Monday 7 December 2009

Come on you reds! Why the left should lift the World Cup

Waiting for anything important to happen in Friday night's World Cup draw, I tentatively tweeted that I might well be supporting England (of course) and then Ivory Coast, Holland, Ghana and (maybe) Argentina this summer. And perhaps Spain over Brazil in the end.

But former work and pensions secretary James Purnell thought that was missing the chance to turn the thing into a political football, responding.

surely your 2nd team shd be Chile; longest running progressive government in the world... and vg in quals

I am certainly envious of his more detailed knowledge of the South American qualifiers, having caught only a few games in Argentina's dramatically precarious campaign.

My first instinct would be to flag that offside. Footballing aesthetics should surely trump political allegiance? My early neutral support for Brazil (1982), France (1984) or Holland (1988) had much more to do with, say, Platini's left foot than Mitterrand's left flank.

Just as poetry scholars would be loath to admit the question of TS Eliot's anti-semitism into a discussion of his literary merit, the authoritarian nature of Brazil's military dictatorship in 1970 is surely irrelevant to Carlos Alberto's claim to have scored the perfect World Cup goal.

But why not admit politics? Who to support as a neutral is only a semi-rationalisation of any number of irrational memories and prejudices anyway. And no internationalist leftist lacking a Spanish allegiance is likely to prefer Real Madrid to Barcelona once they know the political and sporting history. It is at least a happy coincidence that the ethos of both clubs seems to continue to speak to their allotted roles, especially while Madrid's disposable moneybags culture consistently fails to emulate the footballing virtues of FC Barcelona.

So, I am changing my mind.

Whatever I may do personally, the Next Left blog will be supporting the democratic left at the World Cup. (Sorry, North Korea, but you will have to face the group of death without our backing).

And we are pretty confident that the left can lift the World Cup too.

The left-right battle in South Africa may be fairly evenly balanced - each side has two of the traditional World Cup big four, the only countries to win the tournament away from home soil in the last half century.

But the left probably has the major teams in the best form. And, perhaps surprisingly, given the current gloomy atmosphere around the international prospects for social democracy, the democratic left will have a good half of the teams in South Africa, while the democratic right will be a little lighter.

The right has Italy and Germany - along with France and Holland too. All big nations, but none in scintillating form. Beyond that quartet, Denmark, Switzerland, South Korea, Mexico and New Zealand do not add much footballing strength in depth. Whether or not the democratic right should include Honduras, where an election has followed a right-wing coup, is debatable, and the centre-right government in Nigeria pretty much failed the rest of being elected in a free and fair contest too.

The left has Brazil and Argentina and perhaps more importantly European champions Spain, as well as Chile and Portugal. The left's recent electoral victories in Australia, the USA and Japan are less likely to prove decisive. We have also won recent elections in Uruguay and Greece, who have both won major football tournaments both ancient and modern, but they are outsiders too. I think we can also count Serbia, Ghana and Slovenia in our squad, along with Slovakia (though the social democrats have disreputable coalition partners), and probably Paraguay, along with the South African hosts in the event of the most unlikely fairytale.

As for England, where much will depend on a General Election as well as the dreaded quarter or semi-final penalty shoot-outs. So let's not get too carried away there.

North Korea will be the only team to represent a totalitarian regime at the finals. And Algeria Cameroon and Nigeria are among those countries which hold elections but which can probably not sensibly be classified as substantially democratic polities. I would probably also exclude from this democratic political contest civil strife torn Ivory Coast.

(By the way, notification of mistakes or detailed quibbles about the political classifications of the teams, news of upcoming elections or shock reshuffles which may affect the tournament are welcome).


We also have a scoreflash just in ...

Looking at European World Cup winners since the second world war, the result, is:

Centre-left 5
Prodi 06 (Italy), Wilson 66 (England), Schmidt 74 (Germany), Spadolini 82 (Italy), Jospin 98 (France).

Centre-right 2
Adenauer 54 (Germany), Kohl 90 (Germany)

Jacques Chirac claims an assist for France in 1998, but I am crediting it to Lionel Jospin as a Le Pen own goal.

These post-1950 pro-democracy World Cup results exclude the two Italian World Cups won under Mussolini's fascist regime.

If somebody with a phD in South American politics, particularly a Uruguay specialist, wants to get in touch then a global result might yet be possible.

Brazil's first three World Cups were won under what I think would best be called the populist centre in 1958, then the populist left in 1962 and an authoritarian dictatorship by 1970, before two more under democratic governments, both centrist, though alternatively perhaps leaning centre-right and the other centre-left.

Argentina won under a fascist junta in 1978 and a liberal president in 1986.

All of that may suggest that, when it comes to political footballs, there does seem to be everything to play for in South Africa.

So, come on you reds.

But I wonder if this may also create a dilemma for Hannanites. As most of the strong centre-right teams have governments led by members of the dreaded European People's Party. Would Tory Eurosceptics think they were better red than that?

1 comment:

13eastie said...

"And we are pretty confident that the left can lift the World Cup too".

Given up on England, already?