Is there a sight more obscene in today’s elite sport than the spectacle of young, serious-looking but seemingly innocent children holding hands with grown-up athletes as part of the opening ceremony of a major football match?
I, for one, cannot think of a more hideous sight, for a number of reasons. To begin with, what message is the ’escort service’ (as the ugly procession is officially called) supposed to convey to the millions and, occasionally, hundreds of millions of spectators? That football is basically a game, an innocuous pastime which anybody can enjoy and participate in? Kick the ball, join the fun!
But the adult attractions in the kitschy ceremony are certainly not frolicking. They are well-paid professionals, medically and mentally prepared to crush their enemy (also known as the ’esteemed opponent’). Juvenile fantasies notwithstanding, elite football is no more a children’s game than, say, boxing, marathon running or Formula One. Strangely, however, football and tennis appear to be just about the only sports that have taken to the escort concept. Why shouldn’t the bikini-clad boxing-ring belles be replaced by toddlers holding their heroes by the boxing glove?
It might be, of course, that the escort ceremony’s message has got more to do with money than sport. Maybe the lovely little escorts are meant to get serious about life and start dreaming big. Look, you can become a millionaire just by kicking a ball or swinging a tennis racquet! Be diligent, train hard, and one day you will be the next Zlatan or the next Serena! Alas, for every Zlatan and Serena there are millions of failures, countless would-be millionaires who end up damaging their body and soul by chasing poisonous dreams.
Could it be, then, that the real meaning of the pre-match procession is totally unrelated to sport? It is no secret, after all, that the escort concept was conceived in brainstorming sessions of well-known multinational corporations. And those corporations still ’generously’ fund the whole endeavor. During the build-up to the latest football extravaganza, for example, you could participate in the ’McDonald’s® 2010 FIFA World Cup™ Player Escort Sweepstakes’ and win a trip to South Africa. In the same vein, this season’s UEFA Champions League features ’MasterCard Player Escorts’ – just fill out the application form and dream of becoming a living advertisement for our magnanimous corporation!
Whichever way you look at it, the escort show truly is an abomination. What kinds of parents allow their offspring to be corrupted by the sportive–commercial complex? Is a return ticket to South America for the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ enough to pacify one’s conscience? And why haven’t scholars of sport subjected the unsightly spectacle to critical scrutiny yet? One can hardly think of a topic more urgent than exposing a blatant abuse of young, innocent souls live in front of global audience.
Granted, no academic publication can possibly put an end to the nefarious activities of multinational corporations. May I settle for a modest suggestion, then? By all means, let the kids accompany the teams onto the pitch, but make your true agenda visible by telling the grown-ups to hold their escorts by nose instead of hand!