Soccer And Politics

Preston Waters

Football’s tradition dates back further than the birth of the United States of America. The sport has long served as a mode of mock combat through which neighborhoods, tribes and even nations could project their most passionate enmity.

Whenever Barcelona, pride of the Catalan region, faces off Real Madrid, the football’s emblem for the Spanish crown, it is more than simply an athletic spectacle involving 22 men and a ball. And when a Republic of Ireland striker puts one past an England goalkeeper in an international competition, the thunderous roar heard across the Irish Diaspora expresses a passion that long predates the game of football itself. It is safe to say, football emotes passion in ways that drive deeper than a superficial love for the sport itself.

In many countries football is not just a sport, it is a way of life that permeates cultural life; so much so, that it has even had an impressive mark on national politics. Football has an influence that is directly intertwined with the political atmosphere of many countries. It has its unique culture, one that has a scope beyond the sport itself. The culture of football games goes well beyond the articles in a daily-sports section, or rumors and gossip. It has provided us with an array of sociological, political and economical aspects that prove this sport to be more than just a game.

Today’s piece will provide a  window into the world beyond the field – 22 men and a football ball. The real cultural relevance of the sport can be seen once you get off the field, and into the mind of the fans. Football fans are known to be some of the most dedicated fans around – often to the point of delirium. A football hooligan is not someone you want to come across, especially if you root for their rival. The passion and dedication with which football fans express their love for the team is rivaled by none other – save, maybe, the Crips. This passion and dedication is what makes the football culture so relevant to the world: Not only are teams playing for victory and monetary gain, but also they are representatives of the fans that support them and the country they are playing for. The weight of the fanbase is all on their shoulders.

Football rivalries are not like any other sport rivalries around. There is a much deeper meaning for those who watch the games. Many football rivalries dwarf the most historic American Sport rivalries. Who knew that what seemed to be a harmless game could be embedded with such politic and culture? Every pass, slide tackle, blocked shot, and goal is magnified to an crazed level. Fans in the stands literally want to fight and kill each other. In America this may seem taboo – even illegal – but who are we to judge a sport whose history is just as influential and important as our entire national history.

Football provides millions with a sense of national unification. It provides a sense of hope for all the people that are supporting them. This cultural influence is clearly demonstrated in Columbia during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Well into the 1980’s and the beginning of the 1990’s, Columbia and its people were undergoing a cultural crisis.  The crisis stemmed from a revolt against lavish lifestyles funded by crime. Some of the most brutal crimes and killings occurred during this time period as a result of drug wars. Columbia is notoriously known for its drug trade, and some of its most legendary citizens are drug cartel leaders. One of most recognizable of these cartel leaders is none other than Pablo Escobar.

Columbia’s drug lords seemed to be taking over a country. The cartels were literally draining the Columbian people by instilling false ideals of consumerism that enticed even young children to get involved in crime. The average Columbian youth saw no hope in the real world with the only role models around being drug lords. During this time of crisis the Columbian people needed an identity, and football proved that buffer which allowed people to get away from their everyday struggles. The Columbian National Football team did their part on the field. During the 1980’s and 1990’s this team was one of the top ranked in the world.  Their team success story was one with which the citizens of a country identified, causing a brotherhood relationship that unified a torn country.

During the 1994 Olympics the Columbian National Team was under immense pressure to perform. One of the most difficult things to deal with is the fact that you are an entire people’s arbiter for hope. However, this fact only further motivated the players. The stress did prove to be too much for some – there have been reports of players wanting to quit because of all the pressure to perform. A star defenseman on the team known as Andres Escobar (of no relation to Pablo Escobar) was the glue of the team. Throughout their qualifying run, Andres was a sort of foundation for a team facing adversity. His teammates often referred to him as  “the gentleman of football,” because of the way he conducted himself on and off the field.

Besides helping win, what Andres really provided was hope. He was a man who stood true to what he loved to do, which was playing football. Andres gave his people something to look forward to. During the ‘94 World Cup, there were immense expectations for Andres and his teammates: The Columbian National Team wasn’t playing just to win the cup, they were playing for something more. They were playing for every Columbian citizen who sought refuge from the everyday struggle of life. Sadly this story did not end well for the Columbians and their team. The heavily favorited Columbian team lost their bid in the first round to none other than the U.S.A. National team. Ironically, the team lost due to an own goal by Andres Escobar. This heartbreaking loss, in conjunction with the killing of Pablo Escobar, brought about a new wave of murder and drug related incidents throughout the country. The drug lords were all fighting for territory. Now there was nothing providing an escape for the people, leading to a time of decline in Columbia.

Football influence in world politics is quite rare. While the sport has greatly evolved from a ritual of combat amongst cultural rivals, its roots in the world have grown deep. So next time you are watching a football game, don’t just look at the match but try to see what is at steak for, not only the team, but for invested fans worldwide.

Edin Veljovic | Elite Daily
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Preston Waters


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