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An Ode to the World Cup

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Posted on Jun 10, 2010
world cup 98
AP / Jerome Delay

A fan of the U.S. team and a supporter of the Iranian squad pose outside a stadium in Lyon, France, before a 1998 World Cup match.

By John Cheney-Lippold

(Page 2)

Politically, this national pride can always be a bit scary. Clearly such a focus on the national is ripe for proto-fascists and conservatives waiting to pounce on victory in order to prove some sort of haphazardly assembled argument of genetic superiority. But I want to suggest that we see this pride as a potential example of counter-power in a manner very similar to the ways struggles for “national liberation” erupted in the mid-20th century. The cohesiveness demonstrated by each nation is usually not oriented toward support of a government or ruling regime (with requisite caveats for dictatorship-era South America, Thatcher-esque England, and Italy). Rather, the team is about the people, of projecting not a state power but a people’s power, a condition in which supporters can simultaneously chastise the corruption of one’s own country while basking in the goal of a fellow national. Often the players of these countries do not come from the echelons that partake in wine and caviar but from shantytowns and barrios, representing a population that looks quite unlike the people who do the governing and that earns much, much less. And the game is a game of the people, the rabble, the masses—it is branded as the “poor man’s sport,” the “world’s game,” but also, and most important, “the beautiful game.”

Its beauty comes from the fact that soccer can bring out emotion that is without comparison, a sense of wholeness with an “other”: that elusive person who doesn’t look like you, who doesn’t live in your neighborhood, but cheers for the same team and feels with the same unmeasurable devotion that you have. This is a nationalism that isn’t immediately creepy or homogenizing. Rather it is a nationalism dominated by fraternity and solidarity. It can be a nationalism that helps us learn to confront the individualizing practices of neoliberalism that try to establish, through privatization and fables of an “ownership society,” that we are first and foremost individuals, that individualism is the cornerstone of our politics and prosperity, and that social cohesion is merely an unnecessary and potentially dangerous mix of mass delirium and the specters of socialism. Of course “can” doesn’t mean “will,” as the potential fear of fascist resurgence is always something to worry about, especially in this era of growing fundamentalism and right-wing movements.

But the World Cup also provides a critique of the world system, offering us countless examples of countries that have historically dominated world events being embarrassed by their poorer, but more talented, rivals. Breathtaking is the David-and-Goliath moment when the colonized beats the colonizer (Senegal beating defending World Cup champions France in 2002) or when a contemporary empire is bested by its ideological opponent (Iran beating the U.S. in 1998). While the Olympics show the clichéd ways that rich countries can develop athletic skill in accord with their GDP, the Cup is never a shoo-in, nor is it a game reserved for the rich. The developing world is the origin of some of the most talented players and teams, not to mention the World Cup itself, with only five Cup finals having been played without at least one side representing the Global South. African teams, while considerably weaker compared to four years ago, hold a fighting chance for progression; South America maintains itself as the philosopher-king of the sport, demonstrating the capacity to both theorize and lead the future of soccer with innovation and precision. And all of this is mixed with the transnational ways in which players play for their pocketbook for a team in Europe but play with their heart for their home country, a process that has produced a mixed bag of skill sets and strategies that have truly internationalized the game.

But ultimately soccer is just a game, a contest between two teams that ends after 90 minutes of play. The passions of a goal, the drama of a close game, and the tenacious collectivity found at each kickoff is temporal. Like any roller coaster or high school sexual experience, people will ask themselves with groaning disbelief: “It’s over already?” And that is at the same time the most interesting and confusing consequence of soccer fandom, of creating a profound and unnerving connection to something that will necessarily end. But the social relationships we create, or the random bystanders you may assault with a celebratory hug after a game-winning goal, opens up a social space of camaraderie, purpose and passion. It’s a space that connects us as fans and (superficially) reconfigures, for only a short time, the power politics of our global order. So go to a bar or a friend’s house and watch a game. Just be sure that if your team wins to try to not be a jerk about it.

