How Soccer Explains the World Summary

Summary (Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Globalization means different things to different people. To those who favor it, it represents fewer reasons for armed conflicts, more opportunities for escaping the confines of tradition and narrow-mindedness, a higher standard of living, and more access to the good things of life; in short, capitalism and democracy. To those who mistrust it or hate it, it means the submersion of national sovereignty, the extinction of regional cultures, the enrichment of multinational corporations and the bankruptcy of corner stores, the undermining of religion, and the corruption of morality; in short, capitalism and democracy.

Franklin Foer asserts that both the proponents and detractors of globalization have oversold its influence. His proof is soccer. This sport, which everywhere but in the United States is the most popular team sport of the poor, provides an alternative focal point to both globalized economies and traditional religions and cultures. Capitalists and theocrats are unable to compete against a sport that manages to change its image in protean ways to suit local conditions.

Foer's study How Soccer Explains the World begins in Serbia. Soccer in Yugoslavia had always been played with more physical action and was less bound by English upper-class rules (Fair Play) than elsewhere. Its fans were fanatical, and no Yugoslav team had more thuggish fans than Red Star Belgrade. These violent gangs of fans became immeasurably rowdier as Yugoslavia slid toward dissolution, then into civil war. Arkan, the Serbian militia leader, organized his own followers into a paramilitary unit known as the Tigers that quickly became notorious for the rapes and murders used in the “ethnic cleansing” of areas that the Serbs claimed as theirs. After his military defeat, Arkan purchased a team and employed exceptionally brutal tactics against his own players and visitors alike; this situation lasted until his public murder in 2000, shortly before Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic's overthrow. Nevertheless, little changed in Serbian soccer until the assassination of reformist prime minister Zoran Djindjic in 2003. Then the public demanded action against organized crime. Red Star Belgrade was not fully reformed, but it ceased to be the province of criminal gangs.

Better known for thuggish fans was Scotland's Glasgow Rangers, a rabidly Protestant club that went head against head with the Irish Catholic club, the Celtics. In contrast to Balkan bloodletting, however, the rival clubs work together to fan emotions while keeping them within bounds, sort of. This cozy arrangement has earned the two teams the nickname “The Old Firm,” but that does not disturb their supporters around the globe. What had happened in fact was that globalization had destroyed discrimination in jobs by eliminating local industry altogether. Serious violence is therefore limited to their matches in Ireland where sectarian interests remain tied to economic ones.

Foer examines why is it that some European clubs are still identified as Jewish even though their owners were dispossessed two generations ago. One answer is that in the 1920's Jewish communities set out to prove their critics wrong in saying that Jews lacked manliness. They established entirely Jewish teams that won championships, two decades before the survivors of the Holocaust began to “kick the shit out of Muslims,” as Chelsea hooligan Alan Garrison has expressed it. A second answer is tied into the growing anti-Semitism of recent years. This ugly phenomenon is, Foer contends, more complicated than it seems. Tottenham Hotspurs players are referred to colloquially as “Yids.” Chelsea fans routinely yell in unison, “Hitler's gonna gas’em again.” This response has less to do with religion than with the West Side of London pitting itself against the Cockneys of the central city. Moreover, since globalization has brought hordes of immigrants into Britain (and most other postindustrial nations), local resentments are expressed in ape noises directed at black players and antiforeign chants, but there are too many minorities to focus upon any one.

Anti-Semitic taunts remain common in Budapest, whose team MKT Hungaria has won twenty-one national championships. Indeed MKT was founded by Jewish businessmen in 1888, back when the city had a large and flourishing Jewish population. Yet even today, seventy years after first the fascists and then the communists seized possession of the team, few Gentiles will support it. MKT, for sins...

(The entire section is 1833 words.)