Football as a mirror: multiculturalism and multinationalism in sport

Laurent Blanc in jeopardy as race row rattles French consciousness | Paul Doyle | Football | guardian.co.uk.

When stories started to break about the French Football Federation’s consideration of ethnic quotas, it was easy to assume the worst – that this was indicative of changing mores in French football from the 1998 World Cup winning team being celebrated for representing all manner of French people to a more absolutist sense of who is French on the lines of banned headscarves and “powerwashing” public housing of protestors a la Sarkozy.

But beneath the private conversations which could most politely be described as awkward, there lies a challenge of football that has as much to do with multiple nationalities and labor mobility as it does with France’s questionable record in assimilating migrants from its former colonies.  Laurent Blanc may well have sounded like he was reviving old stereotypes of black players, but this is the same man who accommodated Muslim players for Ramadan as a club coach. Blanc does have a point though when he describes the costs associated with children of immigrant parents who go through the French academy system and then decide to play for Algeria or Senegal. As a lumpen Anglo-Saxon market-type, I’d view that as an investment management issue, perhaps the French see it more as a failure of dirigiste central planning.

But leaving aside the thorny question of what country one identifies with, why wouldn’t young players with more than one passport alternative want to evaluate their choices about which shirt to put on? The various football federations are perfectly willing to pick players who might help their national teams win / earn money, it just so happens that the labor eligibility requirements are a little less easy to change. And football looks like a paragon of playing in the spirit of the rules by comparison to rugby union (Scotland’s legions of players whose Dunedin accent was 4th generation Kiwi weren’t there for the purity of the display of skill) and cricket.

Claiming that turning out for another country’s team is somehow underhanded tends to be an argument deployed by the butthurt: either a football federation that just lost a likely meal ticket, or a player who’s not good enough for their “home” team and decides to embrace their past. It’s particularly rich for the French to moan about their academy money going to Senegal’s benefit, oh poor maltreated colonial metropole, just as it was entertaining to see supporters of the US national side go mental about Giuseppe Rossi turn out for Italy when the federation openly is trying to grab players from turning out for Mexico because that’s where their parents are from.

That’s not to say that there aren’t difficult non-monetary questions at play here – the element of tribalism adds extra venom to what is otherwise a market seeking some kind of equilibrium within narrow parameters. Assimilation is a huge challenge no matter what ostensibly open, tolerant western society is involved, and football will reflect that. It’s hard to say who’s “one of us,” just as it’s hard to say “I’m one of you now.” I still face this challenge after nearly 30 years in the US, and I’m an Anglo-Saxon white-c0llar type who doesn’t really have to do much to fit in. Faced with constant affirmation that “you are not one of us unless you can pass a ball 40 meters to within a couple of centimeters,” it’s no wonder that young immigrants or children or immigrants in France latch onto “the motherland” team out of pre-emptive spite: “We didn’t want to be in your club anyway!”

Maybe the issue in France isn’t monetary at all. For those who are inclined to reject “foreigners,” there’s no rational response – they may change, eventually they’ll die off. But I wonder if maybe the issue isn’t so much that being white is French, so much as respecting the process: if you are selected, if you go through the process, you should stay within the institution. Even with quotas, one might well argue that sort of assimilation is more likely in football than outside the grounds… but only if the FFF doesn’t panic and over-compensate one way or the other.

Gamesmanship

Dear Icelandic Football Federation,

We were surprised by your letter of complaint alleging excessive gamesmanship at the De Kuip Stadium in Rotterdam this weekend.

While we had noticed that the Icelandic economy is about as sound as going long on Black Tulips in Amsterdam in the mid-17th century, it really hadn’t crossed our minds that repeatedly showing adverts for Price Waterhouse Coopers might remind your players that they might as well have kept their savings in Wrigley spearmint gum.

Pleased to hear that you pre-paid for your airfare home, hopefully it was a pleasant flight.

Kind regards,

Netherlands Football Federation

Koninklijke Nederlandse Voetbalbond

The final insult to Richard Scudamore

Sepp Blatter once proposed that women’s football would sell better if the players would wear smaller, tighter shorts. Sepp Blatter also thinks that Richard Scudamore’s plan to establish a 39th round Premiership game to be played outside England is inane, and is willing to pull out the stops to prevent it – including scuppering England’s planned bid on the 2018 World Cup.

There’s a lot to be said against Scudamore’s plan, but there are two main criticisms: the first is that it buggers up a home-and-away format that is the only fair thing left in the Premier League. Derby County may not have a hope in hell of winning the league but at least they get a crack at the opposition at home. It’s a symmetrical setup, and all the better for it. The second is that as soon as the NFL introduce another match, and suspicions about the fixture list and whether the Big 4 all get minnows to play, will be rife. The minnows are also less prepared, and less experienced, at playing overseas and this would magnify their relative disadvantage.

If any further proof were needed that English fans have ceased to be a primary concern of the Premier League, except to the extent that they are part of the revenue stream, this would be it.

On the bright side, UEFA and the Federation of Asian Associations have already told Scudamore to stuff it, and now Blatter heaves into view.

And therein lies what makes me most angry about Scudamore’s plan – he’s now got me agreeing with Sepp Blatter. Feh.

Tie me kangaroo down sport

As if there weren’t enough people getting on the Beckham bandwagon…

Beckham endorses / wears Adidas Predator shoes, which are made in the main with kangaroo leather. A vegetarian / animal rights organization spent several years lobbying Beckham to stop wearing the kangaroo boots, including suggesting that they would organize an effort to call him out for not caring about wildlife. Entertainingly, their website (which hasn’t been updated since Beckham left Madrid) asked supporters to keep on emailing Beckham so he wouldn’t backslide, with the exhoration to:

Remind him that Ronaldo, the best football player in the world, wears 100% synthetic boots.

