Sociology of The World Cup – Channeling David Held

In this great post, Tony Karon channels David Held‘s analysis of globalization as multipolar phenomenon. Karon starts by enunciating what makes this World Cup actually quite interesting:

“Les Bleus were trounced by Uruguay and South Africa, and plunged into a national crisis that required presidential intervention by their own implosion. Uruguay, refusing to accept the also-ran status accorded them in the established order went on to impudently win the group, and look destined for a quarterfinal spot after facing South Korea (another arriviste happy to claim the knockout round spot that most had assumed would go to Nigeria) The USA — very much the soccer equivalent of a BRIC country in the world economy — cheekily finished above England (kind of like the equivalent in world soccer of France in world politics, a country whose mantle of imagined greatness is decidedly shabby, if not a garment in the tradition of the emperor’s new clothes). That, of course, condemned England to face its nemesis, Germany, in a match that the smart money says England are unlikely to win.

Serbia were many pundits “dark horse” for the tournament, but neither Ghana nor Australia got that email, and both beat the Balkan favorites, Ghana going through to the group stage where they have an even chance against fellow arrivistes, the USA — one of those two will get to the last eight. Others who forgot to check their emails were Paraguay and Slovakia, both shutting Italy out of a place in the knockout stages they seem to regard as their due, simply for showing up. Even lowly New Zealand refused to succumb to the Azzuri, and would have beaten them were it not for a dodgy penalty. An international tournament in which the Kiwis return home unbeaten is, indeed, a world turned on its head.

Then there was Japan, having the temerity to not only beat Cameroon but to outplay one-time European champions Denmark with three goals that included an elegant, two-part tutorial for the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Didier Drogba on how to score from free kicks with this Jabulani ball — and in the process, earn second place in the group and a ticket to the last 16 that the Danes had pretty much assumed was waiting for them at the will-call window.”

So what is happening? What makes the difference between success and failure? According to Karon: embracing globalization and diversity.

“These are teams that have embraced globalization both in their composition and style, adapting to best practices learned elsewhere. Germany and Switzerland are teams full of immigrants; the ethnically homogenous Italians have struggled. (Then again, France’s squad was predominantly of immigrant stock, and that didn’t help them.) Success may have more to do with embracing innovation and applying skills and organizational principles learned in the global soccer “economy” — the success of Uruguay and Mexico, even Ghana, can be partly attributed to the large number of their players now based at European clubs.

The point becomes more clear in reverse: The teams that performed below expectations are those most stuck in old ways; there was a staleness and familiarity to the styles of play and even the personnel of Italy and even England. France appeared hamstrung first and foremost by a sclerotic bureaucracy unable to effectively harness the abundance of resources at its disposal. Nigeria — let’s not even go there, beyond to observe that the malaise of a country that isn’t really sure if it’s a nation is well reflected in a chaotic soccer system.”

But Karon refuses to take that as a football theory of globalization (or globalization theory of football). Either way, it is fascinating to watch as everything is up for grabs. Interestingly, as US political power is on the wane, its football team is not out. This might be the year where semi-peripheral countries kicked the core countries’ a$$es, which would served them well for letting their financial elites tank the world economy.

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