From the press box of the Parc Des Princes, Georges Dominique, a doyen of French sports journalism and veteran of multiple World Cups and Olympic Games, was gesticulating heavily as he watched Paris Saint-Germain take on Nice in April. His arms aloft, he found it hard to contain himself – neither in admiration of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s preposterous hat-trick for PSG, nor in adulation of Hatim Ben Arfa’s neat consolation strike for visitors Nice. No, he was both in an awe and disdain of the larger-than-life spectacle he had been following for a lifetime.

“This is bread and circuses!” shouted Dominique. He leaned forward, titled his head and then dramatically pointed his fingers towards the stands, drawing an illusionary arc over the stadium. “Plebeian fodder, bread and circuses, and it will be so at Euro 2016!” he rallied again, but the delirious “ooohs” and “aahhhs” of the fans drowned out his vociferous cry.

The many undulations of the game hypnotised the PSG fans inside the ground, but Dominque’s lone voice posed a poignant question: has the global game descended into "bread and circuses"?

Distracting the masses

The query is even more relevant now, a day after Portugal won Euro 2016. They had finished third in the group stage which, in previous tournament, would have put them on an early flight home. But since this tournament had expanded to 24 teams, the top-placed third teams got through to the second round and Portugal ultimately to the title.

Roman poet Juvenal coined the phrase “bread and circuses” to describe a form of social order, where those at the top keep their power, wealth and peace through a distraction of the masses by trivial spectacles. In truth, Juvenal’s aim was to chastise his fellow elite men, in a cheeky manner, for having let power slip from an oligarchy to a monarchy a few decades earlier. The poet had neither the intention of commiserating the masses nor the discourse of a fairer power balance among Romans.

The games-giving wasn’t to anesthetise the Romans, but rather the political leaders wanted their actions checked. In funding games, a social peace was enhanced. Today, the idea of football as a tacit social contract does not apply, rather the game has become a vehicle for corporatism and garish neo-liberalism.

A cash cow

The European Championship with 24 participants, a cynical trade-off between money and footballing quality, neatly plays into that economic ideology. At Euro 2012, organisers Uefa made €1.3 billion in revenue. At Euro 2016, that figure went up to €1.93 billion, a rise of 34 %. Uefa’s net profit is €830 million, with €600 million allocated to the 55 member associations for the 2016-2020 period.

The newly expanded version of the tournament, up from 16 participants, was a brainchild of the derided former Uefa president Michel Platini. The Frenchman wasn’t particularly concerned with the development of the game in dwarf countries, the likes of Albania, Iceland and Wales, who all participated in France and enjoyed their moment under the sunshine. In actuality, Platini needed their votes to cement his power-base. Like many football officials, Platini craved power and money, and slowly he became addicted to both.

But Uefa – liberally pronounced Uefaaah – decided that their Euro needed to be more Euro-centric. Twenty-four participants allowed for 20 more matches, 51 instead of 31. The revenue was boosted by €1 billion from TV rights, or €200,000 for every single minute, €480 million from sponsorship and licensing, and €400 million from ticketing and hospitality. In turn, Uefaaah may well be an exclamation of joyful European football administrators, who will preside over €230 million to cover their organisational costs.

Corporate totalitarianism

The giant TV fees, with matches screened from Fiji to Uruguay and from Kolkata to Los Angeles, were boosted by the appearances of global stars: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gareth Bale and Robert Lewandowski all participated courtesy of the new tournament format, but were lone stars in mediocre teams Sweden, Wales and Poland respectively. The final was a match-up between Portugal's super athlete Cristiano Ronaldo and France's poster boy Antoine Griezmann.

That sex-appeal has commercial partners drooling and dripping. Uefa had 10 exclusive sponsors for the tournament, including two newbies, Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil company and Turkish Airlines, who jetted in plenty of VIPs, a feature of recent tournaments.

Ordinary fans slogged their way through the host country in Ukraine and Poland, which was an arduous task logistically. In France, fans forked out extortionate money for hotels, transports and food, yet again. It delights Uefa and its world of corporate totalitarianism – pay with the right credit card, drink the right branded soda inside the venues and their perimeters. Supporters are merely a herd to be milked. Ultimately, major football tournaments are really designed for corporate yield.

Gianni Infantino, the new Fifa president and former right-hand of Platini, was not even referenced at Uefa’s closing press conference, but he was, in large part, responsible for the European body’s commercial contracts for Euro 2016 as the secretary general at the time. He proposes to expand the World Cup to 40 participants, again not born out of philanthropic consideration for smaller countries, but merely to gain their allegiance and stretch Fifa’s cash cow to the maximum.

It would be another step up on the ladder of corporate totalitarianism, not that Fifa, or for that matter Uefa, would mind, as long as demand exceeds offer. For Euro 2016’s final, however, tickets in Category 1 and Category 2 were still available, with hours to go before kick-off, at a cost of €595 and €895. At least in ancient Rome, the "Games" were free of charge.