Wednesday, January 14, 2009
The World Game
I'm reading a moderately interesting book about the history of football (or 'soccer' as we call it here). It's a serious study, and quite a long and heavy book but I have to read it because a dear friend lent it to me - someone who I admire - and said I had to read it and I didn't have the courage to say 'no'. It's not that I don't want to read it, but when I have so many books piled up with more literary value I'd rather watch a BBC documentary on this topic than read a 900+ page small-fonted book.
But, I am enjoying it on a kind anthropological level.
In the introduction, the writer suggested that soccer has permeated the cultures of every country on Earth in a way that no other sport or precise cultural activity has. The last World Cup final was watched by half the world, allegedly. He said something along the lines that no other thing on Earth could get three billion people doing the same thing at the same time, peacefully.
He tried to think of some other pursuit that has permeated all cultures. Not a product as such (eg: Coca-Cola is known everywhere, but Coca-Cola is one brand, just like, say, Manchester United is). The best he could come up with was MTV - an institution that in turn promotes many different bands - but many hardcore Arab states may block that, not to mention the poorer places that don't have tellies.
So I got to thinking about things that have cultural significance in every place on Earth.
Microsoft? I reckon that's everywhere, but unlike soccer, it's not something that people are passionate about. I think it may have commercial significance, but probably not cultural significance.
CNN? Nope, Al-jazeera would tackle that notion.
AC/DC, the band? Nope. A product.
The Metric system? Nope.
A4 paper? Close, but still not cultural (A4 paper is surely the standard in all nations).
Red Cross? Hmmm - yes, probably known everywhere, but it doesn't inspire an opinion, as such.
The closest I got was: Coffee drinking.
You know, he may have a point. In life, we have rituals around births, deaths and marraiges, and all the rest is kinda personal, or tribal, but not so much global. We don't have global laws (well, none that stick), or global opinions, or global agreement on anything, except for the rules of soccer which are global, and we also share a love of it (mostly). Not so much here or the US, but we are catching up slowly.
Soccer transcends race, wealth, politics, religion... gender is perhaps the missing thing in all that, but if its the best thing we have as a planet, then maybe we need to give it some credit, and perhaps, lean on it a bit to set standards for the rest of the world to look up to.
Israel vs Palestine, shaking hands after the match, playing fairly. That could do more for the current situation than any amount of Annie Lennoxes and John Pilgers talking shit.