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LocalHero's avatar

By LocalHero, June 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWN

Just what we need. More mindless Nationalism.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, June 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm Link to this comment

omygodnotagain

Q:  What did the soccer player say after crotch to face contact?

A:  OH! My gonad again.

Get it?  I’m making a joke about your name.  Pretty funny, huh?

Anyway, what’s so great about a sport for the people?  What’re you, some kind of prole?  If I wanted to hang out with the average Tom-Dick-and-Cholo soccer fan on a regular basis, I’d get myself thrown into the drunk tank every friday night.  The reason that American football seems elitist is because the typical soccer fan never finished high school much less college.

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By nemesis2010, June 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

By omygodnotagain, June 15 at 8:16 pm

” I agree, what most American Football fans will not admit, is that their sport is homoerotic, muscular guys in tight Spandex excentuating their behinds who are playacting rough sex, they have field positions with homosexual overtones like Receiver, Tight End even the team names suggests hardcore homosexual fantasies the Cowboys, the Rams, the Browns, the Steelers, the Giants, the Redskins,the Packers. Doesn’t take much imagination to see what thats all about.So why is gay marriage such a big deal, because its American as Apple Pie and Football ”

For someone accusing others of homoeroticism and play acting rough sex you sure appear to have it down pat. I’d bet that you’ve seen many a happy hour playing “tight end”; which is a receiver position.

You should speak to someone—outside of the showers—about how the game has evolved. “End” was a designation for the two pass receiver positions where the guys were lined up on each extreme—the end—of the offensive line. As the game evolved so did the designators for those positions. In your case though I take it that you began as a tight end and after being rammed by the Rams enough times you just became a loosey-goosey end, right?

I personally do not care for the new rules of pro football because they were changed to favor the offenses and the corporate domination has ruined it by too many time outs. Of course we all know that the time outs are for T.V. commercials (profit) so that the income for the very large salaries for all those prima Dona players can be met.

The key is that corporate ruination of pro-football does not make soccer any less boring. It’s boring, it’s stupid, and it really does suck big time!

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By omygodnotagain, June 16, 2010 at 6:20 am Link to this comment

Gutless
You know nothing.. American Football like Rugby was started in Ivy League institutions, private schools, Harvard and Rugby, denizens of gay culture where being gay was accepted if not spoken about.
Futbol (soccer) has a lot more in common with Basketball, physical contact is called a foul. American Football is all about contact.
I was expecting given the issues surrounding gay marriages etc a thoughtful reflection on why America’s sport involves muscular guys, wearing tight spandex pants showing their attributes with positions like tight end, naming of teams with a western cowboy theme bucks, broncos, clts, rams, a constant homoerotic fantasy as shown by the first Oscar winning gay movie Breakback Mountain (Reference to Bareback the colloqual expression for gay intercourse), the first mainstream gave movie about cowboy love.. cowboys, broncos, colts.. do those names ring a bell…
Why does America have its muscular men dress up like the Village People then grab each other and call it sport.  The elites have always endorsed homosexuality,making it America’s premier sport was
the first step to widespread acceptance.
Soccer/football like basketball is a peoples sport, it has nothing to do with gay overtones, instead it put a premium on speed, skill and the lack of physical contact.

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By "G"utless "W"itless Hitler, June 16, 2010 at 5:31 am Link to this comment

In response to omygodnotagain, I’d just like to say OH MY GOD, NOT AGAIN with that hackneyed routine about homoeroticism in American football.  Didn’t George Carlin do that bit. . . IN 1970?!!  You may have lived in the US for 30 years, but like most foreigners, you’re 40 years behind the times.  So why don’t you take your 99 luftballons and go back to Karachi you frickin’ Chinaman?!! 

Oh, and just for the record, I think anyone who’s compared football with futbol knows that all the prancing, high-kicking Rockettes who play the latter engage in far more crotch-to-face contact than the men who play the former.  Not to mention the fact that the “men” who play futbol take every opportunity to put themselves in a position where their heads get smacked with balls.  OH SNAP!

