x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

The final frontier for sport

Brits like me must be very careful when we accuse the Americans of cultural imperialism, particularly when it comes to sport.

The New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, No 12, makes a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at England's Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The match is part of the NFL's plan to globalise the sport.
The New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, No 12, makes a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at England's Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The match is part of the NFL's plan to globalise the sport.

Brits like me must be very careful when we accuse the Americans of cultural imperialism, particularly when it comes to sport. There is good reason, after all, why cricket is so popular across Asia and why football is played so widely in Africa. It certainly was not down to Queen Victoria popping a few bats and balls in the post, along with a book of rules, and wishing them every success. No, we took our bats and balls with us while building an Empire, then forgot to take them home again.

Nonetheless, it still galls me to see the NFL staging yet another regular-season game in London - the third since 2007. On Sunday, Wembley Stadium hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers versus the New England Patriots. Or, given the financial motivation behind such overseas fixtures, perhaps that should be the Tampa Bay Profiteers versus the New England Paid-A-Lots. Is it not enough for Uncle Sam that most of my weekend is spent lining his pockets?

I already drive a Ford motor car, eat McDonalds hamburgers, drink Coca-Cola and watch Hollywood movies. Does he really have to ram his sports down my throat as well? Will he not rest until I have cleansed myself of all indigenous customs and am simply another square-eyed, slack-jawed, Dallas Cowboy replica-shirted consumer of American sport? The answer from across the US is refreshingly honest: That's the plan, buddy.

The Patriots owner Robert Kraft said: "In any business, if you aren't looking for new frontiers, you will start to retract." Oh great. So now we are seen as a "frontier" - ready to be conquered, partitioned, and shared out. First the UK and Mexico, then the world. Have you ever heard anything so arrogant? Actually, yes. How about the arrogance of Fifa, football's governing body, which refuses to even consider the idea of playing meaningful fixtures abroad.

Richard Scudamore, the chief executive of the English Premier League, mooted a plan that teams could play a 39th match per season in either the Far East, Australia, or even the USA. He was immediately shouted down by Sepp Blatter, the Fifa president, who dismissed the idea as "an abuse of association football". That attitude played well with certain English fans - those who base their self-esteem on the boast that they have attended every match, home and away, since hitting puberty - but it misses a bigger picture.

The NFL's approach is bullish and unpalatable in its naked capitalism, but at least they are willing to give foreign supporters of their game a taste of the real deal, to recognise their loyalty - and, crucially, to maintain it - with something more than a meaningless exhibition match or some trumped up "Super Cup". Like the NFL's plan for world domination, the British Empire was also fuelled by greed, arrogance and capitalism.

Its export of cricket and football to the world, however, was not. It was merely a happy by-product of an often unhappy occupation. What is arrogant is the current cocksure belief that just because we were first to create global sports, we do not have to make any great effort to maintain global interest. If we continue to rest on our laurels, and refuse to offer "foreign" fans no more than the crumbs from our table, we should not be surprised if they turn to the open arms - and money-grasping hands - of Uncle Sam.

Fabio Capello, the England football coach made the surprising confession last week that he loves Mamma Mia!, the musical show which uses Abba songs to tell its story. Surely we should honour Mr Capello with his very own show, Fabba Mia! In my mind, it starts with a young Fabio fantasising that one day he will achieve the ultimate goal of any young Italian: to manage England (I Have A Dream). Fast forward to November 2007, Wembley Stadium, where England fans are demanding Steve McClaren's sacking after failing to qualify for Euro 2008 (Disillusion). Fabio sees his opportunity and calls the FA to apply for the job (Take A Chance On Me). A nervous wait ensues while Fabio waits for the call (Ring Ring) telling him he has beaten such luminaries as Sam Allardyce, Martin O'Neill and Harry Redknapp (Dum Dum Diddle) to the job. He finally gets confirmation, which he readily accepts (I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do). Fabio arrives in England and attends countless dull matches to give the impression he may make some surprise selections (Another Town, Another Train). In fact, he picks the same old faces (On And On And On), including David Beckham, despite his obvious baggage (One Man, One Woman). Miraculously, England qualify easily for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa (Our Last Summer) which sends thenation into unrealistic fantasy (I Have A Dream....again). They scrape through the group stage (Move On), thrash Germany (The Way Old Friends Do) but can only draw with Spain, thanks to an equaliser by Torres (Fernando). A penalty shoot-out follows, which goes badly for Emile Heskey (Bang A Boomerang) and even worse for David James (Slipping Through My Fingers). England crash out (The Winner Takes It All), enabling Fabio to write his memoirs (Money Money Money) and take the next job that every young Italian dreams of: to manage....Uruguay! (Name Of The Game) Will Batchelor is a writer, broadcaster and self-confessed cynical sports fan