Top 10: Things You Should Know About the World Cup…But Probably Don’t

Phantasm of 1950For legions of football fans all around the world, the World Cup is the ultimate spectacle, played out on an international stage by world-class players.

But for Nigel Boyle and David Goldblatt, two Pitzer professors who have spent years studying the world’s game, it means much more, as evidenced by the flurry of comments made recently over coffee:

Dr. Boyle: “In terms of the sale of television rights, the U.S. is FIFA’s most important market, once you combine Spanish and English language broadcasts.”

Dr. Goldblatt: “America will win the World Cup. It’s coming, but in my lifetime…?”

Dr. Boyle: “England are complete no-hopers!”

Dr. Goldblatt: “It’s a shame not to have the North Koreans this year. I shall miss them.”

Dr. Boyle: “The largest group of World Cup fans at this World Cup will be from the United States. The U.S. is the single largest market, as far as FIFA is concerned.”

Dr. Goldblatt: “I have a soft spot for Greece. I supported them at the last World Cup.”

Dr. Boyle: (laughing) “WHY?”

Dr. Goldblatt: It’s just this sort of anti-Germanic, anti-European thing…and because in 2010, I was hanging out with a bunch of Greeks. They always play sly, deceptive football. It is great pantomime, and you’ve got to have pantomime villains!”

 

Okay, so now that you brought it up, who are the greatest pantomime villains in the history of world football?

 

Dr. Goldblatt: “[Diego] Maradona in ’94. [Zinedine] Zidane looked like he might have been a pantomime villain in 2006, with the head-butt. How much more pantomime villain can a guy get?”

Dr. Boyle: “[Luis] Suarez is an obvious contender for 2014, but will he bite?”

Dr. Goldblatt: “I anticipate him scoring a hat trick against England. I personally support him!”

 

A member of the Pitzer community since 1992 and an Aston Villa fan since forever, Nigel Boyle is a member of the Political Studies field group and Pitzer’s Fulbright Fellowship advisor. He also introduced The Politics of World Soccer to Pitzer’s campus, the most popular course in the history of the Claremont Colleges!

 

Now the head of Pitzer’s Institute for Global/Local Action and Study (IGLAS), Dr. Boyle works to “promote understanding of the global processes that are shaping the challenges our students encounter in communities near and far.”

 

Part of that process entails using football and the World Cup as a lens through which to view the larger social, political and economic tensions facing the world and its people.

 

Enter David Goldblatt, visiting Pitzer professor and author of the authoritative book on world football, The Ball is Round (according to the author, his friends have also dubbed it The Words are Many). A Tottenham Hotspurs fan, Dr. Goldblatt currently lives in Bristol, “the Bermuda triangle of football prowess,” where he also cheers for the Bristol Rovers.

 

With the World Cup fast approaching, Boyle and Goldblatt joined forces with other Pitzer faculty to explore football as a cultural phenomenon and a mechanism of change. From lecturing on the history of Brazil through the lens of football to enlisting the expertise of scholars like Simon Kuper and Jennifer Doyle, these football enthusiasts have helped Pitzer students shine a light on the myriad cultural, economic, social and racial factors that make up the World Cup today…factors that, to the casual football fan, remain a mystery.

 

The World Cup is watched by billions of viewers every four years, and yet many of the fans remain unaware of the larger issues at play, issues that extend far beyond the well-manicured lawns of a football field.

 

So with the World Cup set to begin on June 12, 2014, and with the eyes of the football world focused squarely on Brazil, Dr. Boyle and Dr. Goldblatt join forces yet again to offer up a list of things you should know about the World Cup…but probably don’t.

 

The World Cup we see is not the real World Cup.

Dr. Boyle and Dr. Goldblatt: “The original Jules Rimet Trophy no longer exists. It was stolen from its bulletproof cabinet in Brazil in 1983, during a period of hyper-inflation, and was almost certainly melted down for its value in gold. We only see a fake one. So that’ll be number one…that’s a good number one!”

 

This will be the most expensive World Cup – ever.

Dr. Goldblatt: “No one knows, least of all the Brazilian authorities, how much has been spent. The current estimate is $9 billion. The security budget is $9 million and rising. You’ve got the security action going on in the favelas, extraordinary security operations going on in each of the cities around the matches, and you’ve got threats of protest…which won’t just be threats, they will happen. You’ve got the Black Blocks, who are teenage anarchists in balaclavas, as well as the more responsible and politicized social movements and anti-World Cup/Olympic movements. The Brazilian government has created a 10,000-strong mobile force that can be deployed to any city in the country. And they said, ‘Don’t worry, guys, they’re going to be trained to the same human rights and democratic protest control standards as UN peacekeepers.’ Really? These are the people who are responsible for numerous extrajudicial murders! So there’s that little dimension that’s worrying to think about…”

 

There are no good alternatives to penalty kicks.

