Can Football and Politics exist without reference to each other

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Last updated: April 16, 2019

Many times we have heard the phrase that a nation is an imagined political community’. In fact the boundaries everyone knows exist between nations, are obviously virtual boundaries.

What makes a nation a real nation? One can say that the strong feeling of communion is mainly responsible for this. Many countries suffer forms of racism. For example, the distinction there is between people in the Northern part of Italy and those in the south is renowned. The leader of an Italian political party called ‘ Lega Nord’, Unmberto Bossi has been long been preaching the split up of Italy into two.

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Today, this man is in the government of the newly elected Silvio Berlusconi, central right wing government. Although Bossi had to change his previous dictum in, order to form alliance with the rest of the central right- coalition, many people, especially in the Northern part of Italy have still this view. What is strange then is what happens in Italy during any game played by the Italian National team. Personally I was lucky to visit various countries of the Italian Peninsula. What was clear from my journeys abroad was the union that the Italian National team of Football created throughout Italy.From Milan to Palermo, across various other important cities like Florence, Genoa, Rome, Naples, Italy was united by one common denominator, being known as Football. So people, who were previously separated by the prejudice of racism, embraced themselves after one of the goals of Roberto Baggio in the world cup of 1994. At the same time they tried to console each other, when the same Baggio missed, probably the most important penalty of his life in the final lost against Brazil.

What this small encounter wanted to show is that, sport serves as a unifying act, Everyone feels involved thanks to sport, even the same people who for some reason or another felt not involved with each other. Hence this creates the notion of nationalism where people have something to share, which is common. According to DaMatta (1982) Brazil is a society articulated by the sharp decision between the ‘home’ and the ‘street’ and between the family and free individuals.DaMatta continues his argument by saying that the role of soccer is privileged because the personalized social world of the home and the impersonal universe of the street are combined in a public ritual. If we look at football for the Brazilians, it is obvious that they regard it as individualistic. Football makes it possible for people to gain equality and freedom. The typical Brazilian player gives much more importance to the “jogo de cintura”. This is the ability to use the body to provoke confusion and fascination in the public.

In Europe the notion of the Brazilian style of football is the ‘ samba-football’. The fact that football gives the possibility to players to acquire equality and freedom can be seen in another episode taking place in Israel. Here a Nigerian football team was invited to play a game against the country’s youth squad. Nine of these players vanished in order to become illegal foreign workers somewhere in Israel. This anecdote shows how football in this case was taken as an opportunity to escape from the desperate conditions of their country.

This notion is not confined to Brazil and only to football. In fact in Cuba, Baseball is the national sport, which has been associated with dancing. Evidence shows us that each game ends up with a magnificent dinner and dancing. In the same way as football represented a way of experiencing social mobility for the Brazilians, similarly the Cubans had the same impression for Baseball. Football games many times are not considered to be as just games. A famous example is the rivalry that exists between Celtics (Catholics) and the Rangers (protestants).This rivalry was originally originated on religion. Football has also been a means for players to overcome huge obstacles.

In 1980, seven players of Afghanistan’ s team trekked through the mountains to Pakistan, obtained forged passports and flew to Frankfurt where they were granted political asylum. Watching a football game has become more than just a spectator sport. Fans can be as passionate as the players. Famous examples are the complicated choreography while they shout and sing.

Unlikely even though it has decreased, violence in the stadium still exists.This many times is tied to the fact that sport inevitably recapitulates and reflects the character, structure and dynamics of human and institutional relationships within and between societies and the ideological values and sentiments rationalizing and justifying that relationship. Throughout history this was seen, where thanks to participation in sports women and racist issues decreased drastically. Also in the past, we saw that politics and sports were tied significantly. In the recent past the relations between U. S.A and China was influenced by the table tennis rivalry between the two countries. Also, the prohibition against sports tours involving nations in antagonistic relations is famous, together with the acceptance or rejection of invitations to participate in global sports events such as the Olympics or the World cup games upon the political relations with the host nation.

Also, participations in International games have been used by people to provide the occasion, to show their dissatisfaction toward political aspects in their countries.Sports has a very important quality, in fact sport exchanges and international competitions provide perhaps the greatest single opportunity for people to contact an d communicate between themselves. When one is asked the question whether football and politics exist without reference to each other my immediate answer is no.

As we have seen in this introduction, not only football but also sports in general is particularly linked to politics. We can say that politics regards sport as a very precious tool to administer and sports in general in this case (football) is dependant on politics.I would compare this relationship as a type of parasitism, since politics actually uses sport for purposes like integration, nationalism and as a tool to show the world the power of a country. In the rest of this project one can see how this can happen in different scenarios. Football and Politics According to Baudrillard, ‘politics is no longer restricted to the political sphere, but infects every sphere-like economics, science, art, sport.

. and sport itself, meanwhile, is no longer located in sport as such, but instead in business, in sex, in politics, in the general style of performance1′.The argument Baudrillard wants to explain is, that politics nowadays actually enters all parts of our social life.

