Jewels from the comment box
First in an irregular series, designed to recapture those bon mots which are thrown away (generally by me) in other places. This first digression, about nationalism in sport, was posted at Girlfriends in high places, which appears to be now dormant; a shame, as far as one can see. The original post first; beta thoughts after.
Thursday, June 15, 2006 Inger-land
Strange, is it not, that domestic football is an international marketplace, with clubs bidding huge amounts of money for the best players, regardless of nationality, colour or creed...And yet when it comes to the World Cup, football becomes an agency of chauvinism, jingoism, xenophobia and even racism. I confess, even I, woolly liberal that I am (it's true, you can ask my friends), am not insulated from this flag-waving mentality. I cheered as much as the next skinhead during England vs...er...I've forgotten who we were playing...um...i'll get there...PARAGUAY! Yes, that's right, sitting in the basement of a rather civilised cafe/bar in Brighton, cabaret-style, watching a big screen whilst munching on superior pizza. Reflecting later after I had recovered from my bout of screaming at the screen and wishing a pox on Paraguay, it occurred to me that football rivalrives do not reflect or represent the manifestation of deeper-held nationalist mentalities. At least not in Britain. I think football creates or constitutes those mentalities, and if we got rid of national football and stuck instead to the global free market of clubs and players, we'd be halfway towards the ideal international society. In the meantime, however, and for this afternoon, GO INGER-LAND!!!!!!
Gosh, no more England vs Germany. It's a nice idea (and one that would be whole-heartedly embraced by the G14 group of leading clubs, who detest the imposition that interntaional football places on 'their' assets.)
But there are some dangers:
1) despite appearances, international football provides more of a level-playing field than club football. The expansion of the World Cup has shown this - at least countries such as Ghana have a chance of competing and performing creditably on the highest stage. Their club equivalent in terms of both status and income would struggle to have the same impact, or even qualify for regional club championship.
2) The Abramovich effect: rich men are yet to be able to buy whole national football associations. Now, we can't rule it out, but for now, in some senses, a 'purer', slightly less commercial form of the game can be found at international level.
3) Players don't just play for obscene amounts of money, well-tressed WAGS or their own competitive drive. The promise of an international call up is a great motivator.
4) Clubs are not above being associated with nationalistic stereotypes: 'Chelski' for one. More importantly, clubs can and have been some latent hotbeds of far right thuggery, across Europe. Doing away with internationals won't do away with xenophobic (or worse) outbursts, as spending a match with Lazio's Ultras will attest.
And generally, international football doesn't ferment these tense geo-political relations. Scotland and England were antagonistic well after the Act of Union and well before the invention of Association Football.
Does it exacerbate them? Possibly. No doubt modern Germany's poor image in the UK is in part due to the 'ruthless efficiency' in which it has defeated England over the last fifty years. But then maybe World War II still hangs too closely over England as well.
The weekend's events at the Oval suggest that in other sports stereotypes attach themselves to teams from certain countries, and are hard to shift.
But most importantly, we wouldn't have those fetching international caps for football players. And then where will be?