Football Fanatics: The Enigmatic Allure of the World Cup
Sports fanbases, on the whole, derive from proud regionalism and enthusiastic membership. Association football has different caveats compared to other sports due to their national team tournaments. National team matches or fights ultimately, albeit temporarily, bridge the gap between national clubs and bring together fanbases from different communities. The fusion of all walks of life and identities creates an atmosphere of unparalleled effect that stands apart from club environments. Simply put, watching a Real Madrid game is fundamentally different from observing the rugged environment at a Spanish national team game.
One of the most popular sporting events in the world, the FIFA World Cup, kicks off this Sunday in what is sure to be a tournament of fascinating scale. Apart from the merging of several nations, the World Cup provides a rare showcase of unity despite the competitive backdrop and testifies to the bustling fanbases stemming from national pride and patriotism.
World Cup symbolism
The considerable influence of the World Cup continues beyond the month-long tournament. Qualifying for the World Cup alone has profound and hopeful implications for struggling nations.
Following Ivory Coast’s last-minute qualification for the 2006 World Cup held in Germany, famed footballer Didier Drogba spoke to a TV camera and urged his home country embroiled in civil strife to cease fire and organize elections. Although the football campaign alone objectively conveys nothing more than a trivial sporting event, Drogba managed to recontextualize the situation and use the coronation as a way to unite the polarized nation.
The lure of the World Cup proved equally influential for Honduras during the 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. Despite qualifying for the second time in the federation’s history, Honduras’ victory on the final day of the campaign represented a beacon of hope as the nation had recently experienced a change of administration following a coup months earlier.
Thin line between pride and perverse patriotism
Although the World Cup brings deep symbolism to countries in desperate need of hope, sport, in general, sometimes becomes politicized. Brazil’s iconic yellow and green jersey has gradually forged ties with the right-wing faction of the country’s political spectrum. Specifically, the traditional jersey, once emblematic of the five World Cups won by the most successful nation in the tournament’s history, currently represents support for right-wing Jair Bolsonaro and his current administration.
Amid the controversial process of appointing Qatar as the host of the 2022 World Cup, several parties have criticized the country for human rights abuses during the preparations for the tournament. Rather than criticize the government and its policies, other parties have chosen to blatantly degrade and dehumanize Qatari citizens. French newspaper Le Canard enchaîné published a cartoon that included racist and Islamophobic depictions of Qatari footballers.
Overt and perverse patriotism and racism rear their ugly heads at players of color during the national game. Rising Canadian star Mark-Anthony Kaye has suffered racial abuse on social media from Canadian fans after he was sent off against Costa Rica in qualifying. Often this national pride disintegrates and fans regress into racism against their compatriots and vilify players of color when they fail to live up to their lofty expectations.
The World Cup, at times, overcomes racial barriers and showcases sportsmanship and harmony among diverse fanbases. After their last-minute loss and exit to Belgium at the 2018 World Cup, the Japan national soccer team bowed to visiting fans before cleaning up their dressing room and leaving a note of thanks to the Russian staff members.
In the same tournament, fans of the Mexican national team celebrated and marched with the South Koreans after the Asian team eliminated Germany and secured qualification for the Latin American team. I vividly remember walking through Koreatown and witnessing the fascinating fusion and harmony between Mexicans and South Koreans as they treated each other like companions rather than convenient neighbors.
I hope the next World Cup will restore its appeal, break down barriers and bridge the gap between communities while helping us momentarily forget about the global conflicts that are ravaging our world.
Hector Almendarez is a junior who writes about football clubs and their passionate fans. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan.