R. Rose
July 1, 2014
Reading between World Cup lines

Let me offer my apologies to readers for the unfortunate absence of this column these past two weeks due to pressing commitments abroad. In the meantime, Carnival and sport, World Cup football in particular, dominate local interest as the major talking points, though the ULP government continues to be pilloried for its handling of corruption allegations.{{more}}

It is therefore timely to make some observations on issues connected with the World Cup, focusing on some pertinent off-field matters. There is, of course, no shortage of on-field comments, the gripping events in the intense competition to secure the coveted World Cup, international sport’s major prize, providing more than enough fodder for debate and discussion.

Great sporting events, and there is none bigger than the FIFA World Cup, often give countries and beleaguered governments a welcome respite from pressing national problems and challenges. The quest for success on the international stage has the effect of mobilizing nations and diverting attention away from day-to-day troubles. Political and economic differences are shunted aside as nations band together in support of their national teams.

Nowhere must this be more welcome than in the host nation itself, Brazil. This soccer-crazy nation is hosting the World Cup for the second time, hoping to make amends for its painful loss to neighbouring Uruguay when it last hosted the competition 64 years ago. But its build-up to the prestigious event has been marred by widespread protests about glaring inequality in the society, the dispossessed questioning the glaring lack of attention to social and economic issues, while billions are spent on hosting the competition. It must be a relief to the government that national pride in its beloved football team is overriding those social concerns.

Brazil is not the only such nation. Another of the touted favourites to lift the World Cup, Argentina, is also hoping for success, not only for national pride but, at least where the government is concerned, to turn attention away from a critical debt problem, the country being on the verge of defaulting in paying its huge national debts. Other contesting countries which have reached the last 16, such as France and Greece, are welcoming the football emphasis as a temporary means of deflecting attention away from serious economic woes, and Nigeria must be hoping that its team goes as deep into the competition as possible, so as to stave off the Boko Haram nightmares.

There has been no such respite for England, booted out of the competition and now having to come to grips with its rifts with the European Union and the thrust for Scottish independence. One negative spill-off from England’s exit is the discussion in the media about the economic losses occasioned by it. Major events like the World Cup generate huge economic activity – in tourism, the hospitality sector, sales of merchandise etc, and the further a country progresses, the more economic activity and profits are generated.

Even simple things like the sale of World Cup jerseys and memorabilia rake in lots of dollars, especially jerseys promoting the ‘big’ teams and top players. So, when a country gets knocked out early, it has a deflating effect on prices for such jerseys and memorabilia. Bars and hospitality venues which had been looking forward to national success will not attain expected results, as some disappointed patrons slink back to reality.

The World Cup also has a galvanizing effect on small nations, in generating patriotism and promoting national pride. Greece, for instance, the most economically traumatized of European contenders, still happened to defy the odds by not only reaching the finals, but just missing out on a quarter-final place. Its footballers nobly decided to forgo bonuses, asking for them to be put towards the establishment of a national centre. I had first-hand experience last week of what success can mean to small nations, witnessing a tremendous outpouring of national pride in Brussels, as Belgium qualified for the last 16. Caribbean nations know this all too well, based on the experiences of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.

Finally, another observation of mine has to do with a lingering cancer in the world of football, mirroring that in the wider society. It is the cancer of racism, recognized to such an extent that the governing body, FIFA, has endorsed a “Kick racism out of football” campaign. The irony is that many of the stars of those nations where racism is prevalent are black; just watch the teams from both sides of the Atlantic. Their prowess continues to make nonsense of the racial prejudices.

As we enter the final fortnight of the tournament, side by side with our Carnival, I can only lend my voice to the appeal for us not to let our enjoyment detract us from our national and domestic responsibilities. Have fun, but maintain our commitment to work and productivity; we cannot progress without them.

 

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.