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The Janus face of the World Cup

Spotted this interesting discussion posted up by Shift and I thought I’d throw my ten pence worth in as well.

So, the world cup is upon us. The air waves, newspapers and broadband cables are humming with the sound of vuvuzelas (the ubiquitous plastic horns which FIFA are already considering banning) and England, once again, fail to inspire hope. The two authors to which I am responding have covered several important points, namely, that in a world in which geographical space is divided into discreet political territories supporting the side which happens to be organised around this specific territory does not compromise an anti-statist position. Supporting the  England football team in itself does not make one a supporter of the nation state. The hostility many involved in our movements show towards football and the world cup shows a misunderstanding of the nature of football. The state, much like Capitalism, isn’t a belief system, it exists regardless of us criticising it. However much we may dislike it, football will continue to be organised around specific politico-geographical units.

However, I disagree with Boyd’s statement that we should “feel the unity” of the world cup, that we should indulge in what Carly Lyes labels “plastic nationalism”. The “unity” of the nation state is based upon the physical or political exclusion of many, be that migrants on the perimeter of fortress Europe, or Christians in Iraq. Whilst the international politics of the World Cup certainly aren’t as sinister as anti-immigration politics or the expansionist nationalism we witness in many areas of the world, they still function as a nation building project. Nation states are social constructs which must be continually reinforced. This can be materially, border controls and passports to define who belongs and who doesn’t, or cultural and discursive, the introduction of national anthems, flags, authors etc. Global events such as the World Cup provide states, in particular the hosts, with the opportunity to consolidate their national identity. This can happen in many ways, from China’s acceptance of its vital role in the global economy (The 2008 Olympics) to the German world cup in which signs of patriotism were once again seen to be positives (prompting the response of the Anti-German’s with their “hit”, Ten German Bombers). There in South Africa it appears the World Cup is being portrayed as a chance for South Africa to demonstrate its success post-Apartheid. Alongside football analysis, the coverage has been focusing on the progress and development which is happening in South Africa as it seeks to rub shoulders with other newly industrialising states such as Brazil and Russia.  Of course this ignores the slum clearances which took place to develop the stadiums, the mistreatment of stewards which resulted in clashes with police and the rising inequality. Although the skin colour of the managers of capital in South Africa may have changed the underlying logic of capitalism (unsurprisingly) has not.

Protests last night outside the stadium by underpaid security staff. They were later dispersed by police using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Perhaps then the attitude that those who wish to enjoy the world cup whilst maintaining their anti-statist politics should take is one familiar to England supporters (no, not the riots), that of cynical support.  Like the nation state itself, the rainbow image of unity projected by international sporting events such as the World Cup and the Olympics is based upon multiple levels of exclusion, from those who lose their homes to make way for new stadiums to those unable to afford expensive tickets for matches. However, this is only the political context in which football (as a social product) must be framed. So, enjoy the football, support who you want but don’t forget the context in which it will be played out.