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FIFA World Cup reading

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11 June 2010 14:56

In an attempt to bring an international policy dimension to the tournament, which starts tonight, herewith a few reading recommendations.

You may wish to start with a Lowy Institute report from 2005, which remains one of our most widely read pieces: Anthony Bubalo's Football Diplomacy, about how Australia can exploit its burgeoning footballing relationship with Asia.

When England won the World Cup in 1966 it did not even make the front pages of the British tabloids. So how did sport get so big? The Economist reckons there are a number of reasons: the British empire, the rise of television and latterly the internet, early visionaries in the sports apparel business, industrial relations reforms, and big business. For sports fans, the article is not always comfortable reading:

Sport is certainly inclined to infantilise us. For the duration of the match or tournament, fans care more about the result than almost anything. It hurls us into the moment and reduces us to despair or euphoria; Kipling is no longer in the picture. Replica shirts, which used to be for children, are now worn by grown men and women, all around the world.

I also recommend a blog called The Run of Play for its outstanding football writing, and this NY Times article about the famous Ajax Academy, the cradle of Dutch football excellence. It tells a good story about national cultures and international trade (in players). This sentiment struck me as true of Australia, as well as America:

The best soccer-playing nations build individual players, ones with superior technical skills who later come together on teams the U.S. struggles to beat. In a way, it is a reversal of type. Americans tend to think of Europeans as collectivists and themselves as individualists. But in sports, it is the opposite. The Europeans build up the assets of individual players. Americans underdevelop the individual, although most of the volunteers who coach at the youngest level would not be cognizant of that.

Finally, although predictions about the outcome of the World Cup are worthless, here's one prediction that is a rolled gold, dead set certainty: the opening ceremony will be boring, bloated, and cringingly PC. Bring on the football.

Photo by Flickr user Naddsy, used under a Creative commons license.

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