Wednesday, June 21, 2006

World Cup

Paraguay vs. Trinidad & Tobago

It closes the shops. Closes the schools. Closes a city. Stops a war. Fuels a nation. Breaks borders. Builds a hero. Crushes a dream. Answers a prayer. And changes everything.

-ESPN World Cup Tagline

While I was in Mexico, my husband and I were World Cup watchers. I'm not a big sports fan, but wow, these Cup games are really fantastic! My favorite so far has been the Ghana upset over the Czech Republic; now that was a great game.

For Americans who have no idea what the heck I'm talking about:

While it's cheesy, it fits. The game means that much to the world. But for simplicity's sake, focus on 'Closes a city,' 'Stops a war' and 'Fuels a nation.'

Cities will come to a full halt in 31 of 32 contending countries. Many from the 197 unfortunate countries who didn't qualify will also shut down.

In a recent column for The Chicago Tribune, Tom Hundley compared this phenomenon to religion. With two billion believers, Hundley wrote, Christianity is the second religion in the world, behind soccer.

"It may be an exaggeration to call soccer a religion, but it is obviously more than a game," he stated. "The quest for the World Cup, soccer's grail, can humiliate the powerful and make the wretched and ragged of the Earth feel like world-beaters."

In cities scattered across six continents, bars and pubs will be full. Federation Internationale de Football Association or FIFA, estimated 28.8 billion viewers during the 2002 World Cup. Quick reminder: There are only 6.6 billion people in the world. 64 games will be played with an average television audience around 320 million per game. The Super Bowl draws a third of that.

The impact of the World Cup is powerful. It can put an end to a lot of hatred in the world. Well, maybe not an end, but at least a temporary truce. Africa has five countries competing in Germany. Tunisia is the only veteran of the bunch, making its third appearance. Angola, Ghana, Togo and the Ivory Coast are all making their World Cup debuts. Possibly the most interesting of this group is the Ivory Coast, which has been torn apart by coups, rebellions and ethnic conflicts since 1999. When the Elephants qualified in October 2005, the head of the Ivory Coast Football Federation pleaded with President Laurent Gbagbo to restart peace talks. Elections are scheduled for October of this year.

Another example of soccer's peacemaking qualities occurred in 1915 during World War I (before the World Cup started). On Christmas Eve near a small French village, a British mortar battalion sat in trenches 100 meters from German lines. Observing the brief cease-fire, the two sides exchanged carols, shouted friendly teasing and finally met, swapping cigarettes.

"Somehow a ball was produced," Bertie Felstead, the last known member of the British battalion recalled a few years ago. "I remember scrambling around in the snow. There could have been 50 on each side. No one was keeping score."

In 1967, 48-hour cease-fire came to the Nigerian Civil War. The reason? So, the Brazilian forward Pele, considered the best player ever, could show off his skills in an exhibition match.

Read the whole article here.

There's also another interesting socio-political analysis of the World Cup here via Amitava Kumar. Not only has:

"No country has ever won a World Cup while committing genocide or gearing up to commit genocide," but, "No country has won the World Cup without having a substantial industrial base."

William Gallas (France) vs. Cho Jae Jin (Korea)


At 8:49 AM, Blogger Heather said...

I write from Senegal, a country that does not have a team in the world cup. Since the world cup has began, no work has been done in the garden during game hours. We slave in the morning, and my boss sits by a tv the rest of the day. If I bike more than two minutes in any direction I am sure to see at least three tvs set up outside fully surrounded by men and boys. They cheer for Brazil or for whichever team has the most black players. Out in the villages where they don't have electricity, generators are being run into the ground to power the games. Between games, the sandy roads are congested with clumps of aspiring world cup players practicing their moves. I wonder what life will be like here after the games.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger alau said...

That's interesting. They must be going crazy for the Ghana team then? Are they rooting more for African teams or for teams with black players? I suppose it speaks to either presence of a greater Pan-African awareness or a possibly Western-shaped racial solidarity. Kwame Anthony Appiah, the Ghanian philosopher I was telling you about (no idea if he's related to the captain of the Ghana World Cup team, Stephen Appiah) has argued that the idea of "Africans" being defined as "black" is essentially a Western invention, which, if true, seems to have transplanted itself to African villages.

Also, I wonder what Africans of European descent think: do they too root for African teams out of a sense of pan-Africanism? Which in itself can be called a Western-influenced invention. I couldn't ever imagine Koreans rooting for the Japanese team out of a sense of "pan-Asian-ness" or Argentines rooting for the Brazil team out of "pan-Latin-Americaness."


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