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By Xntrk, June 15, 2010 at 5:59 pm Link to this comment

I already commented on my happiness at finally getting my once every 4 year soccer [futbol] fix. After reading today’s Progress Report tho, I may have to start watching ESPN 3 on-line to remain true to my ‘Progressive’ Ideals, while getting my fix of, not just soccer, but some of the best looking guys in the world!

http://pr.thinkprogress.org/

Unbeknown to me, the whole World Cup is a Socialist Plot against our Red-Blooded American Ideals. Amazing, all that MSM and Corporate time and money spent to ruin our Capitalistic system. Who would have thunk it?

Beck for one. I’d imagine Sarah sneaks peaks at all those great legs when What’s-His-Face isn’t home, though…

The Brazil-N. Korea game today was great btw. Of course, that’s just a bunch of Commies going up against the ‘Un-People, who also happen to be pretty damn rich themselves. Of course, many of the Koreans actually live and work in Japan, when they aren’t representing their Country on the pitch.

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By omygodnotagain, June 15, 2010 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment

Ethan
I agree, what most American Football fans will not admit, is that their sport is homoerotic, muscular guys in tight Spandex excentuating their behinds who are playacting rough sex, they have field positions with homosexual overtones like Receiver, Tight End even the team names suggests hardcore homosexual fantasies the Cowboys, the Rams, the Browns, the Steelers, the Giants, the Redskins,the Packers. Doesn’t take much imagination to see what thats all about.
So why is gay marriage such a big deal, because its American as Apple Pie and Football

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By nemesis2010, June 15, 2010 at 12:00 pm Link to this comment

Bwaaaaaaa! Soccer still sux! Tiddlywinks has more action than soccer. If you like watching people run about go to a track meet at least there’s a winner at the end of each event.

The best sports in the world are women’s tennis and beach volley ball!

http://www.deke.com/files/images/07_Volleyball_MG_2615.jpg

http://www.funnycoolstuff.com/images/maria-kirilenko.jpg

I rest my case! smile

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By omygodnotagain, June 14, 2010 at 6:01 pm Link to this comment

I have lived in the US for 30 years, I am a skier, surfer, I skydived for awhile, I enjoy exciting sports.  No sport in the world is more tedious than American Football and Baseball. I took my son to the Jets games in New Jersey, and all he kept saying was why do they keep stopping, is it over yet. There is so little spontaneity.  One poster described watching soccer was like watching paint dry.
Thats not true of soccer, the game never stops unless there is an injury, unfortunately it is so apt for American Football.  I think of those days in New Jersey in winter, sitting at the Meadowlands, watching guys in helmets and pads, most looking like steroid freaks, wander on and off the field, and kept thinking surely the Americans could have come up with something less dire than this for a sport.
Thank God for Surfing and Skiing.

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By Ethan, June 14, 2010 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

People say soccer is boring, have you even seen an (american) football game?  How many minutes of actual play in a quarter?  What about baseball?  In baseball plays can start and finish in fractions of a second, one strike at a time.
Crying foul for corporate involvement in soccer matches…have you heard of the super bowl?  Its less about the game than adverts. 

Soccer is the most intense, engaging sport around.  Its for fans with patience and an appreciation for grace.

Most Americans just aren’t designed to get it.  Your loss.

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By ceti, June 13, 2010 at 11:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Football in essence is humanity’s team game. Variations have existed in almost
every part of the world since ancient times, and today, it unites more people than
any other sport. All you need is a ball and a piece of ground and some way to
mark the goal lines. Nothing else—no padding, no equipment, no prosthetics of
any kind, unlike other team sports or an increasing number of Olympic events.
Moreover, the fact that play stoppage is only fleeting lends football a far greater
athleticism than any other team sport.

As such, football also spans nationalities and transcends class and even gender
boundaries (US women’s team the best in the world). What’s not to love?

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By SoTexGuy, June 13, 2010 at 4:50 am Link to this comment

Either you love soccer or you don’t or (like me) you don’t really care either way.. don’t belittle my stance as a fence-sitter on this subject! Indifference about soccer where I live in Texas is tantamount to being something suspicious.. and likely evil.

