Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The interplay between football and politics

Football is art; but also politics, economics, and sociology.

I bought a great book for my family for Christmas, How Soccer explains the world: an unlikely theory of globalization. I really enjoyed reading the fascinating mix of history (both football and political). Each chapter focuses on a different country (Serbia, Scotland, Italy, Ukraine, Brazil, England, Spain, ...) and how football clubs become expressions of politics, racism, corruption, capitalism, and nationalism. As a purist who enjoys football for its own sake, I found aspects of the book are quite depressing. It almost makes you want to never watch a professional football game again.

The book is very well written and easy to read. The main weakness is it does not achieve what its title (and every chapter heading) claims. It does not really show that football explains anything. What it really does (and does it very well) is show how football reflects and interacts with significant social change such as globalisation. The book reflects the common fallacy of not distinguishing between causality and correlation. For example, the Rangers-Celtic rivalry/animosity in Glasgow does not cause or explain the origins of the ethnic (Irish vs. Scottish) / "religious" (Catholic vs. Protestant) animosity. I think the Rangers-Celtic rivalry provides a vehicle for some people to express some of these hatreds.

The book also illustrates humanities deep need for community, group identity, to be right, and to express passionate emotions. I sometimes think that being a fanatical fan can provide outlets that God intended us to express in worship and church life. 

The author is Franklin Foer, who was editor of The New Republic from 2006-2010. There is an interesting review in the New York Times. 

In conclusion, it is a great piece of literature and even if you are not a football fan, you will learn a lot about the world from reading it.

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