One more reason to dislike the world cup.

Today finally brings the curtain down on sport’s most lucrative financial spectacle, the world cup. Organisers will pride themselves on the success of the tournament and how important that success will be to South Africa, the first African nation to host the tournament. We will also be shown the final spectacle of masses of people in Holland and Spain huddled together in the streets watching giant screens, some with tears of disappointment and others with tears of joy, young and old, male and female, draped in respective flags and face painted in respective colours.  What could be more thrilling and wonderful, a sport which “unites” the passions of all peoples from all around the world? We will certainly not be shown the billions of people getting on with their lives regardless, or see a breakdown on the quantities of money generated by this tournament.

To take such a position might see like some miserable set of wretches unable to share the passions of the human race but, maybe, just maybe, it is not passion and excitement per se that we despise but the brutal commercial exploitation of humanity’s propensity for collective delusion and amnesia. We refer here to that unthinking urge to lose oneself in rituals and dreams which transport us from the everyday and place us amongst the gods, whilst, naturally, the high priests busy themselves by looting our belongings. Of course, there is ecstasy in the birth of a child, the triumph of a close one in the face of adversity but these are our experiences- we are not unreflectively living our lives through the actions of others. There really is no we, the people before us are multi-millionaires far removed from our daily experiences. They are extraordinarily over-paid athletes who have, in most cases, sacrificed their childhoods and any semblance of normality in the pursuit of wealth and celebrity (in some cases to quite tragic degrees).

Giving them a good beating, a sound thrashing

This fact is particularly brought home by the link between the rise of domestic violence and the world cup. It has long been established that there is a link (as there is with national festivals like New Years’ Eve or Thanksgiving) between sporting events and increases in domestic violence. Aware of this, police forces in England prepared special campaigns to dissuade perpetrators from attacking their partners during the tournament. Unfortunately, this appeared to have limited effect and there was a 15.7% increase (353 reported incidents), after Germany’s defeat of England, of reported domestic violence (compared with the previous non-world cup year).

Now there are two important qualifications to be made here. Firstly, the world cup does not make men beat their partners, rather that such men are more likely to do so during the world cup. Secondly, the number of reported assaults is a miniscule fraction of the numbers of men (and women) who watch the tournament. Rather what we want to do is to highlight the toxic qualities of investing hope and belief in an irrelevant spectacle of which you are a mere passive spectator; a toxic quality which combines with the fragile and violent nature of certain men’s self-image.

The British Council and Football

In 2007 the British Council teamed up with the English Premier League and ESPN (the broadcaster with rights over television emissions of live games) to “deliver community sports development around the world.” The first initiative was in India. The then chairman, Lord Kinnock, said of the initiative:

“This is a truly exciting, creative initiative. Football transcends race and language among people everywhere. By putting the British Council’s experience and global network together with the Premier League’s great know-how, we can reach countless young people and help to enhance their skills on the pitch, their self-development, and their understanding of other cultures.”

The director of ESPN, was far more honest in his assessment:

We are proud to partner with the Premier League in this unique initiative. Our strong relationship with them has been built on our commitment to grow the Premier League brand in India and across the region and we continue to build this through broadcast of over 250 live and same day telecast matches, production of over 350 hours of original football programming annually and through our unique grass roots programme targeting school children in India.

We are committed to raise the awareness of this community project and create a positive impact amongst Indian youths. With the strong equity that our brands enjoy and the extensive reach of our network in India, we are confident of building this initiative, thus garnering maximum participation and exposure for the programme.”

In short, the British Council rather than promoting something which transcends race and language were promoting the British lanaguage industry (Cambridge exams and overseas study) and the English Premier League (another key UK export).  The British Council maintains an extremely vibrant and well-resourced on-line resource (Premier Skills) for this very purpose.

Their claim that both Football and English are somehow global and neutral is quite patronising and dishonest. The situating of the world cup in South Africa by FIFA (Federation of International Football Associations) is also borne of this same ideological nonsense. The talent of world football, resources and income continues to be monopolized by Europe. The situating of football outside of Europe is carefully calculated to increase its market share rather than share the huge wealth that football generates.

This is not to say that one day China or the USA might not have a league which competes with Europe’s Champions’ League or Spain’s La Liga or England’s Premier League but to suggest that the work to esnure that such a thing does not happen is being busily conducted by marketting organisations like ESPN and the British Council.

