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Philosophy of Soccer? June 25, 2008

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.

I heard an interesting analysis on Danish public radio the other day about the political impact of soccer. So, in fond recollection of our interesting baseball debate (archived), I thought I’d share some of those ideas with you. An author and soccer expert, Joakim Jakobsen, was interviewed about a recent book, in which he speculates that soccer has accomplished what the United Nations and the European Union have failed to achieve: creating a universal form of communication. According to the author, soccer comprises both analytical and emotional thinking, and everyone can relate to the analysis aspect as well as the emotional highs and lows. So here is my first problem with that analysis: I grew up with soccer being played all around me, but I don’t understand much about the game, and I really don’t feel any emotional pull (not like baseball, which I have learned to love). So, I guess I’m on the outside there, not even looking in. For another thing, the author presents a phenomenon that is typical outside of the U.S., so if soccer is destined to be the universal language of communication, it is still in our future, not in our present.

The next interesting idea expressed on the show was that the universality of the soccer “language” has a tilt toward nationalism: prominent as well as smaller or emerging nations find a new identity once their teams start doing well, internationally—case in point, Turkey in the current European Cup games. Sometimes this takes the shape of aggression, and sometimes it is channeled into more congenial forms, but either way I see it as a nice little paradox of universality vs. group spirit. Interestingly, the analysts who are praising soccer as a unifying global force have to concede that a certain kind of radical nationalism may be a side product of it—a side product that, more often than not, erupts in violence among the fans, with occasional fatalities.

So what say you? Are you soccer fans? Is soccer to you really a language that transcends borders? Do you feel emotionally connected to humanity when watching/playing soccer, in a way that doesn’t happen when you engage in golf, baseball, or basketball? Or is your sense of group identity enhanced, at the cost of global connectivity?  



1. Paul Moloney - June 29, 2008

It would seem that even driving a car would involve analytical and emotional thinking. Doubtless, though, positive things can be said about soccer, as well as any other sport. Because negative things can also be said about soccer, it seems that soccer in itself is neither morally good or evil. Sports can be a reasonable form of leisure or entertainment. Some people are reasonable about watching a game, while others are unreasonable. The negative or positive aspects of a sport can be attributed to the kinds of people involved.

2. philagon - July 4, 2008

Although I am a sports fan, I believe that sports, because of competition and regional affiliation, tend to foster tribalism. I don’t think that soccer has fostered a universal language among euro-cities; the violence and acrimony between the fans of different teams demonstrates that well enough.

Now maybe if an interesting spectator sport could be invented in which there were no teams……

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