Global Game: (Soccer)

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Just a year into his first term as president of Federation Internationale de Football Association, Joseph Blatter has begun a series of efforts to modernize and expand the sport of football. His plan to move the World Cup to a 2-year rotation has been met with responses ranging from enthusiasm to derision. He has been at the forefront of the effort to promote football in the developing world, particularly Africa, as a way to foster better international ties and to encourage further economic expansion in developing nations. In an interview, Blatter discusses the politics and economics of international football and the future of the world's most popular sport.

Text:

Headnote:

Football's Common Playing Field

Just a year into his first term as president of FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association), arguably the most powerful organization in sports, and after having served for 17 years as General Secretary of FIFA, Joseph Blatter has begun a series of efforts to modernize and expand the sport of football. His plan to move the World Cup to a two-year rotation has been met with responses ranging from enthusiasm to derision. He has been at the forefront of the effort to promote football in the developing world, particularly Africa, as a way to foster better international ties and to encourage further economic expansion in developing nations.

Senior Editor Ariel Simon spoke with Mr. Blatter in April about the politics and economics of international football and the future of the world's most popular sport.

HARVARD INTERNATIONAL REVIEW:

Last year's World Cup match between the United States and Iran generated great interest in the world media. It has been suggested that athletics might often play a role that complements or affects traditional diplomacy. In what way do you see football and athletics in general as having an effect on the relations and perceptions of citizens among nations? In my opinion, international team sport, especially football-or, as you say, soccer-is one of the most sophisticated means of bringing people together and reinforcing relationships between the fans of different nations. The role of football for a national team, and for the nation that stands behind it, is very important. It is important for players to be known as the best in their country, for the best of these players then represent their nation in international matches. In all international matches in FIFA, we play both countries' national anthems at the beginning of the contest and we present both national flags together with the fair-play flag of FIFA. The example you cite is the best one of two nations coming together through the fans of both nations. They played football. There was a winner, there was a loser, and at the end of the match, they exchanged shirts. The repercussions of this contest in the United States, Iran, and the whole Islamic world were very impressive.

What is the impact of traditionally marginalized nations competing and often beating the most powerful nations in the world in the prominent context provided by international football?

We have had two very small countries, both not very powerful, qualify for the World Cup. When Jamaica won a match against Japan, their homeland received them as national heroes. Croatia, which finished third in the competition of 32 countries, had a week-long fiesta in celebration of their strong finish. Therefore, the so-called marginalized nations, through sports, and football specifically, can express their national pride and show the world that they are an international force, even if they are not an economic or political power, through their national football team.

With the spread of globalization, national identities are becoming blurred as players travel overseas and nations move closer to integration, as demonstrated by the European Union. How will football events such as the World Cup, where national teams compete against one another, relate and adapt to this trend? …