Football Goes East: Business, Culture, and the People's Game in China, Japan, and South Korea

By Wolfram Manzenreiter; John Horne | Go to book overview

11

The banality of football

'Race', nativity, and how Japanese football critics failed to digest the planetary spectacle

Ogasawara Hiroki


Introduction

Since the Football World Cup Finals in the summer of 2002 there have been two, apparently mutually opposite discourses produced in the media, intellectual milieu, households, classrooms, and on the streets in Japan. Some - who we shall call 'instrumentalists' - insist that the World Cup was, at the end of the day, all about the embodiment of nationalism and the narrative of nation building. This discourse invokes the talisman of critical thinking. This views sports mega-events as part of a series of nationalist exhibitions, firmly associated with the mass mobilisation of the population and displays of exclusive chauvinism. There are many types of ghostly cliché of this kind, which describe international football as a proxy war, nationalist enhancement, the embodiment of authoritarian fascism, capitalist exploitation of the body, and a civilised form of the release of uncivilised savagery. In this camp the exclusive entitlement and belonging to a particular race/nation couplet becomes the almost exclusive issue. This discourse assumes that the World Cup promotes the instrumentality of nationalist ideology. Football, whether it is to do with on-the-pitch play or off-the-pitch concerns, can be colonised by the instrumentalists' formulation of mass culture.

A second camp claims almost the opposite: that the 2002 World Cup marked the emergence of a distinctively new social movement, generated solidarity amongst young people (especially in Japan and Korea) and turned on a greater cultural sensitivity. This position argues that although the event itself might have been made possible by nationalism and global capital, from it there has emerged the possibility for new identities that can transform the meaning of the World Cup. The event might create an unruly space that cannot simply be absorbed within the narrative of 'nations'. My own view is closer to this second position. Yet I am also aware of its potentially dangerous liaison with what could possibly be called 'football purism'. The most simplistic view of this kind returns to an apolitical stance, which insists that it is the nature of football as the 'world's game' that unites people with different cultures, religions and political beliefs. However, I would argue that football could not be a site of the perfect expression of humanist free will and bodily achievement, if such things have ever existed.

Neither simple instrumentalists nor purists can comprehend the complexity of the 2002 World Cup unless they become aware of the extra-national condition

-165-

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