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Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Anglo-Saxonism and the World Cup

Just as I was glowingly acknowledging to an American friend how far multiculturalism had come, while watching the racially and ethnically mixed football teams of Europe and South America compete in Brazil, I was reminded of how deeply embedded remain racial and cultural stereotypes in the field of sports. Though I do tend to see the world in political-historical terms, even while enjoying a beer and a good game of football, so bear with me....

Monday 16 June's New York Times published a very interesting article that jolted me back from Planet Football to Anglo-American history.

It is said that the British Empire was built on the playing fields of Eton. The sporting spirit is inextricably linked with spreading civilisation. The very term - "it's not cricket" - captures the essence of the notion of playing by the spirit and the letter of the rules of the game, the civilised way, like the British do (but please don't mention the 'bodyline' tour of Australia in the 1930s when short-pitched leg-side bowling aimed at the body tactics, then considered 'not quite cricket', were used by England to try and thwart the batting skills of the legendary Don Bradman and causing severe head and other injuries to several batsmen).

And by the rules and spirit of the game is how the Americans currently, it is lamented, play football. The NYT article is headlined "Where Dishonesty Is Best Policy, U.S. Falls Short". And it's all about how Brazilians and continental Europeans dive and 'simulate' i.e., cheat, in order to win free kicks and penalties in order to win games. But, "the American nature is to try and make everything fair... That's just how Americans are."

And so are the English, America's Anglo-Saxon cousins. They also, to their detriment, tend to stay on their feet, "traditionally stayed upright", unlike their "Continental European" counterparts. Though Michael Owen, David Beckham and Ashley Young provide examples to the contrary.

At stake, however, in the debate about whether American players should emulate continentals and other lesser breeds, is nothing less than the "moral high ground" of the American ethos.

Of course, football is just a game, in the end, and too much should not be made of this. But, the echoes of British imperial era claims to moral superiority against the barbarians in need of civilisation are clearly visible.

And just as Britannia ruled the waves by waiving the rules, America's moral outrage over cheating in football should be seen not just in the context of football, perhaps, but also in its role in the world since 1945 - when America has made and enforced the rules of the global order, with their English cousins at their side.

What's going on today in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq certainly isn't cricket.

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