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A lingering touch of old world arrogance at the World Cup

World Cup economic impact | A lingering touch of old world arrogance at the World Cup Anthony Harrington

The World Cup is such a high octane farrago of emotions, ambitions and noise that attempts to get “serious” about the “meaning” of the thing are almost always misplaced. Do World Cups convey a lasting economic benefit on host countries? Not necessarily, but sometimes, yes. Are they important? On what scale? As an aid to global harmony? Possibly. As an exhibition of football? Certainly, but what does that mean outside of football?

The Cup’s real role, as the vuvuzelas make clear, is to serve as an occasion for carnival. In the Middle Ages there were almost as many carnival days as working days in your average peasant’s year. The blessings of industrialisation, moderated by the rise of the union movement, gave us first the seven day working week, then the six day week, then the five and a half day week, and currently, the five day week, for most occupations. That puts the vast majority of us way behind your medieval peasant as far as work life balance is concerned. So a little additional carnival is like Christmas in June, a welcome distraction for a while from the hum drum work-a-day world.

One feature of the World Cup that is worth noting, however, is the strange arrogance that persists in an unregenerate fashion despite the fact that we live in an age of political correctness (PC). Take England’s draw with Algeria as a case in point. Listening to after match comments in the media and the press, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all England had to do was turn up to be guaranteed the three points and that it had to mess up horridly to end up with a draw. The small fact that for years now there has been a constant, even a rather dramatic improvement in the standard of football played by so called “minor” countries all round the world, goes unnoticed in the post-match rhetoric.

A really striking, if somewhat counter-intuitive instance of this can be seen in Portugal’s 7-0 win over North Korea. On first sight that looks like a hammering. But for the whole of the first half the North Korean side—who come from what one BBC correspondent calls “the most bizarre country in the world”, and which is certainly one of the most isolated—played pretty decent, if somewhat negative, football. If they can hold the best, why not the rest? The North Koreans were only beaten 2-1 by six times World Champions Brazil, not 20-1, and it wasn’t because the Brazilians weren’t trying.

The days when the “great” footballing countries could turn up against the minnows and bank the three points before they went on the field are long gone. The French team, flying home in so called “disgrace”, having been knocked out at the group stage, with losses to South Africa and Mexico, and with just a single point from a hard fought draw against Uruguay, may feel that they could have played better. But one imagines that they would want to point out that their opponents actually played rather well.

Perhaps the biggest lesson that World Cup 2010 has to teach is the old lesson of Heraclitus, namely that change is the only constant. It is a lesson that the West is now struggling to come to terms with off the football field, in the economic arena, as the balance of world economic power shifts to Asia and the east. One might predict that by the 2018 World Cup this change will be reflected in a more sober assessment of “old world” chances in any match up with countries who are currently dismissed as the “minnows” of world football.

Further reading on global power shifts and strategic change

Tags: Algeria , Brazil , England , football , France , global imbalances , North Korea , old world arrogance , Portugal , power shift , South Africa , World Cup
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