Take a Cup and add the World

16 Jun

For most people this is a great time of year. Students are off from classes (Unless they are taking some in summer) and the World Cup is going strong. The international battle to be crowned as the greatest soccer team (football for all fanatics) began right on June 11 and more people watch and care about these matches than any other sporting event. Each match averages 125 million viewers and there will be nearly a billion people over the course of a month will cumulatively watch the entire tournament. ,The final,  which drew 700 million four years ago, will certainnly become the most viewed world event – ever. The World Cup has been a momentous and heavily watched event for now 80 years, but at the end of the day, how much does international soccer and this tournament really matter?

In some regards I see the World Cup as a symbol of unity between nations, a time where everyone is competing on a equally battlefield, every nation that qualifies sends their team to South Africa. Even North Korea, a nation who is sanctioned by the international community made it into the World Cup. While N. Korean is a country that ostracized themselves  into global isolationism, turning into one of the strangest bastardizations of communism, they were able to qualify and send their team to fight the world’s strongest team Brazil. How did they fare? During the match the Koreans managed to score a goal on the Brazilians, who looked so-so and only managed to score two goals on a team ranked 105th in the world. Still there are some disturbing aspects to this North Korean story.

They still represent the tyranny and oppression of their homeland and the N. Korean National soccer team has been literally kept in the dark. When their star player Jong Tae-Se, a Japanese citizen raised in a pro-Pyongyang school, met up with the team and showed them his cell phone, they were all impressed by this cool “new” technology. None of them had even seen a cell phone! How absurd to think that the most elite team of athletes, people in the West who are heralded as heroes and make millions, those people have never even seen, they have only heard about the legend of mobile phones! The team is put in a guarded hotel and their practices are done in secret.

Furthermore, it has been rumored that when there is a misstep on the field, that President, Kim Jong Il will call the national team’s coach and give him advice or warning. These players and the “select” group of fans, who appear to actually be paid Chinese actors are only symptoms of the real problems – a repressive regime that gets to play against freer nations. It does show us though that while they team played okay yesterday, they would likely be better if their society was freer, and people allowed to buy food, they might produce more superior players.

Often times people like to think that the world cup can be compared to the Olympics, but really it is pushing for nationalism, divisions, rivalry, riots and at times the World Cup can actually cause actually conflicts wars, not resolve them. We all remember the Football War (La guerra del fútbol) between El Salvador and Honduras in 1969, a 100-war that resulted from tensions between the two nations during the second round of qualifying for the 1970 World Cup. The conflict injured nearly 3,000 soldiers and civilians and the peace treaty was not signed till 1980. It took elevens years to end this kind of hostility. I know there were underlying issues that would lead these two countries to fight, but soccer did not help. It did not allow for level headed thinking and instead it helped spark a war. The World Cup still to this very day reflect the divisions in our world.

Look at the 32 different teams who made it to the world cup – 13 from Europe, 5 from South American, 6 from Africa, 3 from North America and 5 from the combined Asia and the Asian Pacific region. These teams still show the economic divisions between who is able to field the best teams. The Europeans spend more on soccer, and they have had more developed football leagues for longer periods of time and are richer in generally when compared to the majority of the world. That makes sense, but nearly every nation in the world has a soccer team, but the good ones are from the countries with money and time to develop and scout players, and they also have the basic infrastructure to build a better team. It does seem strange though that FIFA has not tried to embrace more world integration and then you realize it.

This is not really about the world, it is still an entertainment event and they want the most exciting and well known teams, because unlike the Olympics, the whole world is watching during the final. I just wish there was more consideration for team that might not be so well know or popular.  My suggestion would be that instead of slowly eroding away at Europe disproportionate number of team (based on population, not skill) we would have a the qualifying be totally based on the best 32 teams getting in, without having any quotas. While initially this would hurt teams like North Korea, so maybe it would not be good for the internationalization of the sport, but at the same time, it would allow for future rising soccer powers in Asia and Africa to have more incentive to player better and develop better team. At the end of the day it is still just a sport and I really don’t think it is the most relevant or important thing to be the most viewed event in the world.

There are many things way more important than sports and in my perfect world, I would think people would care less about such things, not that sports don’t merit some entertainment value, but as a global community it is sad that the only thing that can bring us together are sporting events. Shouldn’t we care more about G-20 conferences and the United Nations security council meeting and they are more important in our day to day lives. I too am drawn into the wonder and excitement of the World Cup, but that does not mean it really is that important of a global event. 32 teams will play, one will win, some tourist money will be spent in South Africa, but war and poverty will continue, even if some people where amused by these matches.  Sure it is a great reprieve from the mundane labour of work, but I wish our globe embrace scientific achievement and academia with the same level of enthusiasm as the World Cup.

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2 Responses to “Take a Cup and add the World”

  1. B June 18, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    On more fault with football is that, unlike most (any?) American sports, it incites ethnic and nationalistic hatred and violence. Also, you are wrong about the North Korea-Brazil game: http://www.iwial.co.uk/?p=1033

  2. Jon Schwartz June 19, 2010 at 3:11 am #

    Yeah I talked with Ben and he mentioned the fact hat North Korea would surely alter the score or change it so they would win, it does seem absurd to think someone scored 50 goals in a game!

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