They think it’s all over

It was no accident that the so-called soviet bloc invested huge resources in sport and citizens were treated to enormous television coverage which showed these sportsmen and sportswomen achieving impossible feats (often by the use of performance enhancing drugs). In America too, as part of its cold war drive, the Americans also indulged in this same activity. China, the recent hosts of the Olympic games managed to increase its number gold medals from 15 in 1984 to 28 in 2000 to 32 in 2004 and to 51 in 2008. This was of course achieved by huge investment in infrastructure and some incredible extra prize money. In short, these “great sporting events” are reflections of money and power struggles (both between nations and inside nations) . Ironically, it’s possible that the enormous wealth of the EPL and its ability to attract the best players from around the world rather than invest in grassroots football could be the one of the major reasons behind England’s recent failures in international competition.

Universal themes.

For us we will remember the world cup, and in particular the England versus Germany game, as the pretext for vicious attacks against women. We will remember the tournament as an exhibition of greed, hypocrisy and manipulation (think of the world leaders being filmed watching football during the G20, where they plotted further attacks on the living standards of their own citizens, especially the most vulnerable). This spectacle and the manner in which it was presented had a toxic effect on those men already unable to sustain a viable sense of masculinity. The victims were thousands, if not millions, of women around the world.

We would hope that in the coming year the British Council channels its apparently limitless energy and resources into tackling more pressing universal themes which “transcend race and language” and set up an on-line learning resource about the universal phenomenon of violence against women and how it can be stopped. Maybe even set up community programmes. We really have had enough of football and collective delusion, its time to make a difference.



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4 responses to “One more reason to dislike the world cup.

  1. dfogarty

    Believe me, I am familiar with all of these arguments and accept their validity. However, I struggle to see how a difference can be made when the post singularly fails to address the people who will need to be convinced if a difference is to be made.

    If you take into account that the medium doesn’t favour much more than a cursory reading, and if you also factor in the habit we have of assigning texts to preset schemata, this could quite easily be interpreted as dour marxists who simply don’t get football. That would allow you to fall easily into the schemata of Those Who Don’t Get Football and who constantly snipe against those who do. Which in turn might lead to a “class analysis” wherein you would be the middle class intellectuals who frown upon the uncouthness of the louts. All of which would allow you to be dismissed out of hand.

    Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not trying to be facetious: just making the point that if a difference has to be forged, it can only be done so with the support of all of those people who have just watched – and enjoyed watching – the world cup. But what alternative do you have to offer? Peace, love and harmony? I suspect that that might not cut it.

    No – I think we need to give people credit here. There are many of us who lived every moment of the world cup and enjoyed it DESPITE the knowledge that monies were being channelled away from where they were needed; DESPITE the news that FIFA had only allowed THEIR people to make a profit; despite realising that there were many other things of much greater import affecting our lives. Look at the news from Haiti where, according to our intrepid reporters, people suspended their miserable lives for the month. It may well be that we CHOOSE to disengage. Not to allow ourselves to be fooled, but because it is a necessity.

    The zapatistas knew better than to look too po-faced when it came to football. It has many unpleasant sides, but it also has many positives. They challenged Inter Milan to a match, and Inter Milan went. And Inter Milan then arranged for regular financial help to go to Zapatista communities.

    Again, I hope I haven’t left myself open to misunderstanding: I agree with the points you make, but feel that your post could only ever have been written by someone who felt utterly alienated from all that football is (and it is about more than overpaid athletes and the like). It reads (to me) like the writing of someone who NEVER liked the sport or never really understood the passions behind it. And it might therefore alienate all of those who DO like it and who DO share the passions.

    Football’s repulsive side is there because it is exploited by the powerful as a sedative and a profit-making machine. We shouldn’t reject IT for that reason, we should reject THEM. Malatesta suggested that we should never destroy until the alternative is ready to take the place of what went before. I think that there is room for the force of football both pre-and post- revolution.

  2. marxistelf

    Delighted to have you back here commenting Diarmuid, and nice to hear you expressing so well what we believe David was hinting at in his comments (we think mistakenly posted here: )

    Football per se does and should fascinate Marxists, born out of industrial capitalism, capturing the imagination and passion of billions around the world, and seemingly gaining strength under what many describe as post-industrial capitalism. Of course it is of great interest to us. We will not bore you too much, however, with that particular analysis but will return to our main point of sport in general and football in particular as a capitalist spectacle. The Uruguayan socialist writer Eduardo Galeano put it best:

    “Play has become spectacle, with few protagonists and many spectators, football for watching. And the spectacle has become one of the most profitable businesses in the world, organised not for play but rather to impede it. The technocracy of professional sport has managed to impose a football of lightning speed and brute strength, a football that negates joy, kills fantasy and outlaws daring. Luckily on the field you can still see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.”