Probably, the real reason ‘futbol’ hasn’t gotten big here in the states is there’s no money in it.. in the details of it.. Equipment consists of a ball, some dirt and what else? So where’s the beef, so to speak, for the retailers? Team shirts? Heck, they don’t even wear caps!

Compare that to US football and all the gear! Plus of course the medical expenses.. Now Golf.. there’s the goldmine! A lifetime golfer spends a freaking fortune on funny shoes, goofy hats and everything in between.. That’s the kind of stuff that drives and perpetuates a sport in the US by golly! Who cares if some infinitesimal percentage of citizens actually participate? It takes up half of Sunday broadcast TV! That’s how successful it is.

And here’s more proof; Next time you fly into Houston Hobby look down at all that green-space.. what city planning! But don’t expect to make a picnic out there in those parks.. they’re reserved for people chasing little balls and whacking them with expensive sticks..

BUT.. I want to see more about the writer of this article and Brillo’s charges of plagiarism!

Inquiring minds want to know!

Adios!

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By Dar, June 12, 2010 at 11:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The kind of people who find soccer boring are usually the kind who watch all those kindless cgi-fest Hollywood blockbusters.

They are people into bing bangs and not actualy style. They prefer quantity (like in Basketball) over quality.

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Ouroborus's avatar

By Ouroborus, June 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment

RAE, June 11 at 11:14 pm #

+1 Sums it up pretty well.

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By nemesis2010, June 12, 2010 at 11:11 am Link to this comment

Soccer—or futbol—sux! Not just sux… it really, really, really, sux. Watching paint dry is much more exciting than soccer.

It sux so much that if gravity failed soccer would replace it.

Watching the ceiling in a blind stupor is much more exciting than soccer.

A room full of corpses has more action going on in it than a game of soccer.

One realizes just how boring soccer is by listening to the sports casters call a game. When an announcer has to shout at the top of his voice: Oh jeebus on my Ritz cracker… Guillermo also made a goal! He only missed it by a kilometer and a half!” or “Damn that was almost a great play!” One realizes that he’d be better entertained watching water evaporate.

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By Xntrk, June 11, 2010 at 11:18 pm Link to this comment

I am that oddity. An American Soccer Fan. I coached kid’s teams in the late 1970’s - I especially enjoyed the 12 to 14 year olds. I refereed a bit, but was too opinionated to do it well, and often favored the lame-ducklings. My youngest son played both semi-pro, and a bit of pro ball, just before NASL went belly-up.

I’ve driven a couple of thousand miles to watch the Seattle Sounders lose the Soccer Bowl to the New York Cosmos in San Diego. My family went to the LA Olympics and only went to the ‘Football’ Games but, we saw all of them. France won the Gold that year, btw.

In 2002 my husband was dying of stomach cancer - the World Cup was the last big event we watched together. When he was to sick to get up, I would run back and forth from the TV to his bedside to give him a play by play.

In 2006, I got up at 5:30 a.m, and a couple of times at 4 a.m. just to watch some of the best players in the world play a game. This year is even worse - 2/3s of the group play starts at 1 a.m. and 3:30 a.m. here in Hawaii.

It’s not about ‘Nationalism’ for many fans, but about the sheer audacity of the teams and the players. The 45 minutes of non-stop play each half. the flow of the game from goal to goal. The beauty of a pass that threads its way between 4 or 5 opponents to the foot of a team mate who takes a shot. The surge of adrenaline when you think it’s a goal. the disappointment of the off-side flag calling it back.

I’d suggest those of you who don’t get it go to: http://theleoafricanus.com/

These photos of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Bishop Desmond Tutu dancing in joy when South Africa scored its goal are priceless.

The World Cup [I prefer the Spanish Copa del Mundo’ it’s much more romantic] is not about Nationalism, it is about unity. It’s about equality - the one playing field where David still can beat Goliath. It’s about the kid who can’t afford a ball, or shoes, making a ball out of rags - and growing up to be Pele.

