The Real v. Fake debate

June 30, 2010

To those of you who were worried that I had gone on a writing strike since Italy got kicked out of the World Cup, fear not. Despite the inevitable disappointment with my favourite team followed by another upset when my number 2 (England) got kicked out too, I haven’t decided to take it out on my blog. I have simply been a bit busier, including enjoying the first few days of REAL summer heat with a visitor from college (hi, Frenkel). It’s always lovely to have visitors… in fact, the number of people that have come to visit me or “swung by Paris” since I moved here 2 years ago is really incredible, I never knew Paris was such a crossroads! And weekend visits are the best; I enjoy playing tour guide and re-exploring Tourist Paris, which every Parisien knows is just as beautiful, though much more crowded than the Real Paris, the one only the locals know. More on this topic soon.

One of the highlights of my weekend (apart from assisting an awesome Gay Pride parade, watching Team USA’s deserved defeat and nervously stuffing my mouth with chips through the horrible referee errors in the England v. Germany and Argentina v. Mexico games) was watching Portuguese football fans go absolutely crazy on the Champs Elysees on Friday night (after their tie with Brazil which led them safely to the knockout round). (Note: Currently, they are being  surpassed by Spanish fans, who are causing an impressive ruckus on the streets after making it to the quarter finals).

One of the first things I thought when I witnessed a swarm of Portugal fans stop traffic, dance in the middle of the Champs and jump on moving cars (crazy!) was wow, these people must be real fans, they’re dressed head to toe in Portugal gear. Although the picture below only shows a (very adorable) fraction of the crowd that night, you still get the idea of the sea red-and-green in which I found myself.

Call me crazy, but my next thought was this: how much of this sports gear is real? (official jerseys v. marketplace knockoffs)

According to an entry in the US Chamber of Commerce blog, not much of it is real.  In fact, to date, the South African government has confiscated roughly $2.5 million worth of knock offs.”

Big deal, you might say. Official team jerseys are expensive, and it’s not buying a counterfeit hurts anyone. Well, the blog entry contains some pretty straightforward replies to such questions. Here is an excerpt:

As soccer fans gather in South Africa and around their TV sets for the 2010 FIFA World Cup…, more than just the hearts of nations and the pride of the teams are on the line. Corporate sponsors have invested three years and millions of dollars in preparation for what is the biggest international sporting event outside the Olympics. In fact, the last World Cup, which was held in 2006 in Germany, had a combined record of 26.29 billion total viewers.

An event of this scale takes thousands of hours of planning and large sums of money. FIFA gets a large part of its funding from the many corporate sponsors who hope to profit from the advertising and merchandise sales.

As such, the counterfeiting of World Cup merchandise—like hats, jerseys, souvenirs, etc—and the illegal online streaming (when viewers watch the match via the internet) of the tournament threaten the foundations of this great event. The streaming of games through illegal channels not only steals jobs from the very people who work in the advertising business but this practice discourages the innovation and creation of new technologies which enable consumers to legally stream the games. U.S. content companies have invested over $100 million dollars to bring the World Cup to the living rooms of Americans this year and in 2014, and illegal streaming impacts the everyday employee who goes to work at these companies each day.

Counterfeiting is not only illegal, but it robs the Cup’s sponsors of their investment, cutting into any revenues they hope and need to make on the games in order keep employees and create new jobs. And not only do workers in these companies suffer, but so does everyone else involved in the design, production and distribution of team and World Cup products. These are people just like you and me, trying to make a living based on our hard work, good ideas, and time invested in these efforts.

Fake team jerseys are available for pennies on the dollar in comparison to the genuine article…Often the counterfeit jerseys are poorly made and won’t last nearly as long as a professionally made jersey. Mementos of a once in a lifetime event are not only cheap shams that don’t last, but are stolen goods that steal jobs.

This illegal activity is serious business, and the repercussions are felt here at home. Thanks to the internet, counterfeiters can sell their fake products without ever leaving the comfort of their home – fooling unaware consumers with seemingly legitimate web sites.

As noted numerous times, the problem of counterfeiting is not a victimless crime. The true victims of this criminal activity are the authorized workers who make, package, distribute, and sell these products.”

Before going any further, I should say that in my mind, buying a knock-off jersey and watching a soccer game online are two entirely different things touching upon different issues and legal implications, so it’s best not to get them confused (not least because I have well-developed position on counterfeiting but am still ambivalent about illegal downloading and streaming).

So Internet issues aside, I would like to hear your thoughts on counterfeiting during the World Cup. Do you agree with the reasoning behind in the article? Should we care about the investments FIFA has made in the World Cup? Or do you think that is a bunch of crap made up to protect the interests of sports and advertising corporations? Do you agree or disagree that counterfeiting is not a victimless crime?

Looking forward to getting some replies, especially since I know some of you feel very strongly about this topic…

…which is not all that surprising. There has been much talk about real v. fake at this World Cup, especially now as Sepp Blatter prepares to reconsider the possibility of letting referees’ use of video during matches. Here too, many people argue that relying on video footage would dehumanize the game, removing all spontaneity and authenticity and turn it to a 3D video game. To be perfectly honest, I think we should leave things as they are, or how they’ve always been, with soccer being a real game of skill and fitness and surprises and, let’s face it, luck. I would be sad to see soccer lose its charm and become more robotic for the sake of standardized fairness. I’ll take a soccer player crying real tears of frustration to watching boring televised post-match debates anytime (people will have nothing to complain about if the game suddenly becomes fair!)

In any case, I look forward to hearing your opinion on those fake jerseys. In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m not a knock-off supporter (and with good reason). But despite the origin of their gear, I couldn’t take my eyes off of this gorgeous Portuguese family the other day. They may not have been wearing authentic jerseys but they were die-hard Portugal fans nonetheless! Wonder how they’re feeling tonight after their Iberian neighbours woke them up from their World Cup dream.

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One Response to “The Real v. Fake debate”

  1. Otrebla said

    In fact this event does not spin around jerseys only. On that subject I can even agree with your position.
    On the other hand, I am (and used to be) sick and tired of that crazy multi-millionaire circus which they still dare to call “sport”.
    I believe the only real surviving football is at home in townships, slums and favelas, where enthusiastic guys still play for fun. They happily kick home-made balls totally devoid of technology, and they don’t complain about their unpredictable bouncings, due to altitude, air density/humidity, and other similar arguments which keep hords of TV-experts busy with useless reports. Unfortunately, soon after the end of the WCup, a new 9-month round of football games will occupy again so much of the TV broadcast.

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