Yes, brave citizens, despite all the frightening talk you’ve heard of the possibility of NO football next fall, there will in fact be plenty of football to watch. And I don’t even mean crappy arena football or lingerie football, but real top-quality football. True, it won’t be the kind they play with an ovoid ball with helmets on WAIT, WAIT! Don’t navigate away from this page just because you’ve realized it’s about soccer! At least hear me out as to why watching this kind of football will be just as good as-NAY, better than- watching the NFL next year. Even Ochocinco is making the switch.
I will first present general reasons as to why any of my fair readers will enjoy the sport, and after reading the general section, you may skip down to the specific reasons that fit your political proclivities.
Although with the NFL’s 16-game schedule, every game is theoretically
important, the truth is that from about week 10 onward, there are a spate of meaningless games. Match-ups between teams that have no shot at making the playoffs enthuse only the faithful, and in some games between wretched teams, there might actually be incentive for teams to lose in order to get a better draft pick. However! In European football, this is not the case. In fact, meetings between the very worst teams have added import because of the specter of RELEGATION!!! You see, the worst teams in a country’s premier league are relegated each year to the second-tier league (sort of like minor leagues in baseball, but not at all really), and conversely, the best teams from the lower leagues are promoted. This not only means that the league has fresh faces and a new composition each year, but that teams can’t just coast through the end of the season once their hopes of glory are dashed. Still don’t see why this is a good thing? Imagine if a week 16 game between the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns, rather than being a meaningless scrimmage, was a fight for the right to stay in the NFL! Suddenly, the game would have meaning, the players would have motivation to play like it’s the playoffs, and the fans could be convinced to care. This will be the situation this May 15 when Wigan Athletic and West Ham United, two teams at the bottom of the English Premier League, play in the league’s penultimate week.
With the exception of the Super Bowl, I think we could all agree that the ratio of commercial time to actual playing time in American football (and most professional sports in North America) is mightily out of proportion. But in professional soccer, the clock never stops during the two 45-minute halves. This means that if you’re watching a match, the only commercials to which you will be subjected are during half-time, and the occasional small, unobtrusive banner at the bottom of the screen. This not only makes for a more pleasant viewing experience; it also lessens the risk of an international incident or the marginalization of an oppressed culture.
Now, on to the reasons particular political groupings will love association football:
Economic Liberals (in the classical sense)
The Free Market decides!
Unlike the centrally-planned professional sports leagues in North America (including, it must be said, the MLS), the placement of teams in the European premier leagues is decided by competition, through the system of relegation. Rather than bureaucrats in league offices deciding, for example that Atlanta and Miami will get a hockey team (great idea, guys) or that Vancouver would get an NBA team (how did that work out?), or having to approve a team’s decision to move to a new city, market forces decide which cities get teams in the top flight, and how many.
This leads to some interesting results. This season, in both the English and Russian Premier Leagues (countries with rather different geographies, one might note), fully one quarter of the league’s teams are based in the capital city (5 in London, 4 in Moscow). Meanwhile in France’s Ligue 1, there is only one club based in Paris, and indeed no city has more than one team (in England this year, 4 cities have multiple teams). But hey, that’s what the invisible hand wants.
Yes that’s a real thing (Google it)
Believe you me, if you want to be a “global citizen,” nothing will fast-track your citizenship request more than being a fan of the beautiful game. If you go to Uganda (note: I have), you may not be able to distinguish between tribes and ethnicities, but there will be a clear distinction between Arsenal and Man United supporters (rest assured, it’s mostly peaceful). An ability to discuss the flaws in the UN Security Council might start some conversations. But not nearly as many as an ability to talk about Chelsea’s struggles in the League this season.
One more personal anecdote: I traveled to Laos in 2007. Laos is in many regards a country beyond the frontiers of globalization — there is no McDonald’s in the country and railways that connect the rest of Southeast Asia stop at Laos’ border. But nevertheless, whenever I introduced myself as “David,” I was usually greeted with a chuckle and “Ah, like David Beckham?”
Moreover, top-flight clubs in many premier leagues have gone so global in their search for talent that simple teamwork becomes an exercise in international cooperation. Let’s just take, for example, Sunderland, a mid-table side based in northern England. After making a save, their Scottish goalkeeper might throw the ball out to one of their English defenders, who will then pass the ball forward to an Egyptian midfielder, who might pass the ball over to his Beninese teammate, who will in turn kick the ball upfield to a Ghanaian forward. And this global flavour is not limited to just the English Premier League. Even in the Ukrainian Premier League, mid-table sides like Metalurh Donetsk have players from Portugal, Brazil, Nigeria and a host of Eastern European countries. If you truly want to believe that people from different nationalities can come together and work toward a common goal, football is one of your best causes for hope.
It’s right there in the name!
International Football really is one of the best examples of federal governance. We can start with FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association), soccer’s global governing body. It’s a massively important organization, but really, it doesn’t do much. It organizes the World Cup and some other major tournaments and serves as a sort of appeals court on certain matters. Next there are 6 continental federations, each of which is made up of its member countries’ federations. Each country’s federation runs its leagues as it sees fit (the game itself is not open to alteration), and the larger bodies (continental and FIFA) usually only get involved if there is political interference from actual governments.
Of course, this federal system works at an international level, and there is not a whole lot of overlap between Federalists and proponents of international governance, but if you can get past that, international football provides a good example of a successful federal system.
So there you go! Now you don’t have to be sad that you don’t get to see Terrell Owens ruin another team next year. Your welcome, America.