Nationalism


Franklin Foer’s article illustrates that the globalization of soccer lead to the infiltration of a country’s nationalism. During the post-WWII era, soccer matches extended outside the particular teams’ borders and up came the transnational tournaments. Owners of the European teams realized that there was money to be made and embarked on a journey to find the most skilled players, which could be located in countries that were poor. As the search for these players continued, politicians, sportswriters, and citizens felt that by importing players from outside their country their local players would not be able to develop their talent. Some political officials went so far to “prohibit the importation of foreign players” or like Brazil “declared Pele as a national treasure in 1961 and legally forbade his sale to a foreign team.” Essentially, owners not only bought up players, despite their nationality, but also purchased teams in deprived countries. Moreover, owners of the “biggest clubs” began to diversify their portfolio and purchased cable stations, restaurants, and mega stores that expanded outside their country. The outcome of these massive shopping sprees was that the big clubs became richer, while the poor clubs were losing some of their star athletes. It also became obvious of what teams would win certain tournaments because of the purchasing power of the clubs (“The richest clubs have always dominated their leagues.”)


Manchester United and Real Madrid may embrace the ethos of globalization by accumulating wealth and diminishing national sovereignty. But a tangle of intensely local loyalties, identities, tensions, economies, and corruption endures- in some cases, not despite globalization, but because of it.


So what comes after importing players? Importing coaches for teams. Foer gives the example of how England, notorious for allowing ex-players coach their teams, imported Sweden’s Sven Gorvan Eriksson to be the coach of the national team. “Gordan Taylor, the head of the English players’ association spluttered, I think it’s a betrayal of our heritage.” Xenophobia, or the hatred of foreigners, seems to be the problem in England and some other countries. As in Eriksson’s case, the English fans can relate better and feel better represented by an English coach rather than a Swedish one. Moreover, the fans do not want a change in the “style” of the game, or rather the style the English team plays. There is already of set standard of play, for example, “hard tackling, reckless winning of contested balls – and not others, such as fancy dribbling or short passing. So the English fans view Eriksson as a threat because he has a different style he wants to integrate. Foer goes on with other examples of imported players who has not been successful in “transforming the style and culture of national soccer teams.”


Globalization has brought opportunities to the sport. Foreign Investors came from all over the world to invest into Brazilian teams so that they can “wipe away the practices of corrupt elites … and replace them with the ethic of professionalism, the science of modern marketing, and a concern for the balance sheet.” Why did it fail? Because of the “cartolas” or the “top hats” that the investors had to do business with. The people of Brazil have an “attachment to their populist leaders and politicians … They like them because the populists paint themselves as defenders of the community against the relentless onslaught of outsiders.” In the eyes of the people, they do not view their representatives as corrupt, even though the cartolas from Brazil pocketed the foreign investors’ money. After the money was seized, the cartolas tried to make the investors appear as if they were the bad guys because they were the ones “selling star players to hated cross town rivals – previously an unthinkable act.”


Another issue Foer with is the clash of hostility between rival teams. “When people have a self-interested reason for getting along, they are supposed to put aside their ancient grudges and do business.” Racism, hatred, and ignorance are well integrated into the game of soccer. Two rival teams in Glasgow, Celtics (Catholics) and the Rangers (Protestants), taunt the opposing team with songs and chants about their religion. Foer states, “Cross town rivalries are, of course, a staple of spots, but the Celtic-Rangers