British Studies Web Pages



Playing the Game
A Classroom Activity

This activity, devised by Adam Dalton from the British Council Warsaw, is based on a personal view of the past, present and possible future of British sports. The article also looks at some moral aspects of the sportsí industry in Britain.

Before you read

What is Polandís national sport? Think of the names of some other popular sports in Poland and put them in order of popularity [Students may negotiate the order with a partner. Once pairs have finished, they compare with each other and then renegotiate an order. This continues until the whole class has agreed one order together.]

Whatís the national sport in England? What other sports do you expect the article to mention? [At this point, the teacher may then give students a minute to scan through the article below.]

As you read

In the text there are ten gaps. For each gap, think of ONE word. To check your answer, drive the mouse cursor over the blue dot.

British Sport and its Corrupting Influence:
The Past and the Future?
by Adam Dalton

Some football players in the British Football Premier League earn £50,000 in just one week. The average teacher in Britain earns £20,000 in one year. This means that a football player is economically 130 ____times____ more important than a teacher in Britain. Who is more important to you: a teacher or David Beckham?

In addition to his weekly wage, David Beckham gets sponsorship worth millions every year. For ____example/instance____ , until Mr Beckham shaved his head, he had a deal with Brylcream worth £4 million. And his qualifications? Heís talented when it comes to kicking around a piece of inflated pig skin. Forget philosophy or advanced algebra - it just doesnít make you any money.

Like many societies, British society has its morality organised around money and earning potential. And things look set to get worse. The wages of football players look set to rise by 50% ____because____ of changes in the law.

Remember, the current Labour governmentís first political controversy when in power involved sport and money. During the election race, Labour promised to prevent cigarette advertising at sports events. (Research showed that the percentage of Formula One fans that smoked was significantly higher than the national average.) Once Labour won the election, cigarette advertising was banned from all sporting events except for Formula One! Somewhere along the way, Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone had made a personal donation of £1 million to the Labour Party. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, maintained that Mr Ecclestoneís donation was made after Labourís decision to exempt Formula One, not before Labour made its decision. Labour returned the money to Mr Ecclestone, of course, because of the conflict of interest. Mr Blair then maintained that the money had been returned before the story appeared in the newspapers, not ____after____ the story had appeared.

Sport, money and moral confusion. Fans are beginning to wonder what their sports are all about. Access to sport is now being limited to the rich. It is owned by the rich. For example, the Sky television company has bought the rights to all Premier League games. ____If____ a fan wishes to watch his/her team on television, they must buy a satellite dish and pay a subscription. Real problems arise when fans have to pay to watch the national team, a team that has already been paid for in our taxes. Morally, the people own the national team and should not have to pay to watch it.

And teams are happy to exploit their fans. Teams deliberately change the design of the strips in which they play so that people will have to go out to buy a new strip to replace the old one. Parents suffer terrible pressure from kids who donít want to be the only child at school with the old strip - a morally sick society is Britain when people become a laughing stock and social victim for not having the latest expensive strip! And the new strips are not cheap. The average football shirt in Britain is £42. The situation was so bad in the early 90s (Man Utd changing its strip eight times in one season) that laws had to be brought in ____to____ limit the number of changes a team could make in one season.

But the main revenue of teams comes from TV deals. Yet teams do not control the money that is won from TV companies - no, the Football Association negotiates the deal and keeps a lion-share of the money. Any team that does not like it risks the displeasure of the controlling body. Not happy with this state of affairs, Man Utd. is looking at using its own TV channel to televise its own games (though the fans would have to pay to subscribe, of course). Again, TV rights are the main revenue of clubs - TV companies are holding sport to ransom, influencing decisions in sport that should be made on a sporting basis, not a financial and advertising basis. Players are pressurised into playing the big TV games ___even___ if those players are not fully fit.

And there are other pressures on players, pressures that often force players to make morally dubious decisions. Namely, drugs - a chemical form of cheating. The pressure to perform consistently - to retain a place in the team - despite a timetable whereby the local and international sport industry can demand a player play a dozen games in as many days (in various competitions and countries), becomes so great that some players take drugs. Is it any surprise? No. Thatís why football players are the least often drug-tested sportspeople in Britain. But surely they should be the most frequently tested sportspeople? Otherwise, whereís the sport? The problem is that advertisers and TV companies are not prepared to compromise their own revenues by reducing the number of games played in a season. There is an indirect, highly immoral link, therefore, between TV companies ____and____ drug-taking amongst players. And nobody cares enough to do anything about it. Thatís Britain for you.

____Are____ the pressures endemic to such sports, or is someone actually controlling and using the pressures to their own ends? Either way, it is the loyal fans who suffer most and are the least able to affect what happens in the sport. What options are left open to the fans? The most vocal fans are divided into two main groups. Some argue for a fansí union which would boycott events, and others believe in only sending petitions to players and bosses. Given such a limited choice and therefore such limited power, does it really matter what fans try to organise?

Fans mistakenly believe that sport is about sport and human endeavour. Bless their innocence. Itís all about money. Professional sport always has been. Amateur sport is the last bastion of true sport, a bastion that has all but fallen in Britain. Nobody is pretending anymore. Athletics once pretended that it was an amateur sport at all levels - hence its success in Britain in the 80s - but the drugs revelations soon surfaced, along with reports of all the money changing hands - and along with all that the truth finally surfaced. Athletics is professional at the top levels and as much about money ____as____ any other sport/industry. British athletics fans became disillusioned in the 90s, and the crowds now are a fraction of once they once were. Shame that. Nice idea though.

After reading

Having read the text, is David Beckham or your teacher more important to you? If you were an unhappy fan, would you prefer to boycott events or sign your name to a petition?


The teacher puts the students in pairs. One student will be a rich football player and the other a newspaper reporter. The students are going to role-play an interview.

  • As a follow-up, students can write the newspaper article.

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