Saturday, June 17, 2006


What with the recent spate of global warming in Southern California, I find myself logy and uninspired to do the research for my daily blog post. I had planned to join the Starbucks crowd at a bar to watch the Italy-US World Cup match but decided to follow the game at home where I could cool my feet in the pool. The 1-1 tie was like kissing your sister, especially since the US team out-hustled les Azzurri for most of the match, and suffered two red-card ejections – blasted referees.

In fact, I was about to pass on the daily dose of blog, when I noticed a piece from a few days ago in the New Republic, the center-left journal published by Franklin Foer. In a piece called How Governments Nurture Soccer, Foer writes: There have been revolutions to create socialism, democracy, and authoritarian dictatorship. But humankind has yet to fight a revolution to guarantee one of the most vital elements--if not the most vital element--of the good life. That is, a winning soccer team. If we were to take up arms for this reason, what kind of government would we want to install?

Now there are those (mostly in America) who think that football is played with an oblong, pointy ball that is thrown more than kicked, and who wonder whether taking up arms to fight for a representative soccer team is up there on the level of fighting for a democratic way of life. But, never mind, for the moment let’s pretend we are citizens of the world and see what it will take to raise the US team out of football mediocrity. What are the political and economic conditions that yield soccer glory?

Foer first reaches back into the dustbin of history to note that Communism, despite its gulags, produced great players and rock-solid teams. He notes the notable Hungarians in the '50s and the Poles in the ‘80s, and then adds up the score against noncommunist countries: 46 wins, 32 draws, 40 losses. But still no Communist country has ever won a World Cup.

While Communism was limited, Fascist governments that subscribed to a cult of fitness and hygiene that leads them to siphon considerable national resources into sports programs performed rather well on the world stage. During the '30s, Il Duce's Italy claimed two trophies; Germany took third in 1934, as did Brazil in 1938. Overall, fascism compiled a record of 14-3-3 in that decade.

However, since the end of WWII, proto-fascist regimes like Francisco Franco's Spain or Juan Perón's Argentina presided over some of the great underachievers in the game's history. What accounts for the falloff? In the 1930s, fascist nations were the most ferocious regimes on the planet. After the war, this swagger vanished. Suddenly, the power of these nations rested on their alliance with the United States. Once you become lapdogs of the Americans, it's hard to muster the same will to win.

Next up the football hierarchy are military juntas that are historically superb at winning World Cups. The Brazilian and Argentine juntas presided over the most glorious victories in the tournament's history in the '70s and early '80s. It makes sense that juntas would excel at this. They are collective efforts, where even the strongmen are part of a broader apparatus. A good soccer team is, in a sense, a junta.

At the top are social democracies that deliver even more championships than the juntas--six in all. To understand this success, one must understand the essence of the social democratic economy. Social democracies take root in heavily industrialized societies, and this is a great blessing. And social democracy celebrates individualism, while relentlessly patting itself on the back for its sense of solidarity--a coherent team with room for stars.

Foer claims that his new football paradigm of political theory can not only help guide a revolution, but it can also help fill out a tournament-prediction bracket.

He categorizes the contenders this way:

1. EU means "experience unlimited."
2. Liberated and in a winning mood.
3. Colonizers over colonized.
4. Never invest hope in an oil-producing nation.
5. Neoliberal shock therapy is a buzz kill.
6. The caveat - whatever form of government has taken up residence in Brasilia that week.

So I guess that means the Auriverde of Brazil. And the US: It's football for us. Go Browns! Has LA got a team yet?


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