The efforts of footballers and football clubs to aid the fight against COVID-19 has received wide publicity, But the role of their owner/s in contributing to high fatalities has remained largely hidden.

The American socialist magazine Jacobin recently highlighted “How the Chairman of Spain’s Real Madrid Football Club Presided Over a Coronavirus Catastrophe in Nursing Homes”. Spain has reported 278,188 confirmed cases and 27,709 deaths, 8,847 in Madrid alone.

The story blamed erstwhile Prime Minister José María Aznar, his regional chief Esperanza Aguirre, and Real Madrid CF president Florentino Pérez for this denouement by converting Madrid into “the Spanish right’s neoliberal laboratory”. Neoliberal economics implies liberalisation, deregulation, privatization, free markets, and austerity measures for the public.

Construction magnate Pérez’s ACS Group, which minted billions from crony-driven infrastructure projects, also profited from the outsourcing and marketization of Spain’s social services. Its subsidiary Clece ran 61 nursing homes, hospital cleaning & catering services, kindergartens, etc, and employed thousands of ‘carers’.

ACS’ facilities attracted adverse attention for the firing of care workers, a unilateral reduction in their salaries, unsanitary conditions etc, a tale replicated at other private service providers too -- in short, standard neoliberal practices to curtail expenses and squeeze out profits. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of care workers working under substandard conditions were infected as a result and about 10 percent of all nursing home residents in the Madrid region died over the past two months.

The late American tycoon Malcolm Glazer, whose leveraged buyout of Manchester United resulted in austerity-type measures being imposed at the storied English club, also owned healthcare facilities among a diverse portfolio of investments. In 2005, a Milwaukee nursing home affiliated to a subsidiary of his First Allied Corporation was cited for six federal violations. One does not know the result of the company's appeal against the indictment. The current health of the Glazer healthcare portfolio also remains unknown.

The £5 billion Fenway Sports Group was recently in the news for their decision to furlough non-playing staff at Liverpool FC, a decision rescinded after it ‘klopped’ some flak! Fenway is not into healthcare but in December 2017 they were named as sports marketing agencies of record for Steward Health Care to manage and maximize the value of Steward’s sports sponsorship portfolio.

One of the largest private hospital operators and integrated health care providers in the United States, Steward were accused of a lack of support for staff at their facilities throughout Massachusetts during the coronavirus outbreak and blackmailing tactics to grab state subsidies. Doctors also sued Steward for failing to make payments amounting to millions of dollars for services rendered. The company further failed to submit financial information to state officials in 2014 and 2015.

Talking about India, private hospitals have been in the news in the country during the pandemic and not always for the best of reasons. Seventy-two percent of hospitals and 60 percent of beds are in the private sector among which are majors like Medanta Medicity, Max Healthcare, Fortis Healthcare, Apollo, Reddy, Reliance, Hiranandani etc. Many cater extensively to foreigners.

One hospital in suburban Mumbai charged a patient Rs 16 lakh for a 15-day stay, a hospital in Gurugram was charging patients for protective equipment worn by doctors. One Mumbai hospital charged patients Rs 6,500 for a COVID-19 test when the private sector’s maximum charge should not exceed Rs 4,500 and the actual cost is much less. Such price gouging examples were reported regularly from all across the country.

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