Only a sceptic would question the motives of the world’s most recognisable footballer donating his next five month’s wages to a children’s charity. Why would he make this announcement after signing for a club that harbours long-term ambitions of challenging the might of Europe’s mega-clubs on transfer deadline day, when he could have done this at any point after his departure from LA Galaxy? Seeing that he now operates as a free agent and thus can broker deals beyond the restrictions placed upon contracted employees of football clubs, David Beckham’s appropriation of Friday’s back and front page headlines could be considered as yet another masterstroke in brand strengthening in the final embers of a career that has been played out with clinical precision and shrewd positioning as he now begins the inevitable transition into his post-playing future.
If you’re not that sceptic, this post is not for you. I’ll hopefully see you next week. If however, you’re of similar thinking, let me explain further.
David Beckham is by no means a bad man. He is clearly passionate about the game that gave him everything he now possesses. He is a great ambassador, quietly modest about his numerous achievements and unquestionably adoring of his family. He is rich beyond the comprehension of many of us and evidently does not need the reported three million pounds that Paris Saint-Germain are paying him in exchange for a mutually beneficial short-term partnership. I have no doubt that his gesture was nothing other than altruistic.
On the face of it, Beckham’s expression of good will should be applauded. Footballers are rarely lauded these days for their selflessness, caricatured as they are as craven egoists more interested in self-promotion and lacking in social conscience. This is evidently not the whole truth. Craig Bellamy and Didier Drogba are two examples of footballers who have gone to great lengths to espouse the benefits of philanthropy. However, such good deeds do not a good story make, but tales of wantaway strikers turning up unannounced at the gates of pariah clubs on Deadline Day clearly do. The truth is that scandal and acrimony will always play better to a rapacious public than any tales of common decency. David Beckham though is a very different beast and if he can use his celebrity to highlight the plight of Parisian children, then who am I to criticise this?
Nevertheless, I can’t help but refer back to the ethical consequences of charitable giving as discussed by the renowned philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. Zizek argues that we live in a time where capitalism, having spent much of its early stages perceived as an uncaring and morally ambivalent system, has cleverly evolved to a point where it now fosters an ethical model in order to prompt consumers into parting with their money in return for the illusion that they are doing something good for the planet. So, when we buy that slightly bitter-tasting fairtrade chocolate from Waitrose, our guilt is soothed by the knowledge that what we spend is re-invested back into the farming communities of Africa from whence the ingredients originated. It would be tempting to think that there is nothing wrong with such consumption. After all, what’s the problem with enjoying the fruits of peoples’ toil and simultaneously ‘doing our bit’?
Paradoxically though, the act of giving can subsequently turn into a selfish act. Zizek points out that while such ethical consumerism may benefit individuals in the short term (and he does not condemn this), it does not seek to address the weightier and more complex issues that are the causes for why a child lives in poverty or why a woman has to walk twenty miles to receive medical supplies for her sick baby. In that respect, Zizek suggests that rather than stroke our own egos by buying organic tomatoes, we should be applying pressure on governments, drug companies and banks to re-structure their social welfare and corporate responsibility models in order to eradicate such unnecessary inequalities.
This outlook of course could be readily dismissed as the soapbox ramblings of a bleeding heart leftist. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is not in the interests of capitalism to bring an end to such economic apartheids and thus the very concept of ethical consumerism and charity is a fanciful one. It would take a monumental change in our thinking on how the world should be run to see such radical change occur.
Thus Beckham’s wage ‘amnesty’ is little more than a hollow gesture. It will not change anything in a lasting sense. What it does do is make us hold him in even higher esteem as we salute his inherent goodness and it allows his new employers to generate the desired effect of opening up potential new markets for their growing brand by having Beckham put in a few cameo performances before May whilst shifting greater numbers of merchandise.
If football clubs as organisations, especially those increasingly owned by foreign investors, truly wanted to make a difference, they’d stop paying footballers unjustifiable sums of money and attempt to regenerate and engage with the communities in which they reside with those funds. Supporters should not be expected to pay for tickets at exorbitant rates for a sport they have devoted much of their lives to. Agents should be regulated and hindered from hiking up transfer fees to obscene levels.
In that respect, we’re all culpable. We all complain about the evils of the modern football experience but I haven’t seen any empty stadiums in the Premier League recently. I’ve said it before, all it takes is one day of organised boycotts of matches and a spark might actually ignite that could see football change for the better. The problem is, like our Fairtrade Coffee, we’re too addicted to it to try and truly change it. That’s how capitalism gets you. It’s not David Beckham’s fault. He’s just part of the deeper malaise. But before the inevitable twitter campaign calls for his knighthood, perhaps we should begin contemplating the real meaning of charity.
Further reading: Everything Must Go: A Solution To Football’s Money Problem
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First As Tragedy, Then As Farce by Slavoj Zizek: