Saturday, June 12, 2010

Football - Constructing Identities with Sport

And so the games begin.

The 2010 Soccer World Cup kicked off in South Africa last night with all the colour and vivacity expected for an event that draws a larger worldwide audience than the Olympic Games. This is a very exciting time. Sensibility is swamped with a frenzied patriotism, anthems are sung with a delirious passion, and deep inside our swollen hearts, we discover the surprising ferocity of our inner racism (yes, Italy, we still have not forgotten that penalty). Romantics dream of an unlikely victory for host nation South Africa, after a decade of conflict, and the easily-amused anticipate a politically-charged blood fest between the two Koreas in one of the knockout stages.

Soccer brings people together. On the Christmas Day of 1914, British and German soldiers in the First World War trenches put their guns down to play together in a friendly game. When British soldiers in Afghanistan and southern Iraq wanted to befriend the locals, they also played a soccer match. On the darker side, soccer fans have died as a result of their devotion, where in 1985 at Heysel Stadium in Brussels, 39 people were killed in one of the ugliest soccer riots in history. Football fever surges through the veins of humankind, or at least for most.

Australia previously had very little interest in the game until the Socceroos wowed us all in the last series, prompting us to drop our cricket bats and join in the spirit of the rest of the world (at least until we stop qualifying). The moment our young, parochial and geographically isolated nation receives any sort of global recognition, we jump up and down like a child given a shiny gold star. Americans are not so big on the game either, preferring baseball to the world’s dominant sport. It is often said that sport reflects culture, and scholars reason that Americans scorn the fact that feeble teams can often win a game of soccer simply by concentrating on defence, which is thought to be absurdly unfair. It’s frustrating also that one-third of games result in a tie (there should always be a winner), and that star players like David Beckham are traded like horsemeat from one team to another, often showing disloyalty by abandoning their home countries. On the other side of the field, Europeans and South Americans snicker at the facts that a national sport like baseball could alter its rules to suit television, that lousy teams are permitted to continue in the league, and that the draft system dictates which team a player can join. Szymanski and Zimbalist write, “Americans and Europeans have absorbed the structure and rules of their sports into their psyches, turning the arbitrary rules of nineteenth-century administrators into a way of life.”

Despite the separation of soccer from our national sports, I’ll still be watching. For however long it lasts, the excitement of being part of a global event that entails such intoxicating spirit and brutal passion is extraordinary.


  1. Personally I hate everything about football. I find all the English flags on cars and shop windows a bit distressing. I often refuse to say what nationality I am when I fill forms out, as I see my self as a human being. I think sport often does the opposite of bringing people together, not part of a certain country. I'm ashamed at many British football fans abroad with their anti social behaviour when another country wins.

    But hey, I'm sure that's just me, because the non stop coverage in the media proves how much everyone else is looking forward to the World Cup.

  2. OOps I think part of my comment went missing, but you get the point? :D

  3. What does it say about Oz culture given that one of our traditional sports (test cricket) frequently ends in a tie?
    Perhaps we are more laid back than America?

  4. It's the arrogance of the English that gets to me.

  5. Valerie--I have an award for you over at my blog...I hope I described your blog in an acceptable way. :)

  6. Hi Lady, I guess more people watch this World cup than the Summer Olympics. And the World slows down for 2 weeks, wives and girlfriends losing their loved ones for awhile too.
    Not to mention fights over the one TV at home.
    Enjoyed your stylish eloquence.

    Pity about Australia being blanked by the Germans.
    You have a great week and keep a song in your heart, Lee.

  7. I'm surprised there's not more blogging about soccer. I so don't get the referee thing! How could Harry get a red card for being hit by the ball for heaven's sake! He looked innocent to me..:)

    There is an award for you. Pick it up at Hope you will participate. I hope it's not the same as above. It's taken me all morning getting it done so i hope you will pass it on if you don't want it..:)

  8. Finally someone who likes soccer like me, cool got a post up on this too more poetic though :)