In order to regulate sport there is need of a government. Moreover since governments are the ruling legislators in a country, politicians throughout the world use sports in whatever manner they consider more appropriate. On the other hand Baudrillard extends his critique to sports. Nowadays there are to many interest governing sports. Today we know that the date and hour of every important final are set together with media representatives, who pay large amounts of money in order to attract TV audience.A quite famous example took place in the final of the last world cup, which took part in France. It is known that Ronaldo, one of the most famous players in the world was not feeling well.

Many people say he was “forced ” to play the game anyway because of increasing pressure by his personal sponsor (NIKE), and the insistence of representatives of the Brazilian association of football. In Europe we have seen that the idea of sports combined with a message of political consciousness has received some support. Most famous are the examples of the anti-racist campaigns of professional players, certain clubs, and fans.One known example of a campaign was the undershirt inscription of support for unemployed dock workers in Liverpool by English international and Liverpool player Robbie Fowler in 1997 Another famous example was the banner of the Swiss national team before a 1996 international match calling for an end to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. After the collapse of the European colonial rule in the nineteenth century in South America, the idea of nationhood has been consolidated in the twentieth century (Del Burgo, 1995: pg 60).

The idea of cultural elites was that of the nation which is ‘imagined, created, and constructed’ (Anderson, 1983). Within this framework football had its important role. In fact football became intertwined with discourses of statehood and the search for national, political and cultural identities. A famous historian called Eric Hobsbawn once said:’ The imagined community of millions seems more real as a team of eleven named people. ‘ According to Hobsbawn the cultural production of football is able to seize the popular imagination and arouse nationalistic tendencies more concretely than other realms of cultural and political construction.

Furthermore, football seems to appeal as a general sport concerning everyone, as compared to sports like golf, tennis or cycling, which is considered to be rather ‘snobbish’. In fact to play football you just need a ball. Many times it happens when the ball is missing it would be substituted with anything which is round and which could be kicked. Unfortunately since sports reflect the views and opinion of society, it was affected by the various cultures.

For example in Paraguay the state of women in society was reflected in football.In 1979 Politicians from Paraguay banned women from playing football, declaring it was contrary to the natural femminity of women. In fact in regions like South America males dominate football.

However the trend seems to be changing where in Brazil we find women playing football. If we continue speaking about the example of South America we can say that football acts as the great societal equalizer able to provide popular expressions of celebration and pride when national teams win. Alternatively these celebrations can turn up to become emotions of national gloom, and mourning.

It is not rare to hare about suicides after crucial defeats. Every population has different concepts of what a nation is. This concept varies even between people of the same population. However emotions linked with the colours of the flag of a nation, national anthems and the nervous anticipation before the game starts is a common theme to almost everyone. As many other things football has been manipulated by politicians.

For example in South America, Football together with other sports has been manipulated to achieve certain scopes.According to Arbena2 these scopes are: The establishment of domestic physical education programs, football competitions and permanent institutions necessary to run football programs, ; The preparation of teams and individuals capable of competing successfully on the international level. ; The hosting of international football events. We can understand why football has become so important in South America. More than being a game for all and being a spectacular game, football was used by politicians to achieve certain social objectives, which helped in uniting a nation, and bringing all the population united under one flag.The argument of Arbena continues by saying that many politicians in this region believed that the aim of football was to build a nation from within and gain it legitimacy from without. Many times however, hosting of the games by nations has tried to give a false image of the country.

This meant that politicians pushed for hosting World cup finals in their countries. This would have had an enormous impact on these countries economy. However some times this was wrongly predicted. A good example of this happened in Argentina in 1978.According to Glanville3, the 1978 World Cup victory for Argentina did not bring long lasting economic prosperity, establish social and political peace, or save the military junta from its eventual demise.

On the contrary it was widely celebrated by the military regime and a veritable cross-section of social classes and cultural groups within the nation. According to Paz4 this search of politicians to use football to bind a nation is very strange. According to him there exists common linguistics, literary, and colonial traditions, which would bind more than separate.

The manipulation of football by politicians, generals, and authoritarian military regimes in order to maintain existing power relations has been legendary. It is common to hear that the first two Italian victories of Italy in the World Cups, were bought by Italy, since Mussolini (Italian Dictator of the time) was particularly interested in Italy showing to the world their power. In fact, historically, socialist, fascist, authoritarian and liberal democratic regimes have all manipulated sport in order to preserve the status quo and project an international image of superiority vis-i?? -vis other nations and ideological system.

Putting the argument of football aside, it is known to everyone the enormous rivalry, which repeated itself in every Olympic games and international meeting of Athletics between U. S. A and former U.

S. S. R. Also the various people who were in power justified their increased involvement in sports for the following reasons. According to Arbena, (1989) the argument was, that football and physical education in general can teach’ constructive’ values improve health and morals, aid the capitalist economy, reduce crime, develop nations of community and cooperation, and promote patriotism/nationalism.After a Brazilian World Cup victory in 1970 Kapuscinski quoted an exiled Brazilian colleague: ” The military right wing can be assured of at least five more years of peaceful rule5″. In this quotation we can see the tie there is between the achievements in sports and politics.

