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Commentary: The politics of World Cup soccer
Published on July 5, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Jean H Charles

Haiti, like the rest of the world, with even the United States, which is a baseball nation, is soccer country. As such the soccer World Cup in Brazil this month of June and July 2014 is a big time event in every corner of the planet. The flags of Brazil and of Argentina, the two would-be champions have been adorning cars and homes weeks before the event.

Jean H Charles LLB, MSW, JD is a syndicated columnist with Caribbean News Now. He can be reached at: and followed for past essays at Caribbeannewsnow/Haiti
Haiti may not be the only soccer flag crazy bearer in the world. In Bangladesh, there were so many flags of Argentina and Brazil in front of the homes that the governor of one of the provinces demanded that the flags be removed from the front of the houses.

Olympic fever is a sporting manifestation as old as humanity. The competition between athletes in different sporting activities took place every four years in the city of Olympia in Greece from the 8th to the 4th century before Christ. It was a time when armed conflict between different city-states would observe a truce, leading sometimes to lasting peace.

When the Roman Empire took control of Greece, the Olympics took in the 4th century AD a nosedive; we must wait until 1894 to see the resurrection of the Olympic Games. The game of soccer was created by the British, who spread the game around the world throughout the British Empire. With a ball and four goal posts, eleven players on each side would fight each other to ensure that the ball entered the goal of the competing team.

As such, soccer is the dream ticket for every young man (and hopefully more women) to stardom. The World Cup that comes every four years is also the shining moment for each nation of this earth to show that it can pierce the veil of the opponent nation with as many goals as possible.

I am advancing the hypothesis that only the nations that get their act together at home will arrive at the finishing line in the host city of the World Cup. To wit, Nigeria, in spite of the ethnic and religious dissent at home, produced a supporting show against France. They lost zero to two. I was rooting for Algeria against Germany. They lost two to one.

The Nigerians players threatened to boycott the game on the field if their paychecks were not given in cash before the game. It was delivered after the intervention of the president of Nigeria to avoid losing face in front of the whole world.

While the business of soccer is allegedly marred with corruption and self-dealing at the highest level of FIFA, the local federation in failed countries is a hotbed for activities that are detrimental to the growth of the game of soccer.

In Haiti, Digicel, the major sponsor of the Haitian tournament had once stopped its financing of sporting events on the grounds of accounting irregularities by the national league. The granting of the World Cup finals in 2022 to Qatar has been investigated, with allegedly under the table influence by the host country.

The sport of soccer, albeit an easy game to play, is a precise exercise that demands a whole host of talents such as leadership, collegiality and endurance, resilience and doggedness. South America and Europe have monopolized the list of winners in 19 of the last World Cup finals, with Brazil (5 wins) edging the pack that includes Italy (4) Germany (3) Argentina (2) Uruguay (2) France (1) and Spain (1).

The primacies of Brazil and Argentina as featured winners of the competition defy my hypothesis that only the best run nation will win the World Cup tournament.

Demonstrations by some Brazilian people for better infrastructure and sane institutions for the benefit of the population up to the world tournament are an indication that things are not running smoothly in Brazil.

The Brazilian leadership and fascination with soccer must be sought somewhere else. Two names stand out, Pelé and Socrates. Socrates was the Brazilian doctor and soccer player who helped the Brazilian people to lead the fight against the military dictatorship, while being the captain of the Brazilian team in the World Cup in 1982.

Socrates was at the image of Brazil, he drank and smoked heavily, as such his span of life was a short one. He died at the age of 57. Pele was the other legend that fascinated not only Brazil but the entire soccer playing world.

In Argentina, the star player Messi is the satellite that ensures his country will be always on the finishing line. I have always maintained the position that, as long as the sun will rise after a resting night, Messi will score one or several goals in any soccer game that he is involved in. As such, with Messi as a citizen of Argentina, a safe seat is reserved for the land of tango on the finishing line of the World Cup.

The Brazilian World Cup of 2014 is proving soccer economics. The winning team needs solid and sane institutions in the country as well as incentives from the government and the civil society or the winning team is carried on the shoulders of a star player like Messi, or Ronaldo or Neymar. Based on these standards, the quarter finals include the following formation in the different groups:

A-Brazil, B-Holland, C-Columbia, D-Costa Rica, E-France, F-Argentina, G-Germany, H-Belgium.

Can the World Cup serve as an indicator for world development? It will depend on whether FIFA is willing to play its part in helping each nation to incubate sane institutions and provide enough incentives to groom enough teams where, with luck and talent, the soccer stars will emerge. The United States, which is lagging in soccer mania, is doing just that with its women soccer teams. When the men’s team reaches the same level as the women’s soccer team, the US will become the Brazil or the Argentina of the world.

It will be money in the bank for the United States, with goodwill safer than the all the funds spent through the USAID. Imagine US flags floating all over the world rooting for the American team during the World Cup of 2018 in Russia, the next venue of the Olympics.

In the meantime, the failed countries of the world can also have their shining moment every four years in the World Cup if only they take steps to stop dreaming about Lionel Messi (Argentina), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Neymar (Brazil), Andres Iniesta (Spain), Mesut Ozil (Germany), Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Argen Robben (Holland), Mario Balotelly (Italy), Wayne Rooney (England), Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard (USA) to get their act together and create their own stars.
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