lack of financial restraint was somewhat galling.

Other words (ones I can repeat, anyway) that showed up in my personal Twitter timeline were ‘ridiculous’, ‘obscene’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘abhorrent’.

Celebrating at the Twic Olympics. Christian Aid/ Tom PilstonThe transfer binge is just the latest example of how the people’s game, loved by millions worldwide, is making itself really, really hard to like.

Exorbitant ticket prices, tabloid scandals, sexist commentators, jailed players – and, yes, even tax avoidance.

Recent reports in the media told how top players were using legal loopholes to pay less tax, effectively costing the UK Treasury £100m a year in lost revenue.

And in May Christian Aid published a report that revealed how top clubs such as Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur were effectively based in overseas tax havens.

None of this is illegal. Nor are we saying football is making global poverty worse.

However it does draw attention to the extent of a global system of financial secrecy that costs poor countries $160bn in lost revenue every year – more than they receive in aid.

As a lifelong football fan, I’ve no truck with the idea that footballers should behave as role models, or that clubs are bulwarks of their communities. I don't even expect that little of the game any more.

At the same time, there’s not much to be gained from taking the moral high ground on how businesses or individuals use their wealth when there is inequality all around. After all, where do you begin?

What we can do, though, is change the rules of the tax game, and make them fairer. And that’s what our Trace the Tax campaign is all about.

Take action!

Act now!Join Christian Aid's Trace the Tax campaign and blow the whistle on financial secrecy.

 About the author

Matthew Cunningham

Matthew Cunningham is a digital content editor

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