World Cup 2010: Political Happenings & Thoughts

June 10, 2010

When the World Cup comes around every four years, we are told of its many benefits. Often mentioned are the universal joys which the event produces, ranging from the spectacular play on the pitch to the sport's overall unifying quality.

In other words, the young, the old, and those of differing nationalities all can come together, reunite, and enjoy a good match. During the Cup, economic and social differences generally are forgotten.

Sometimes however, a World Cup can bring these socio-economic differences into focus. Especially this year with the venue located in South Africa, a former Apartheid state.

Here are some of the political issues and observations already arising from the 2010 World Cup:

The Lack of African Coaches

The 2010 World Cup has largely been hailed as Africa’s coming out party. Not only is the event taking place on the continent, but there is also a halfway decent chance that an African country could win the tournament.

In addition, Africa’s already sizable contribution to European club football will be reflected in this World Cup, as star players such as Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast and Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon now will be playing for their national teams in South Africa.

Despite all these accomplishments on the field, Africans have yet to receive the same level of recognition as football coaches.

While much of the mainstream media coverage has focused on the African stars in the 2010 World Cup, few have mentioned (Monocle Magazine being a notable exception) that Rabah Saadane of Algeria is the only African coaching an African team.

Saadane is the “Old Man” of Algerian football, having been on the staff of the 1982 World Cup team, and later, serving as head coach of the 1986 squad. His return has been a long time in coming.

The Algerians have never gotten past the first round, and most likely it will take a bit of luck for them to sneak past either the U.S. or England and get into the second round.

Pan-Arabism Died on the Soccer Pitch

Who can forget the intense Algeria-Egypt soccer hooliganism of 2009 that preceded Algeria’s qualification to this year’s World Cup? A wave of rioting, vandalism, and violence followed those bitter Egypt-Algeria matches, leading to spillover chaos in Sudan, and even as far away as France.

The fact that both countries were from bilad Al-Arab, did nothing to diminish the shocking violence. And the fact that Algeria squeaked through only to lose to Egypt in African Cup competition a few months later, has made this rivalry between the Pharaohs and the Desert Foxes all the more bitter.

To this day, relations between the two countries remain icy despite offers from numerous countries to mediate. Libya has even announced it will no longer compete against teams from Egypt and Algeria due to sportsmanship concerns.

European Domination Continues

Historically, the European and South American nations have dominated the list of World Cup champions. In fact, the final four in this year's tournament is more likely to resemble that of the 2008 Euro Cup than to reflect the array of diverse World Cup teams from different corners of the globe. Such dominance is no new trend.

Since 1950, the final four spots in any given World Cup often have featured the elite European teams or the South American powerhouses of Brazil and Argentina.

Of course, there have been exceptions, including: a pair of overachieving teams with home field advantage in Chile (1962) and South Korea (2002); a remarkable appearance by Turkey in 2002; and a Uruguay squad which embarrassed Brazil by defeating the soccer giant at home in 1950.

Expect this year to follow the standard pattern, as two of the heavy favorites are Spain and Brazil.

Size Matters

Of the nations appearing in the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay and Slovenia have the two smallest populations. Uruguay, in particular, is unique - it is the only nation with under 4 million people to have won a World Cup (the next smallest country is Argentina with 40 million).

This will be Slovenia’s first appearance in the event (excluding appearances by the former Yugoslavia). The list of other past would-be giantkillers in the World Cup includes Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Wales, the Reggaeboyz of Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago's Soca Warriors. None of those countries has a population over 4 million.

So what do all the population numbers indicate? They reveal that no country, regardless of its passion for the game, is likely to win a World Cup unless it has the raw population figures required to develop its talent base.

Remember the Cheonan!

For the first time in history, North Korea and South Korea will both be appearing in the World Cup. However, tensions between the countries remain as high as ever, especially following North Korea’s recent destruction of the Cheonan, a South Korean Navy vessel. The attack killed 46 South Korean sailors.

North Korea’s status as a nuclear-armed state means that to some extent it can conduct such attacks with near impunity. And the proof of that perhaps can been seen with its business-as-usual conduct, as North Korea has signed a jersey promotion deal for millions with an Italian company.

Some have called for symbolic boycotts during the games in order to condemn and shame the North Korean regime for its attack on the Cheonan.

Unfortunately, soccer fans most likely will not see the two teams go head-to-head on the pitch, as both are in different groups and probably will not meet up absent a deep dual run in the tournament.

By Joe Hammond
Contributing Writer for

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