    Oh for those magic days of Brazil 1970!!!!! Oh for Maradonna’s single”handed” destruction of England in ’86

    What was offered this time round as the World Cup was the indeed the stultyifying dominance of European capitalism. The worst world cup ever! The playing styles were generally identical for all teams even though we were constantly reminded that this was a festival of different cultures from around the world. It was a mere reconfiguration of UEFA’s champion’s league played out by a caste of millionaires that have much more in common with each other than the cultures/nations they were supposed to represent.

    In short, the cutting edge technology capturing the tears of the paticipants, the desperate attempts (and they were desperate) to create images of a world transfixed and impassioned cannot compensate for a decline in true fantasy. It’s the same with most sport. For all the coverage and ability, Nadal is simply not McEnroe and Venus Williams is not Billie Jean King. The spectacle has declined as Capitalism has declined. The golden age of capitalism (and State Capitalism) is over and this reflected in sport as spectacle.

    Having “confessed” that we here at Marxist TEFL are not immune to the power of sport as spectacle (no matter how problematic it may be) we want to key into an underlying disappointment with the tournament. Despite being shouted at by the media in its desperate attempts to convince people they have spent their time well, we want to concentrate on what a waste of time it has all been.

    We want to key into how disappointing and self-destructive this formulaic presentation of sport is. For us it’s like “sports pornography” – Offering a quick unimaginative release for the mostly male imagination. offering men the chance to switch between five scripted fantasies but hopefully ending, arms raised, all-conquering, bright golden ticker tape floating in the air.
    Think back to Brazil in the 1960’s and 70’s as they caressed the ball around the stadium, we didn’t need a commentator (or “four lads” in the studio) to explain to us how breathtakingly beautiful it all was. The fantasy was self-apparent. A beauty in motion which seem at odds with our own cold grey European existence.
    Those days are gone!
    We wanted to concentrate on how toxic (not just stultifying) this formulaic “masculine” presentation of sport as “winners” can be. We make no apologies, therefore, for linking sport and the world cup to male violence.
    You are right that an alternative to capitalist sport and spectacle needs to be offered and maybe, just maybe, it is already emerging but we have not recognised its potential yet. Perhaps, its potential can only be realised once people begin to push harder against the ideological structures of a economic and political order that serves us so badly.

  3. Yes, the 1970’s finals are generally recognised as magnificent, but I wasn’t even born… I’ll venture that you don’t actually remember them either. You may be suffering from the enforced nostalgia of the baby boomers, which teaches us that the sixties were the apex of everything. I advise you to read David Goldblatt’s wonderful book “The Ball is Round” to see how long violence, scheming, oppression, lust for power and plain incompetence have been a part of the game. You are making the same mistake as Margaret Thatcher by blaming violence in society on football itself, rather than seeing the violence as a symptom of the rotten society she herself helped create. When there is no football, these men will beat their partners because they don’t like their dinner. Shall we blame dinners?

    I’ll fall into the trap laid out by Diarmuid….The thing I hate about the world cup is it brings out a lot of pontification from people who have no idea what they are talking about. Football has only very occasionally been about beauty, which is why it is so beautiful. It is beautiful despite all that other stuff, because more than anything it makes people happy.

  4. Hi Darren, excellent contribution to the debate.

    Firstly, we agree that football has always been mired in violence, scheming and oppression. Here, however, we wanted to deal with sport as spectacle under capitalism. We certainly don’t want to sound too nostalgic for the “golden age of capitalism” (already coming to an end in 1970) either. We do want to make a claim however, for the manner in which football as spectacle has become oversaturated since 1970. Remember part of the magic of Brazil was the colour and colour television was becoming widespread in working class homes at this time. Unthinkable, only ten years before. Close up shots and statistics don’t cut it in the same way. Similarly the homogenisation of culture over the past 40 years is undeniable. Without famous land marks you are hard presed to distinguish one European city centre from another, they look more and more the same.
    This is what adds to the feeling of boredom, it cannot recreate the freshness of that multi-colour- genuinely multi-cultural spectacle.
    This is not true of all things under capitalism (video games continue exercise a magic) but it is true of sport as spectacle.
    Secondly, we are not arguing that sport causes domestic violence. We are arguing that there is something in the presentation of male sports (and indeed pornography) that resonates with certain disturbed aspects of a male psyche, a psyche that (in the case of sport) reacts to disapppointment (on a fantasy level) with extreme acts of violence against women. There are multiple causes of male violence but we should take note of the strong link between certain males assaulting women and an unexpected defeat of their sports team. We also highlighted the link between national holidays and domestic violence, too. Not because we want to ban national holidays or sport, but because we want to understand and erradicate, wherever possible, domestic violence. Understanding the problem is the first step. We very much doubt that this is possible in capitalism, because capitalism and its spectacles are an obstruction to resolving the important issues which affect us as human beings. This was the point of the article.

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