Dr. Goldblatt: “I don’t see what everyone’s problem is! You don’t want to be there at 2:00 AM for extra innings…that’s fine for the World Series, but for football it’s too long. You’ve had enough by them, and it’s time to bring the thing to a close. I actually rather like the cheap drama! You’ve had Hamlet, and now you’re going to have the five-minute short at the end. One suggestion I’ve heard that’s not feasible but very funny, is if you could make the goal get bigger and bigger with each passing minute! But it’s hard to change any of these things without changing a whole bunch of other things.”

 

The next American football superstar is a kid playing youth soccer in Southern California right now.

Dr. Boyle: “A little statistic that I love is that there are 100,000 youth soccer players playing in club soccer in Southern California right now, which means they’re paying $1,000 per year in club fees. It’s a big business, and a huge, highly competitive youth soccer arena. That’s where the American Zidane, almost certainly Latino, is going to come from.”

 

There need to be more opportunities for more people to play more football during the World Cup.

Dr. Goldblatt: “You’ve got half a million people coming in from overseas, and a huge Brazilian population that’s basically on holiday for the World Cup…why are we not creating more opportunities for them to play football, rather than drink bad wheat beer? And there’s nothing wrong with bad wheat beer, but that’s the starting point, not the end! It would be relatively cheap to do, to open up huge public spaces within the cities and provide a space where foreign fans and locals can mix in a non-commercial environment. You could also build various pick-up fields – there’s the legacy that everyone wants. The Brazilian government spent $325 million to build a stadium in Manaus for four games! If you’d spent a fraction of that on building little football fields around Manaus, there’s a legacy, as well as something for everybody to do.”

 

FIFA invites football and social development teams from around the world to the World Cup.

Dr. Goldblatt: “People should definitely look out for the champs, the Mathare Youth Sports Association from Kenya. They’ve won it that last two times, and they are the favorites to win it this year. They are the best social development project that uses football, so that’s a good thing to look for.”

 

Only one of the U.S. national team members is from a club not affiliated with Major League Soccer.

Dr. Boyle: “That’s a bad thing, that so few of the top American players are playing in the top European leagues.”

Dr. Goldblatt: “It’s good as a way of maintaining high domestic interest in football and building a long-term, sustainable culture that could eventually lead to a World Cup win. I sort of see it both ways. It would be great if the best American players were playing abroad and picking up those skills and bringing them back to the United States. But on the other hand, Ivory Coast has got innumerable players in the top leagues all over Europe, and look at the state of football in Ivory Coast. No one wants to go to a match!”

 

New Zealand entered the 2010 World Cup ranked 78th in the world, and ended up flying home as the only undefeated team in the tournament. Croatia will be the New Zealand of 2014.

Dr. Goldblatt: “Now obviously, Croatia is a bigger country with a stronger football tradition, but the potency of Balkan nationalism at the World Cup is not to be underestimated.”

 

For Bosnia to have even qualified for the World Cup is extraordinary.

Dr. Goldblatt: “It will be interesting to see if the Bosnian Serbs get behind the team. I doubt it…it’ll be a Bosnian-Muslim-Croat team, but how that will play adds an interesting dimension. I expect Bosnia to be a real surprise package. I think the level of commitment and energy coming out of that team will be amazing!”

 

Japan and South Korea will do well. Honduras will not.

Dr. Goldblatt: “I expect Honduras to lose heavily and go home, I’m afraid…”

Dr. Boyle: “I think Japan could do really well. They’ve got all their great players.”

Dr. Goldblatt: “Yeah, they nearly always make it to the Round of 16, but they don’t quite have the oomph to get beyond. The South Koreans have got quite a lot of players overseas, but they’re just not getting playing time. That’s been a real problem for Korean players abroad, getting time on the pitch. That’s another advantage of not having Americans in the Premier League – they’re not sitting on the bench all the time.”

 

Algeria will be interesting to watch in the wake of post-election political turmoil.

Dr. Goldblatt: “Algeria’s just absolutely volcanic in the wake of the presidential election! [Abdelaziz] Bouteflika’s been re-elected for the fourth time, and he’s basically being kept alive on a life-support system. It was a completely swizzed election, with the opposition saying, ‘We’re not playing.’ Algerian youth are not allowed to gather, but people will be gathering for the World Cup, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in Algeria. So that’s one to watch…”

 

No one knows if the 2014 Netherlands team play more like Johann Cruyff and Dennis Bergkamp (i.e. with elegance and flair), or Mark Van Bommell (i.e. dirtier than a seedy Amsterdam cinema).

