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The Ugly Business of the Beautiful Game - How Football Lost its Soul

13/06/2013 15:26 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 10:12 BST

Recently The Independent published a global league table of football clubs according to the average salaries they pay their players.

It comes as little surprise to learn that sitting at the top of the table is Manchester City, which now pays on average over £100,000 a week to its first team players. Just behind them sits Real Madrid at just over £90,000 per week, then Barcelona, and so on.

Focusing in on the English Premiership, the gap between the top paying club, Man City, and the second, Chelsea, is quite considerable at £100,764 per week against £78,053 per week respectively. Meanwhile, at the bottom of the Premiership league table for salaries, is Norwich City, paying its players a comparatively modest £19,434 per week on average.

If anybody was still in any doubt that the relationship between the real world and top flight football was at best now a tenuous one, a cursory glance at these figures should end them. Football has become an increasingly corrupt global business that reflects the very worst excesses of a free market gone haywire in its corrosive impact on wider society. Ostentation and obscenity sits at the apex of football, just as it does in every private multinational business, with no time for anything approaching restraint or decency. It is particularly telling that it is in Spain and the UK where the highest salaries in top flight football are paid, considering that it is in these countries where ordinary people are paying the highest price economically and socially under the weight of the worst global economic crisis since the 1930s. In fact, more than telling it's an insult.

But it's not only in the relationship between top flight football and wider society that we come up against such outrageous and unjustifiable contradictions. They exist within football itself.

Palestinian footballer Mahmoud Sarsak, who spent three years in an Israeli prison without being charged of any crime, is currently on a speaking tour of the UK. During the Edinburgh leg of the tour he was joined on the platform by Tony Higgins, Scottish representative of the international footballers' union FIFPro.

Addressing the meeting, Higgins, himself a former professional player, explained how the inordinate attention paid to the small minority of players and clubs at the apex of the sport has distorted our understanding of the game on a global level. Around 90 percent of professional footballers around the world struggle to make ends meet on low salaries, he revealed. In many instances these salaries aren't paid on time if at all by unscrupulous club owners. He also revealed that in parts of the world players are routinely threatened, intimidated, and on occasion murdered by criminal gangs engaged in match fixing.

It is fitting that Tony Higgins was on the platform alongside Mahmoud. Higgins played a central role in organising a petition calling for Sarsak's release from Israeli detention that was signed by over 2000 current and ex-professional footballers around the world, most notably Eric Cantona. The petition was presented to UEFA President Michel Platini, who along with FIFA President Sepp Blater joined the international campaign calling for Sarsak to be released.

After spending over three months on hunger strike, he was finally released in June 2012. I wrote a couple of articles on the plight of Mahmoud Sarsak and the other 2000 Palestinians engaged in a mass hunger strike over their detention for the Huffington Post. They can be found here and here.

Speaking through an interpreter, the Palestinian described the harsh conditions of his detention. He suffered torture, extended periods of isolation, and humiliation at the hands of his captors - treatment compounded by the fact he was never charged with any crime or allowed to see any evidence against him. He was held under a category known as administrative detention, which Amnesty International has urged the Israeli government to end. Sarsak, it should be recalled, was detained at an Israeli checkpoint on his way to Nablus from Gaza to join up with the rest of his team for training. His description of his detention was made more poignant by the fact that, in the same week in which he was embarked on his speaking tour, Israel was hosting the UEFA Under-21 International Football Championships.

Indeed, it is sobering to think that while the cream of Europe's young footballers have been on display on front of adoring fans and the world's media in Israel these past few weeks, 5000 Palestinian political prisoners are being held in its prisons.

The extreme disparity that exists between the rarefied world inhabited by those at the top of football and those struggling at the bottom is proof positive that the sport long credited with bringing the world together in a spirit of egalitarianism and joy has lost its soul.

If anything, The Beautiful Game has grown ugly.