Considering that Ronaldo’s credentials as best player in the world have take a dent over the last couple of years, in no small part because of weight gained while eating enormous amounts of meat, the mind boggles. (I’m not saying that Ronaldo has eaten kangaroo, mind you, but I wouldn’t rule it out.)

Presumably Beckham must have thought that by demonstrating to the animal rights crowd that he was willing to wear shoes made of petroleum by-products instead of kangaroo by-products, that was the end of it, but no.

The fuss has spread to California. The state barred the sale of kangaroo hide in 1971, which presaged a federal ban from the Fish and Wildlife agency in 1974. However, the Australian government self-certified that kangaroos were back like cooked crack in 1995, and the federal ban was lifted… In the meantime, when shoe sales started in California, Viva sued, and then Adidas and two retail chains appealed on the grounds that federal law superceded state law. The California Supreme Court overturned the appeal, just in time for the story to hit the papers at the height of Beckham mania.

Long story short, the animal rights folks and the state lined up against that argument; for the animal rights people it’s a question of protecting other species in California, and for the state it’s a legal argument that is playing out also in the area of environmental regulation, as the Bush Administration is trying to prevent California from setting stricter standards on emissions than the federal goverment does. So there’s pleny going on…

In the meantime, there’s a bill working its way through the California state legislature to permit sales of kangaroo products, and as noted in the Brisbane Times:

Adidas’ biggest star, British soccer hero, David Beckham, was in an awkward position on the matter after it was revealed his wife is a strict vegetarian.

The article in the Brisbane Times had a slightly different view on the need to not kill kangaroos:

California does not allow products made from kangaroo hide to be sold or imported into the state, despite the fact they exist in near plague proportions in drought-ravaged Australia and have to be culled.

This is always a challenging question. No-one wants to stand up for slaughtering cute animals, but one of the side effects of humans killing off predators is that you end up with huge numbers of animals that have become like big-field mice: useful until there are too many of them. In the DC area the kangaroo equivalent is deer, and every time there’s talk of culls, well-fed middle class kids are trotted out with signs about not killing bambi. Perhaps Adidas could go for the controversy two-fer and start making shoes out of deer skin as well. Either way, some smarty pants activist or idle blogger* will find a way to link to Beckham.

*Trolling for hits? me? with my reputation?

Good news for the English FA

Evidently corporate welfare queen Sven-Goran Eriksson is okay with giving up his salary as inactive former England manager, and with working for people who are at risk of indictment in their home country, because word is that the Swede is about to take an offer from Manchester City:

The former England manager has not signed a pre-contract agreement and therefore remains open to other offers but City hope he will be true to his word

Ha! There’s comedy.

However, City issued a statement last night reiterating that they were still talking to other “managerial candidates”, aware there is the possibility Eriksson may change his mind.

Well, you don’t walk run quickly away from being Prime Minister of Thailand with a dollar or two in hand if you are completely gullible.

Eriksson says yes to City and starts planning transfer raids | News | Guardian Unlimited Football

Thierry Henry to Barca

In a decent bit of business, Thierry Henry is off to Barca for approximately $32 million. (Doesn’t sound like much if you say it quickly.)

I’m just as unqualified as most to pass an opinion, but I think this might not be a bad deal for Arsenal, providing that they buy wisely. Henry has been a magnificent player in many ways, and yet I can’t help but think that in terms of his ability to turn a match that’s not going well, he’s no Dennis Bergkamp (who is?).

Perhaps I am being uncharitable; apparently I am in the minority apparently, in thinking that Henry’s departure could turn out to net positive. It has been suggested that his departure will be destabilizing in many ways, within the context of Wenger’s contract and the performance of others. I suppose we shall see.

It seems a little odd for Barcelona to hire another striker – as opposed to say some more defenders – especially now that the rumor mill suggests that they are not going to sell Samuel Et’o.

Arsenal Reeling as £16 million Henry Joins Barcelona – The Guardian

A modest proposal

Note: cross-posted on Conquest Chronicles while I am helping to mind the store over there…

Just as someone once said that everyone complains about the weather, but no-one does anything about it: the last stretch of the college football season is like a wet Wednesday in Glasgow, everyone’s got something to complain about.

What chaps my ass about all of this BCS MNC business is the bleating about whether or not a team “deserves” to be in the BCS bowl picture… Deserves? A sport filled with statistics and metrics and god knows what, and we have this grade school business about “deserves”?

That doesn’t cut it. I am sometimes tempted to say the hell with a playoff system, and just go back to the entirely subjective olden days of bowls — rather like this impressive cri de couer as posted on EDSBS.com by someone rejoicing in the name Colonel Krunk (Whaaaaaaaat? Yeeeeeeeeeeahhhh!)

However, I think I want something a bit more definitive, therefore playoffs. But not an arbitrary 8 team format, where rankings come into it. And not a single-elimination approach (like European soccer association cups for instance) because part of the fabric of college football is the regional rivalries represented by the conferences.

I imagine that this has been suggested already, but what I would like to see is the top two teams from each of the BCS conferences plus a couple of others (to round out the numbers) get seeded based on strength of schedule, strongest against weakest and gradually meeting in the middle — and then play single game elimination. The goal would be to maintain some shred of tradition while getting subjective aesthetic rankings out of the way.

Anyway, if you were to run this today, you’d end up with the following: Continue reading