July 13, 2006

You can always count on The Guardian

One step backwards: The World Cup is a marvel of global representation. So why is it getting whiter?
By Martin Jacques

The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event, it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance. Any evaluation of this World Cup, therefore, should not be confined to the quality of the football (surely a disappointment, with a truly great team failing to emerge) but also deal with its broader cultural meaning. In this respect it has been an even bigger disappointment. With this World Cup, global football has taken a step backwards.

The importance of football has grown in direct proportion to its ability to become genuinely global and not primarily European. Unlike virtually every other human activity - from politics and economics to universities and the military - football has managed to give a growing place in the sun to those who are normally marginalised and unrepresented. The growing importance of Africa and Asia in football are testimony to this.

But, alas, not in this World Cup. In the last sixteen there was only one African side and no Asian. In the last eight, there were six European and two Latin American: the last four was a European monopoly. (Compare this with the last World Cup, where there were only three European sides in the last eight and just one in the semi-finals.) ...

But this feeling of regression is not just related to the over-representation of European sides - linked no doubt to the fact that it was held in Germany - during these championships. It is also about the question of colour. We are now familiar with the incidence of black and brown players in European sides. This traditionally, however, has only been a characteristic of the French, English and Dutch sides. I haven't tried to make any precise statistical analysis of the European sides this time around but it feels that here again there has been a retreat...

But the matter cannot rest there. There is also something else that is deeply regrettable about global football, namely the overwhelming predominance of whites as managers and coaches. Even Brazil - a team invariably with a majority of blacks and browns - always has a white Brazilian manager. The same is always true of all European sides. Alas, it is also generally the case with African sides. Exactly the same state of affairs, of course, prevails in European club football with barely a black or brown manager to be found - yet the manager of the best club side in world football today is Frank Rikaard of Barcelona...

There may be nations and races galore on the field, but racist assumptions continue to imbue and shape football. And this World Cup has been a step backwards.

First, there is a high degree of randomness in the outcomes of individual soccer games due to the low scoring (kind of like if baseball games were determined by who hits the most triples), so drawing cosmic conclusions from a single World Cup is dubious. On the other hand, the same half dozen countries (Italy, Germany, England, France, Brazil, and Argentina) always win, and the runners-up are always the Big 6 plus a few smaller European countries.

Second, is it a white racist conspiracy to keep the black man down? Of course not! ... Well, then again, maybe it is. Consider the strict offsides rule in soccer that drives American viewers nuts with frustration because it prevents a speedburner wide receiver from getting behind the defenders and catching a bomb from the quarterback for an easy touchdown. (Soccer aficionados can convert the positions into soccer lingo.)

If they lessened the offsides rule, every national team in Europe would recruit black sprinters to play forward, the way Slovenia hired the 44-year-old Jamaican Merlene Ottey to sprint for them in the 2004 Olympics because in her dotage she was still faster than any Slovenian woman. And then each European country would need blacks defenders to cover the black forwards, just as every single starting cornerback in the NFL is black.

Or consider the lack of timeouts and lack of substitutions in soccer. The game would be more exciting if the players weren't so tired all the time (and think how listless they would be if they weren't constantly faking injuries!), but these rules work to the advantage of whites over super-fast West African sprinters because whites tend to have more endurance at distance running. (By the way, Brazil had much more of an infusion of East and South Africans than the U.S., where almost all blacks came from West Africa. So, Brazil's blacks aren't as good at sprinting as America's blacks and aren't as bad at distance running.)

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

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