Dr. Goldblatt: “What a good question, especially after Nigel De Jung’s kung-fu kick to Xavi in the 2010 final! I don’t know…”

Dr. Boyle: “They cruised through the qualifying matches.”

Dr. Goldblatt: “It’s really hard to know. One hopes not.”

 

FIFA are banning all musical instruments from the 2014 World Cup.

Dr. Goldblatt: “It is deeply miserable that FIFA are banning musical instruments inside the football stadiums. Obviously, that means no vuvuzelas, but what about the Spanish dude with the cap who’s always there with the drum? What’s he going to do? The England band who, love them or hate them, are an important part of the carnival, playing “The Dam Busters” and “Knees Up, Mother Brown.” They’re not allowed in there? I just think, ‘This is the samba nation? This is samba football?’ What were you thinking? I find that one really depressing…you don’t need to do that. You’re not going to let people bring drums to a World Cup game? In Brazil? How can this be right?!”

 

Which French team will show up (the one we saw in 2006, or the one we saw in 2010) remains a mystery.

Dr. Goldblatt: “Which France will show up? I don’t know. That’s the question to be asking France, because in 2006 they were magnificent, and really should have won it. In 2010 they were CATACLYSMICALLY bad and imploded over race issues inside the camp, as usual. I saw them play against Mexico, and they were dreadful, dreadful! France is a big question mark…”

 

Look for toilets, because you won’t see many…

Dr. Goldblatt: “One of the areas in which the companies appear to be skimping in their desperate attempt to finish the stadiums is sorting the toilets out. I think everyone should be looking out for large numbers of portable toilets. It’s worth noting that in Porto Alegre in 2006, fans took a bunch of portable toilets and threw them into the moat during a league game their team was losing. They even set them on fire! I don’t expect THAT to be happening…”

 

And, while you’re looking for toilets, watch the airports as well.

Dr. Goldblatt: “It’s slightly boring, but if you want to see the super-weak point in the infrastructure and organization, I think it’s the airports. The stadiums will be finished in the end. It’ll cost a lot of money, and they won’t be quite right (you know, the hot water will come out of the cold water tap, and all that stuff), but 64 games will happen on time, where they’re meant to happen. Where the real problems will come is going to be at the airports, where they’re basically relying on tents to be the hangars. Transport to the games will be interesting to watch, particularly in places like Recife, where it’s 25 miles to the stadium, in the middle of nowhere, with incomplete public transport systems. I think that’s going to be an issue to watch.”

 

This will be the first World Cup where Twitter will be very important.

Dr. Goldblatt: “Twitter’s going to be really, really interesting to follow during the World Cup, because protestors and commentators alike are both really big on Twitter. There are lots of really good people putting stuff out there. People should get on Twitter beforehand and pick the people they’re going to follow.”

 

David Goldblatt’s Top Websites and Twitter Feeds:

Hunting White Elephants – http://www.geostadia.com/

Brazil Character Lab – @scharlab

Simon Rivero – @SimonRivero

Andrew Downie – @adowniebrazil

 

What we will see in the 2014 World Cup that we may not have seen before is…

Dr. Goldblatt: “Large-scale riots. We’ve had protests at the World Cup before. In 1938, the Italian fascist team were the champions, and the French leftists were very hot for them. The Italians came by train to Switzerland via Marseille, and 10,000 French leftists showed up to shout at them. They got abused from the stands, and in the quarterfinals against France, the Italian team wore black instead of blue and gave the full fascist salute. In 1974, we saw anti-Pinochet protestors unfurling things in the stadiums, but that aside, there’s been very little at the World Cup compared to anti-Olympic movements who have been doing stuff at various levels since Sydney 2000. This is the first time we’re going to see large-scale riots. What will happen or how it will go, I don’t know, but we will see it. In that respect, the World Cup has become more like the Olympics in its scale, scope and political significance. It was always a much smaller affair, and it certainly wasn’t costing $9 billion, which is more than the Sydney and Barcelona Olympic Games cost together! We’re going to see a kind of scaled up World Cup, in that regard.”

 

Brazil will win it all this year.

Dr. Goldblatt: “They’re terribly good, they won the Confeds Cup, and the team is virtually unchanged. They have a really solid defense, attacking threats from the likes of Dani Alves, and they’re a really classy team. Will they hold their nerve? Will they freak out? That’s part of the pleasure of the experience. You’ve got to make Brazil favorites, and you can’t write off the Germans, because they’re just always terribly good!”

 

Other Useful Tidbits, Courtesy of David Goldblatt…

Match Hospitality, which sells hospitality packages, is run by [FIFA President] Sepp Blatter’s nephew.

“It’s a conflict of interest, and what FIFA is very, VERY bad at dealing with are conflicts of interest. It’s indicative of a wider problem.”

Ghana will do well.

“They did great last time.”

