There has been a bit of recent news lately suggesting international football* considerations are making the divisions between states greater, supporting the idea that sports might not be the path to peace and reconciliation. While a few cases cannot disprove an idea, recent moves point in a troubling direction for the theory that we can settle differences between states on the football pitch. Relating back to early theories of functionalism, any form of cooperation, even on the sports pitch, might be beneficial to countries at odds with each other. The communication provided through spectacular sporting events might provide pathways for peace. Others might argue that fighting it out on the pitch is better than fighting with guns and bullets. While these ideas might be true in the abstract, it is tough to consider the viability of such proposals if states fail to even meet on the pitch in the first place.
I’ve been traveling in the Middle East and Europe for the past month and watched all, or parts of, 15 World Cup games in ten or so cities — including a kibbutz in northern Israel — with commentary in at least seven languages. I watched the games –mostly in bars — with Algerians, Mexicans, Germans, Italians, Palestinians, Israelis, French, Australians, etc…. I also watched kids playing and dreaming of their own World Cup on street corners, parks, and alleyways in most places I visited. Truly a joy to watch — especially in so many different places.
So, it’s been a bit of an adjustment since returning to the US a few days ago. On Friday, I got into my car and turned on WEEI Sports Radio in Boston and home of the Red Sox broadcasts — the morning show hosts (both right wingers who often plunge into political diatribes) were in the middle of a nasty rant against soccer and the World Cup. The hostility was striking and reminded me of Franklin Foer’s book How Soccer Explains the World. Foer argues that globalization, in part, explains the hostility by many in the US towards soccer because it is seen as part of “the rest of the world’s program” and a threat to American culture and pastimes — so be it.
My favorite book on the topic though is National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer by Stefan Symanski and Andrew Zimbalist. Both are economists and the book lays out the historical evolution of the organizational structures of modern baseball in the US and soccer in Europe and South America. It provides an interesting cross-cultural comparision of how these organizational structures and subsequent financing and marketing in earlier eras created the identities and cultural claims and of each pastime. It also has an excellent analysis of the mega-businesses that now control both sports across the globe. Worth a read.
In the meantime, they’ll be celebrating in Madrid tonight!