Orin: Sports, politics and bandwagons; the 2022 W/Cup was pregnant with resonance

“[…] North versus south, developed versus developing, small versus big, rich versus poor, colonists versus colonised. Matches were pregnant with meaning and resonance outside of football.

“[…] The World Cup, Olympics and sports in general are proxies for fights over politics, history and geographical hegemony… Caribbean people in the UK cried tears of pride when Clive Lloyd’s team beat England at home, and won two Cricket World Cups in London…”

The following guest column on the Qatar 2022 Fifa World Cup was submitted to Wired868 by Orin Gordon, a media and business consultant who can be reached at orin@oringordon.com:

Argentina captain Lionel Messi (centre) is draped in a bisht by Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani (left) while Fifa president Gianni Infantino looks on.

French coach Didier Deschamps did something that probably comes naturally to the French bourgeoisie, who summon men of immigrant stock to do a thankless job of hard labour.

Down 2-nil to Argentina in Sunday’s World Cup final, he sent on Randal Kolo Muani, Marcus Thuram—and later, with time running out, Kingsley Coman and Eduardo Camavinga.

They gave France pace, power, and the ability to run at Argentina, something their decorated compatriots Olivier Giroud and Antoine Griezmann couldn’t provide.

It almost worked. They were first to every 50/50 ball where previously they’d been outhustled. The powerful Kolo Muani won a penalty by besting defender Nicolás Otamendi with a combination of speed and muscle.

France forward Olivier Giroud (left) is replaced by Marcus Thuram in the first half of the 2022 World Cup.

Late in extra time, Kolo Muani might have won it for France too—but for an outstanding save by Albiceleste goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

I jest about Deschamps giving the unfancied jobs to immigrants. France is a modern, multicultural country, and its black and Arab players are as French as brie. They’re Frenchmen who happen to be black. But that’s a country in which Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally (RN), won 42 percent of the vote in her runoff with President Emmanuel Macron in presidential elections last April.

RN is also now the largest opposition party in France’s parliament. Historically, they haven’t seen a mainly black and brown football team as representing their ideal of France.

Sport has always been political. In a 1945 essay The Sporting Spirit, British author George Orwell wrote that sport is “war minus the shooting”. Jesse Owens’ ruining Hitler’s Aryan showcase in Berlin in 1936 was a great example of that.

North versus south, developed versus developing, small versus big, rich versus poor, colonists versus colonised. Matches were pregnant with meaning and resonance outside of football. Every World Cup serves up these storylines. Qatar 2022 certainly did.

Morocco right back Achraf Hakimi strokes his penalty past Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
Hakimi was born in Madrid.

Many Iranians in England and the US supported those countries in their matches against Iran. They considered the footballers to be tools of a government committing murders daily against protestors. Iranians are passionate about football. That was a hugely symbolic protest against the regime.

Morocco beating Spain—their longstanding historical nemesis within touching distance across the Strait of Gibraltar—was bigger than their game. After beating Portugal to get to the semis, the magnificent Moroccans ran aground against France; when fatigue told, and the gap between class and heart couldn’t be bridged.

It was the furthest an African team had progressed in the tournament. Not even the 1990 Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, who played one of the World Cup’s great matches against England in Naples, or Nigeria’s charismatic Super Eagles of JJ Okocha and Daniel Amokachi at France 1998 could get that far.

Morocco fans enjoy themselves at the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
(via FIFA)

Japan lost to Costa Rica— one of the worst teams at the tournament—in between beating powerhouses Germany and Spain. Tunisia beat an already-qualified France who had an eye on the quarter-finals. Many in France’s large Arab population didn’t care that France rested its best players, or that Tunisia itself didn’t progress. It wasn’t a meaningless victory.

Cameroon beat an already qualified Brazil under similar circumstances. World Cup winners Argentina lost their first match to Saudi Arabia.

The World Cup, Olympics and sports in general are proxies for fights over politics, history and geographical hegemony. Jamaicans delight in crushing Americans on the track in short-race athletics. Caribbean people in the UK cried tears of pride when Clive Lloyd’s team beat England at home, and won two Cricket World Cups in London.

Iconic West Indies cricketer Sir Viv Richards (centre) is cheered by supporters during his heyday.
(via SkySports)

“A one-man rebuttal against colonial history” was how Matthew Engel, the former editor of Wisden, described a gum-chewing Viv Richards walking to the crease—with a swagger, a maroon cap, and Caribbean cussedness.

I’ll say again what I said in this space before. It was time that the World Cup—at its 22nd staging—was held in the Arab world. That’s not about supporting Qatar and everything that came with it. The global competition must live up to its name.

Egypt and Morocco made a joint bid in 2010. South Africa won. Morocco’s recent success helped, and it will again host Fifa’s Club World Cup in February. Australasia should have had a shot at the 2026 World Cup before the US, Canada and Mexico.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, attend the opening ceremony of the 2022 World Cup in Doha.
(Copyright Bandar Al-Galoud)

Ultimately, the football was going to be the main story, and a fabulous tournament broke out. Support was passionate and vocal. I wrote on Facebook that no one should get worked up over whether a country they’d never visited, won or lost.

I take that back, and apply it only to me. Supporting the West Indies and Guyana Amazon Warriors has drained me of emotional energy. I had none left to expend on a country that wasn’t mine. I watched without emotional attachment. And without the stress, I enjoyed the football more.

We often instinctively support a team: Team Amber, Team Johnny, Team Meghan. Apart from that, many non-Argentine Argentina supporters wanted a win for Lionel Messi. His pursuit of the greatest prize to have eluded him was compelling.

Argentina star Lionel Messi (left) celebrates with his teammates during the Qatar 2022 World Cup.

There’s also escapism. We don’t have to believe in dragons to be on Team Daenerys. That’s the beauty of sport, and rooting for “their” team added hugely to folks’ enjoyment of the tournament.

I’m similarly relaxed about bandwagonism. There’s logic in transferring your support to another team if yours got eliminated. Nessa Preppy and Motto were right. “Don’t tote no feelings”. Move on to the next bandwagon. I just hope you didn’t hop onto that many.

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