Diego Maradona is not the man to be make manager of everything.

(Need we say more?)

According to the American manufacturer, the Brazilian security force helmets were designed to look like Darth Vader.

(We’re not kidding.)

Watch out for Uruguay!

“England is my first club, obviously, but I have no expectations for them. I want Uruguay to beat Brazil in the final. That’s what I’m rooting for, dude!”

Luis Suarez will be scintillating to watch!

“Suarez, man, he’s just been unbelievable this season. He’s my player of the year, to be honest. Liverpool is going to win the Premier League for the first time in 24 years, on the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough! Oh my god! He’s the number one reason!”

The only newcomers to the World Cup this year are Bosnia and Herzegovina.

“But hurrah! That’s a good thing!”

Italy is a bit of a dark horse.

“They know how to play in these tournaments.”

Brazil really does close down for football.

“For all the cynicism about football and the World Cup, it’s still the case that Brazil will close down. The entire calendar of the nation has been shifted, in terms of universities and schools and so on. Businesses will shut, and public transportation will pretty much stop. Busses come to a halt during the World Cup, and don’t finish their run until the game is over. That will still happen, and it will be really interesting to watch!”

 

Goldblatt on Groups:

Group A – Brazil, Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon

“It’s who comes second in that group, isn’t it? They’re all pretty equivalent – you’ve got a European, a North American and a Central African team, so it’s very balanced…that’s the real World Cup, in terms of the spread and caliber of those teams. You can see any of them beating each other.”

 

Group B – Spain, Netherlands, Chile and Australia

“Spain looked old at the Confeds, and Barcelona, from which the core of the team is coming, is looking older and not as good. And yet, you don’t want to quite right them off. They’ve won a World Cup, they’ve won two European championships…they’re bloody good! The World Cup often benefits teams who are poised, measured and pace themselves. Spain lost its opening game in 2010 and still won the World Cup! So I think you’ve got to take Spain very seriously. I think Spain is going to whoop Australia. Chile is also meant to be good.”

 

Group C – Colombia, Greece, Cote D’Ivoire and Japan

“This is much harder to call – any of those teams could go through, which is nice. That’s a really open group. Greece is probably the weakest team. They’re ranked 10th…how can they be 10th in the world? FIFA world rankings are odd things. I had a very interesting conversation with some dudes at FIFA, and they recognize that the rankings they produce are quite odd, and they’ve spent quite a lot of money on Moneyball-type statistics, trying to work out a better way to rank teams, and it’s proving very, very difficult.”

 

Group D – Uruguay, Costa Rica, England and Italy

“Italy and England play their opening game in Manaus at noon, so that’s going to be a very slow game…it’s going to be boiling hot. I don’t think England can beat Italy in that context. I think everyone will beat Costa Rica, so it’s going to come down to whether England can beat Uruguay, and whether Italy can beat Uruguay. I think Uruguay will win the group, and then I think it will come down to who beats Costa Rica by more coals. And when it comes to sneaky, last-minute goals, you’ve got to back Italy every time, haven’t you? I’m not very optimistic about England, but I’d be delighted to be proved wrong.”

 

Group E – Switzerland, Ecuador, France and Honduras

“Honduras…I can’t see it, but any of the other three are possible.”

 

Group F – Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria

“It’s just fantastically bonkers, isn’t it? This is the joy of the World Cup, you know? You have a semi-democracy, a miniscule, fragmented multi-ethnic state in the middle of Europe, Iran, and Nigeria, the most bonkers country in the world! I mean, brilliant! And all completely football bonkers…really, really football obsessed countries. This is a great football group filled with bizarre political connections and social contexts. Any of them can win that group, I would say!”

 

Group G – Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States

“The Americans are not pushovers. They’re quite hard to beat, and they have lots of experience on the side. I just don’t think they’re going to be a pushover. It’s obvious who the favorites are, but I think it’s less of a done deal than everywhere else.”

 

Group H – Belgium, Algeria, Russia and Korea Republic

“Group H is a real mix. Belgium are the strongest team, and the Russians are slightly odd…we don’t know quite who’s going to show, and it’ll be really interesting to see, given Russia in the world at the moment. One thing you will get from South Korea is total, total dedication to the cause in a way that most other teams will not be able to mount. Sometimes that’s enough. The Russians could have a bad day and the Belgians could too…who knows? I don’t think this group is a complete write-off, which is good because you want it to be close. I want upsets, and I don’t mind if the big teams go out early because it’s exciting.”

 

Check out David Goldblatt’s lecture, Futebol Nation: The Story of Brazil through Soccer, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OoGjlWJt7SE

 

Check out Simon Kuper’s lecture, Brazil 2014: The First Post-Nationalist World Cup?, at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qxkaK3jxXe8