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FOOTBALL

From ticketing to salaries, football explores power of blockchain

Football clubs are starting to tap the potential of blockchain technology as an innovative way to deal with longstanding issues such as ticket scalping, fan engagement and the payment of players' salaries.

From ticketing to salaries, football explores power of blockchain
Photo: AFP

Considered by many as revolutionary as the internet, a blockchain is a database that is shared across a network of hundreds of computers. Once a record has been added to the chain it is very difficult to tamper with. And to ensure all copies of the database are the same, the network makes constant checks.

Blockchains have been used most prominently as the tool behind cryptocurrency Bitcoin, but many other possible uses from medical records to banking — and now sports — are emerging.   

“Blockchain has the power to be the underlying infrastructure upon which sport functions,” Michael Broughton of Sports Investment Partners told AFP as the two-day World Football Summit got underway in Madrid.

“Much as mobile phones and apps are today a broader expression of the underlying internet so sport can build upon blockchain.”   

After French champions Paris Saint-Germain announced earlier this month that they were launching their own cryptocurrency in partnership with Socios.com, a blockchain company based in Malta, Italian giants Juventus announced Monday they would do the same.

Fans of the two clubs will be able to buy club-branded tokens that come with voting rights as well as access to exclusive content and rewards.

'Limitles potential'

English side Arsenal announced in January they had reached an agreement with California-based Cashbet to launch their own cryptocurrency which would be used to bet on matches.

The technology could also have significant implications for ticket sales.   

European football governing body UEFA used blockchain technology to sell all of the tickets for the Super Cup final in Tallinn in August between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid over mobile phones, preventing the duplication of tickets.

In a sign of the growing interest of the football world in blockchain, Barcelona's Argentine star Lionel Messi in December became a brand ambassador for Israeli start-up Sirin Labs which has developed an ultra-secure mobile phone that uses the technology.

Former Liverpool and England striker Michael Owen earlier this year invested in Hong Kong-based Global Crypto Offering Exchange (GCOX), a global platform that allows celebrities to create and list their own “tokens”.   

“I believe blockchain technology holds the future. It has limitless potential that we have yet to fully explore,” Owen said at the time.

'Bring transparency'

The technology is even starting — albeit on a very small scale — to be used to pay players, which some believe could help stamp out corruption in football.

Gibraltar United announced in July that it would become the world's first football club to pay its players in cryptocurrency while tiny Turkish club Harunustaspor made global headlines at the start of the year by announcing it had carried out the world's first football transfer of a player in bitcoins.

“It could bring transparency to world of football,” said Pablo Dana of Heritage Sports Holding which owns Gibraltar United and in August bought 25 percent of Italian third division side Rimini using a digital currency.

Broughton agreed, saying “having a player's identify and registration on the blockchain could provide greater transparency to the transfer and ownership systems”.

The technology could also be used together with big data analytics, to identify future football stars, according to Olivier Jarosz, head of club affairs at the Switzerland-based European Club Association.

“You can through the data base try to find out the biggest potentials without sending 200 scouts,” he said.

But Sam Jones of the London Football Exchange warned that “you can't insure yourself” against some of the new cryptpocurrencies that use blockchain.   

“You relying on hope and hope is the key ingredient of a bubble,” he said

 By Mathieu Gorse / AFP .

 

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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