Culture of Soccer Week 5 (The World Cup: Sport, Politics, and Business)

For week 5 of the class, our assignments examined how the game progressed from a game to a sport to a global event, with tournaments being used as poltical platforms and marketing events for corporate sponsors.  We also read on the ground reports from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Week 5 Readings:

David Goldblatt, “The FIFA World Cup and its Impact on Global History and Culture,” keynote address, FIFA World Cup conference, Zurich, April 25, 2013

Alegi and Bolsmann, Africa’s World Cup , pp. 1-17, 61-69, 87-95, 119-131, 148-158, 168-175, 210-218

Here is my full post for the class blog:

The readings this week fused the topics of the opening four weeks—the development of the game, the many expressions of fan culture, and the globalization of the sport—using the most recent World Cup as a platform.  The game is no longer a leisure activity or a local club of friends and co-workers but, as our authors show us, has become a worldwide corporate event filled with fans and sponsors and natives of the host countries.  The game is also a source of optimism for everyone involved.

Goldblatt’s draft dives into the progression of the game at the international level while keeping the supporter element close to the surface of the discussion.  Each tournament has its own story and he provides a brief overview from the early twentieth century Olympics to the 2010 World Cup (Goldblatt section II).  Along the way, international competitions became something more than just a sporting event—attempts at national rebranding, political platforms for the ruling governments and evangelistic festivals for the game.  At the same time, fan support is a key component of any tournament, as Goldblatt states at the end of section I, “. . . there is no spectacle without us; without a public that is prepared to invest emotional energy in the playing of a game there is no glamour and no glory.”  From there he makes the case in section III that tournaments always have “smaller, intersecting stories” to tell, and these moments are what give texture, context and ultimately legacy to the competitions.

The selections from the book expand on this theme in interesting, authentic and personal ways. Most of these were on the ground accounts of the tournament, how the venues looked, how the hosts and visitors interacted at the competition, and how South Africa can build a legacy going forward.  Tales of the literal and metaphorical use of the vuvuzela (Doyle 67-68), the FIFAland experience (Hernandez 168-173) and Americans abroad (Guest 148-151) enriched my sense of the tournament beyond the United States losing in the second round and Spain lifting the trophy.

Focusing on Laurent Dubois’ essay, many of the elements found in Fever Pitch resurfaced—the analysis of a fan, the game day interaction, the match itself.   Throughout the selection, he asks why do we follow this game?  Surely not the result, but as Dubois and the rest of the writers shared, the game provides glimpses into communities both together and opposed, moments of glory and disappointment and the match day—the crowds, roars and the interactions experienced before, during and after the game.  These flashes give the fan a taste and this taste continues to draw the fan in match after match.

And the next match is just around the corner.  Brazil are making final preparations to their stadiums and infrastructure, yet the previous hosts are still sorting out their legacy.  South Africa continues to strive to be a growing power, the World Cup giving them a brief boost to build on the momentous events of early 1990’s but there is still much work to be done. Yet a tournament of this magnitude can provide that hope:

I was really worried about 20 years of democracy.  I’m not so worried any more.  I’d always thought that nationhood and non-racialism were evaporating dreams, and in fact I see they can still be made tangible and real. Ferial Haffajee, editor of City Press newspaper in Johannesburg (Guest 155)

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