Keeping with the World Cup theme, I read a very interesting book a few years ago by Franklin Foer entitled “How Soccer Explains the World” in which he outlines that soccer is not merely a pastime but often an expression of the social, economic, political, and racial composition of the communities that host both the teams and their throngs of enthusiastic fans. I thought it worthwhile to look at the past hosts, winners of the World Cup and the political/economic system that prevailed in these countries at the time.
Source: The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup.
Command Systems not so successful.
According to Foer the Communist countries have the better of the results against the non-communist countries. Played 118 Won 46, Drawn 32, Lost 40. However a Communist country has yet to win the World Cup. He suggests that the reasons for this are as follows:
- Coaches thought that science could provide the information to win games – i.e. evaluating teams on the number of passes, tackles, shots etc. This might work in athletics or gymnastics but doesn’t include the individual skill and risk-taking involved in winning games.
- The harsh conditions of communism also meant that a lot of players defected to other countries that were more democratic.
Fascism as a driving force
The existence and adoration of a single, omnipotent leader is conceivably the best known characteristic of fascist governments. In Italy Benito Mussolini was always seeking to use popular culture in his quest to grasp authority and to convert Italian society, and sport was a key part of this strategy. Fascists took control of football in Italy and by the mid-1920s had proceeded to revolutionise the game, building stadiums all over the peninsula and creating a national team which was to dominate the international game for four years, winning two World Cups (1934 and 1938) and an Olympic gold medal.
Under leader Francisco Franco, Spain was also a fascist regime although it was described as an autocracy rather than a totalitarian state like those of Italy and Germany. This might explain why Spain’s fascist dictatorship endured from the 1940s into the 1970s. Franco was an avid Real Madrid supporter and, according to some, the regime provided decisive aid in the club’s signing of the best player of the fifties, the Argentine Alfredo Di Stefano, even though Barcelona had already agreed terms with him. Franco viewed the triumphs of Real Madrid and of the Spanish national team as in some way
However he did face serious opposition from the Basques and the clubs Athletico Bilbao and Real Sociedad were the only venues where the Basque people could express their cultural pride without ending up in jail. In the south of the country FC Barcelona was the heroic centre of the resistance to Franco’s military dictatorships. Their home ground, Camp Nou, provided an environment for Catalans to voice their strong disapproval of Franco’s military dictatorship.
Brazil – 5 World Cup wins.
Brazil is the most successful country in terms of performances in the World Cup. Three out of their five World Cup wins have come about under military/fascist regimes. Also Argentina in the 1970s and 1980s achieved soccer’s golden prize under the watchful eye of the fascist generals. Since 1934, no fewer than seven World Cups have been won by countries with some form of fascist ideology.
Freedom House stated the 2018 tournament hosted in Russia was not ‘free’ with autocratic control by Vladimir Putin. Same can be said for Qatar where democratic elections or political parties do not exist. Freedom House states that “While Qatari citizens are among the wealthiest in the world, most of the population is made up of non-citizens with no political rights, few civil liberties, and limited access to economic opportunities.”
According to Franklin Foer, in spite of the common modern assertion that civilisation is in discord, football provides substance to the argument that a civilised world order is possible. But globalisation single-handedly cannot be seen to achieve this objective. In order to achieve a world environment where citizens have tolerance and respect for each other the institutions of a vivacious domestic liberalism must also be created and sustained.
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