The Beautiful Game Could Be Bad For Your Country

June 16 - Football showing national flags
If you are like me in this one respect, you might be dizzy from the amazing the football being played in the expensive stadia Brazil built to host the Football World Cup. That is, if you enjoy the beautiful simplicity of football, even at this early stage it is ridiculous.

If you too like watching football, and maybe once in a while don’t mind kicking a ball around with your mates or child, regardless of the fact that you aren’t Brazilian, you might have wept with inexplicable joy when Neymar Jr, the 22-year old on whose shoulders are carried the fantasies of the millions of football-crazy Brazilians like you, stepped up and scored that ground cutter. What a mesmerising, beautiful, spectacle it’s turning out to be.

Or, if you are from Spain, I bet you felt punch-drunk after Van Persie, Arjen Robben and their teammates after the final whistle in the incredible game between the two European nations. The humiliation of the defeat must be that it wasn’t as if your country men were playing badly, but the Netherlands were on fire. What must you do, if you play well and still lose, that’s the question for the next game!

Or maybe you are Ivorian, or love one, what sweet victory was that after being a goal down.

I am not totally surprised that I wanted Cote d’Ivoire to defeat Japan. It was as if their fortunes are tied to mine. Although I have never been to that country or know much about it except its star exports in the form of Didier Drogba and Salomon Kalou, I was behind them. What kind of love is this, if indeed it is love?

Could it be that I don’t identify with Japan because they are Asian. That is not a question. It is a a declaration of surprise at finding some of the national-racial emotions aroused by watching the matches. It is surprising because although one is aware of it is so easy to create ingroups and outgroups, us and them, on the basis of nothing of a football teams.

There is a racialised sentiment to the highs and lows from watching the football then. One might feel that because of their race some of the referees are biased in favour of big names and players who look like them. And that is not entirely false. Referees are as human as the footballers and spectators, and all we can hope for is that their prejudices can be kept in check as best as is possible.

Just as white countries excluded black countries and black sportsmen from competing as equals in football and many sports, there might be ay times a feeling in black spectators that may arise from the subconscious mind, when the heart beats faster on behalf of black players, even when they play for France, Colombia, and not only the Ivoirians. That is what a football competition at the level of nations does to our hearts.

Actually, it turns out to be fortuitous for me that our national team failed to make it to Brazil. I can revel in the football without intense emotions getting in the way. Having your country represented in the tournament can be an impudent to the full enjoyment of the game.

Isn’t that what the World Cup wants us to experience too: intense national sentiment? What do you think the singing of the national sentiment, the flag, the colours, are all about? We are meant to forget our problems with the governments in our countries, get behind the nation, and recognise ourselves as parts of a more or less united nations among other nations of the world.

Even though it correctly exhorts us to say no to racism, the World Cup perpetuates nationalism. It is a supposedly good form of nationalism. But there is no good nationalism, certainly if it is not our kind of nationalism. The ‘good nationalism’ in sports depends on other kinds of overly chauvinistic patriotism. And if we can’t beat them on the sports field, we can always send in the troops, drones, missionaries, including the cultural ones, and the corporations.

There is no denying that there a positive aspects to the nations playing with each other. Although it takes more than black and white faces in a national team to make a society welcoming to newcomers, the more a team because multiracial the more it might go towards making the nation in the public mind’s more multi-cultural.

And so there is more to the Football World Cup taking place in Brazil at the moment than the simple and beautiful game being played on the green pitches. Some of that, maybe even most of what’s taking place, is ugly. You have cities and nations left with headache of what do with the stadia when the tournament is over. Some countries have opted to demolish the stadia after the games are done. There is the never-ending smell of corruption scandals that have dogged FIFA for years. And, one more, the national pride that is being put to use to drug us into believing that the World Cup is mainly about football is not a straightforward beautiful matter.
June 16 - Sep Blatter

The fact is that the power that FIFA wields over football and World Cup host countries may not be entirely good for football. It is certainly self-aggrandising power that Sepp Blatter and FIFA executive members wield over national hosts. They make countries build infrastructure that is not needed or urgent by the hosts, building new stadia, airports, rail that are not geared towards the development of most of a society. Countries like Brazil, just like South Africa in 2010, tend to be left with billions of dollars in bills. Guess who pays. The poor, working class, and middles class.

The unspoken sentiment shared by host governments and FIFA seems to be that those who would rather have liveable societies instead of spectacles such as the World Cup can wait while we enjoy the football.

It is as if those who make decisions to bid and host the football tournament believe that those who desperately need good schools and universities can wait for a few more years, because, well, they have been waiting for many years. They can do without the health services, sanitation, and decent housing until we have had fun. They can hold on for a few more years for the clean free water, electricity, and information and communication technology, they can wait for a few more years because this Cup is important for the image of the nation.

I enjoy football. I don’t want to spoil your fun. However, that does not mean we have to be so out of it not to be conscious of the fact that there are ugly truth about FIFA,  politicians and national football administrators around hosting the World Cup.


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