Or the Black and Berber Colonials, who are the majority of the French Team forcing the Right Wing Racists in France to ‘eat it’ when they come home heroes. Even worse was being beat by Senegal in 2002. The French team came home in disgrace after that fiasco.

The US has no Mexican players, they’d rather play for Mexico. FIFA gives them that choice. Perhaps in four years a Latin American player will decide to play for the US just to see the Governor of Arizona suffer.

If you study the make-up of the teams, and see who is playing where, you can learn both History and World Politics. We have a mostly white, middle class team who will be considered extremely successful if they make the quarter finals. Other countries have teams from the barrios and slums who have been playing Pro since they were 15.

The World Cup is a lot about getting even. That’s why it hooks so many people. I certainly am not a sports fan. Hell, I don’t even have Cable TV except for a month or so every four years so I can watch the World Cup.

Speaking of getting even, both North and South Korea are in this years competition. Now, if they wind up playing against each other, THAT will be a game to see!

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By TongoRad, June 11, 2010 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment

LOL, the first two games resulted in a tie. How scintillating!

I think American exceptionalism is at the root of many evils, but we sure got it right when it comes to soccer. On the other hand, soccer is so boring that it does manage to make baseball look interesting by comparison.

Soccer, like baseball, is more of a brain disease than actual sport.

Particularly annoying is the fact every square inch of the player’s uniforms are festooned with corporate logos, as are the so-called “football” pitches themselves. So much for the claim that soccer can’t catch on in America because of the lack of commercial breaks - the entire match is a advertisement.

Soccer=boring game for boring people.

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By Luna, June 11, 2010 at 7:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Great article! I think it gets to the core of football. Certainly you can say it’s about nationalism as Raymond above points out, but the author of the article hits it right on target—it is about a different kind of solidarity, a view from below if you will. For instance a big deal in the world cup is the fact that a European team has never won on Americas soil but a Latin American team has won on European soil, the 1st vs the 3rd world if you will. In South Africa football is seen as the Black population’s game whereas rugby is seen as the whites, you see how this is more complicated than a simple dismissal as mere nationalism. As a Mexican fan, it is about our ability to endure, to survive, to battle against the mighty and with coraje do our best. The feeling I get when Mexico wins, is beyond anything I can describe. I remember watching a celebration and they showed a man crying and they asked him why he was so moved. His reply was something to the extent of, “In my life, I don’t have much, but this victory brings a little bit of hope into my life, a little bit of joy, and a little bit of respite…”

So true, for those of us suffering under the onslaught of the drug way and the potential increasing violence by U.S. military forces, this world cup is about us, about our ability to have something beyond the global north, the first world, something you all can’t take away.

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By RAE, June 11, 2010 at 7:14 pm Link to this comment

The author sums it up:

“...its ability to conjure up excitement…”

“...overly romantic…”

“The Cup is also about pride…”

“...a bread-and-circuses moment…”

I guess I’m the only person on the planet completely unimpressed and totally indifferent to this so-called spectacle. It’s downright scary how vulnerable the masses are to emotional manipulation whether it be in the form of mindless hysteria over a GAME or the silly fraud of a RELIGION.

BREAD and CIRCUSES indeed. I wouldn’t be there if I was being paid $1,000 a day, all expenses paid.

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By faydalihayat, June 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i think england will won cup

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By bookmark dofollow, June 11, 2010 at 8:56 am Link to this comment

On the one hand millions upon millions of dollars are spent on the spectacle while the poverty of this year’s host country, South Africa, is conveniently swept aside in the face of stadiums and luxury hotel that serve as symbols of “development” and “modernization.” I think, just like you said it. 
Group A Match1:  South Africa 1-1 Maxico smile

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By Raymond Barglow, June 11, 2010 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Actually, my sense is that the World Cup is MORE
nationalistic than the Olympics, contrary to what this
article asserts.  The teams are named by their country
—Argentina against France, Germany against South
Africa, etc.  And a team’s victory or loss is strongly
identified with the corresponding NATION’s victory or
loss—much more so than in the Olympics.

Many of the other points made by the author are well
taken, but he’s way off on the nationalism issue.

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