Will International Competitions Become Anachronisms?

22 06 2010

Following up on the previous post about sports and nationalism, I decided to take a look at some of the rosters for the best teams in the World Cup, looking at the two best teams in each group, with a focus on the “developing” nations.

Not surprisingly, these rosters are heavy with players who live and play in different countries–often different continents. Not only this, but you could show a direct correlation between the best players and the wealth of the nation in which they’re playing. Association football in its day-to-day form is organized around the capital in the game, not nation-states.

Nearly half of Mexico’s team plays in Europe, and two-thirds of Uruguay’s. None of Slovenia’s players play in Slovenia (contrast with Germany, where every single player plays in Germany). Only two of Serbia’s players play in Serbia (and they’re both back benchers). Half of Paraguay’s team plays in Europe, 20 of Brazil’s 23 the same, and just over half of Chile’s team the same. Many of these players (and more and more in recent years) left their home country in their teens and became a part of the popular culture (not to mention the upper class) of another country within a handful of years. To what degree these individual players are really “representing” the nation is questionable, isn’t it?

Sports and Nations

18 06 2010

I watched Mexico beat France at Cleo’s on Chicago Ave, sitting in the big open doors that give out onto the street. At the final whistle, hoots broke out up and down the street, accented by a few choice celebrations in Spanish. I asked my buddy Alberto, who is Mexican-American, about how strong Mexican nationalism was–say, as compared to loyalty to your region or town (or indigeneity)–in Mexico.

I was surprised to learn that pride in being Mexican, as opposed to say, Michoacan, is very strong all over Mexico, including among the rural poor, particularly around athletics.

It’s surprising because the idea of a “Mexican nation” (as opposed to a “Mexican country” which has no personal identity component) is fairly recent–less than two hundred years old–and was originally championed by the European-descended metropolitan professional classes. And also, Mexico the country was a fabrication of European settlers.

The symbols of Mexico–at parades, at sporting events, in civic culture–are often lifted from Mayan and Aztec civilization. Yet their intellectual and political elites, even their professional athletes, are primarily descendants of Europeans. That rural people more closely descended from indigenous groups would so fervently buy in to a construction of Europeans settlers–complete with the somewhat contradictory pre-Columbian symbolism–is a little counter-intuitive.

But that’s the thing about nationalism; the concept of a nationalism wrapped up in national identity is fairly new and based on intellectual and legal constructs, rather than anything tangible or historical. And in most parts of the world, those constructs were a result of European commercial and imperial activities. Being a, say, Zimbabwean nationalist takes as a settled question the reality of a “nation” of Zimbabwe. Just as often in those places, the European-fabricated nation-state is in peril because free of the bonds of imperial administration, more “natural” in-groups–tribes, religious sects, clans, etc.–begin to buck against the coercive power of the state.

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