Victory in international competition brings joy and peace throughout a country. This helps the various governments to impose their regime without creating disorder. Obviously this has a limit but this sound like when in the old times one used to take some sugar to accompany a bitter syrup which had to be taken.

In times of political disorder stadiums, were transformed in sorts of Coliseums. In El Salvador, the national stadium has even been used to carry out televised, nation-wide assassinations against political opponents (Kapuscinski, 1990:p 185). In the past months we all realized about the executions, which the Taliban regime used to perform in the stadiums of Afghanistan. Here also the talibans prohibited football players to play in traditionally Shorts and shirts. They were obliged to wear tights as to cover there legs.

These forms of extremism, spilled over sports. In this case, football. Moreover, since women were regarded as inferior to men they were not permitted to follow games. In Europe, stadiums were used as to control real, imagined, or projected internal and external threats. If we consider the example of an external threat the following example could be use. In the beginning of the 1990, Albanian refugees were grouped and detained at the football stadium of Bari (Italy).According to Weiner6 ,this was done since the European Union(EU) had created a consensus that basic challenges to political, social, economic, and cultural values presented especially by the influx of Muslim immigrants, asylum-seekers, illegals, and workers.

In Europe the mentality to win at all costs has brought in various aspects. Notoriously the violence that occurs in stadiums between spectators. We see that, spectators need to be controlled thoroughly. As said before stadiums have become Roman Coliseums with barbed wire and guards patrolling the edifices inside and outside.Now and then people are unfortunately killed, trampled on and beaten, either for revenge or since the celebration got out of hand. Some famous examples are the one of Heysel Stadium tragedy in Brussels, where about forty fans were killed. This happened before the European clubs cup final between Juventus and Liverpool. In 1987 the match between Real Madrid and Naples was played in a completely empty stadium as a result of the disciplinary measures taken by FIFA in response to the hooligan excesses of Madrid supporter at an earlier game.

According to Baudrillard, these patterns of ‘ controlled’ football represent a cynical political bias towards the obliteration of the social realm. According to him football hooliganism symbolizes an extreme transpolitical phenomenon. This phenomenon is that spectators transgress the assigned limits of their role as passive watchers and invent their own media spectacle. What happens is that hooligans carry participants to an ultimately tragic limit. This is a form of violence, which is meant to show the state, that they do not have a monopoly in the use of violence.At the same time, these acts are giving the opportunity to the state to respond with its own violence. So for these reasons Baudrillard considers football as a metastatic phenomenon par excellence.

That is the transfer of a bodily social, political or psychological disease from one organ to another. If we consider once more the South American context we can see the following. The Brazilian and Argentinean military regimes of the recent past provide us with the most classical and conspicuous examples of connections between football, the maintenance of the status quo, and the fostering of national consciousness.

According to Janet Lever, this has clearly demonstrated how the Brazilian military government of the 1960’s used the national game of football in order to instill in its inhabitants a notion of the nation’s vast geographical terrain7. This was done since many remote regions of Brazil were unknown to its urban citizens. What was done therefore was to implement a sport lottery. This was done by the military regime in order to enhance national consciousness, raise funds for social projects, and include football results from distant provinces(Lever, 1983-88 p 85-96)The various population of South America made many arguments. In fact emotions like disdain were expressed for regimes, which channeled funds for the World Cup in order to gain a boost in public relations. This disdain was expressed since other aspects of life like poverty, unemployment, rural exploitation and fiscal government corruption were not tackled. Football has also been by politicians in the recent past.

In 1989 Carlos Menem appeared at the national stadium dressed in the National colours. He also publicly endorsed club side River Plate.In 1996, Nelson Mandela was a t the national stadium to celebrate the victory of the first, multi-racial South African against Tunisia in the final of the African Nations Cup.

It is also common that sports are a matter of influence for politics. One of the most obvious examples refers to Silvio Berlusconi. Already president Of A. C Milan , managed to become Prime Minister of the Italian government.

The name of his political party is ‘Forza Italia’ (Come on Italy), which is a reminiscent of a football chant. Also Nigeria victory in football at the Olympic games of Atlanta in1996 gave rise to the government to declare a public national holiday.Something similarly happened in Jamaica when the Jamaican team (called Reggae Boys’) qualified for its first appearance in the 1998 World Cup in France. In the southeastern Beirut a football club called Ahid, which means ‘covenant’ in Arabic, exists. This team is associated with the Hezbollah.

These are Iranian-backed resistance force. Hezbollah managed to obtain its dark image in the days of the civil war when Hezbollah men kidnapped westerners and blew up barracks of western forces. There aim is to drive Israel out of occupied southern Lebanon.Ahid is not just a football team.

Deborah Horan interviewed a supporter of this team. She asked this supporter why he was supporting the team. His answer was that he believed in the team. The team’s colour matched the resistance flag. These were black and yellow. The only difference between the flag and the team colours were that the flag had the image of a machine gun.

This football team Ahid is one of the proofs that Hezbollah is trying to change its Iranian identity. The way they are trying to change their image is through football.

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