How Soccer Explains the World

Image of How Soccer Explains the World book on bookshelveChristmas in our house this year was fantastic. We all received gifts that we wanted, and some that we didn’t know we wanted until we opened the package and saw them. One of those gifts for me was a great book that my wife picked up at our local Goodwill store. The book is How Soccer Explains the World: An {Unlikely} Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer. I am a soccer nut, so as soon as I had the chance, I started to read it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to read about the correlation between the spread of the most popular game in the world and the homogenization of our cultures into one global culture?

The book grabs you from the first sentence. I mean, who wouldn’t want to keep reading after “I suck at soccer.” All joking aside, though, if you were to read on, you would find an intriguing narrative –  the quest to understand the beautiful game from every possible perspective intermixed with local and global history.

I must admit, I am only about a quarter of the way through the book as I sit to write this. However, in the pages I have read, I have come to understand the birth and underlying rational for hooliganism and the cultural ties this fan-based violence has to the rise and fall of various regimes in the former Eastern Bloc. The author’s theory concerning globalization begins at the local level, primarily because the violence, sectarianism and hatred exposed by his depictions of the hooligan fans is identified as unique to the particular club and socioeconomic conditions that are apparent at the time the hooligan culture is on the rise. As the economies around the various clubs begin to change, there is an evolution of the fan base toward a more cosmopolitan make up. Those with less money are siphoned off from attending the games in the stadium and like these fans, the author seems to intone that the hooligan culture is also pushed aside, to the darker corners of society.

Throughout the world we have seen this same scenario played out over an over. The violence never goes away, and in fact will always be associated with sports. Especially where alcohol is involved.

Is there an answer to ending the violence related to sports? I’m not sure. I do believe that having a positive shared experience with others as it relates to the purity of sports can help all of us live together in a more peaceful way. As humans, we will always have a competitive nature. Let it play out on the field. After all, it is just a game. However, as Foer points out, by exposing the dark underbelly of soccer, we get a glimpse of society’s dark corners. We may not always like what we see. Yet, in knowing the darkness exists and understanding why it manifests itself in the ways it does, we can take steps to change it.

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