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The World Cup and politics

By Foster Richards

The World Cup has caught on here in the USA. The soccer matches are on flat screen televisions in sports taverns across the country. The right wing xenophobes that denounced soccer find themselves in a pickle. Americans, like everyone else in the world, actually enjoy the game.

It remains to be seen if fans currently flirting with the ‘beautiful game’ will continue their enthusiasm now that the U.S. is knocked out. Americans fell in love with Mia Hamm and the U.S. team during the 1999 Women’s World Cup held in the United States. This team helped to continue to build the popularity of the sport, but many lost interest after memories of the trophy being raised faded.

No matter what, it is fun to see the confusion in the conservative camp. They can’t decide whether to be the strongest supporters of U.S. soccer or denounce a sport that Americans can’t dominate at this time. Maybe we should invade Brazil to force their futbolers to play for the good old USA.

The politics of the World Cup have perplexed some socialists and progressives as well. My buddy, Alfredo, said he would meet me at the Globe tavern to watch our beloved Democratic People’s Republic of Korea take on Portugal. It sounded like a great idea at the time, but as I was driving to the pub to catch the 6:30 a.m. kick off, I was having second thoughts. The coffee at the tavern helped. As the DPRK was taking a drubbing, we started to debate the question of who to root for in the next U.S. match.

Should we root for the U.S. against poorer countries like Algeria or Slovenia? When an imperialist power like the U.S. uses its military or economic strength to oppress the people of other countries we root against them. Why not in soccer?

Alfredo worked against U.S. intervention in Colombia. He was an outspoken opponent of Plan Colombia and U.S. domination of the region. “How can I root for the USA after that?” he complained.

The answer is simple: The U.S. players are not the imperialists. I reminded Alfredo how we rooted for U.S. players Carlos Bocanegra and his teammate Damarcus Beasley when they played for the Chicago Fire. Most of the team and fans come from working class backgrounds. In fact soccer players and fans in the U.S. tend to appreciate other cultures and peoples.

So as soccer fans around the world have their pride, it is only right that we do the same here. There are many reasons for Americans to be proud. Consider that our music, dance, movies and yes athletics are among the best in the world. The skill and ingenuity of all classes but especially the working class make this possible. It is OK to be proud, root for our guys!

Alfredo still wasn’t totally convinced, “Well, I won’t root against them,” he said as he slurped down the last of his coffee and headed to work.

A few days later we met for the match between the U.S. and Algeria. Despite solid chances from the U.S., the Algerian defense held the game goalless headed into stoppage time. A draw looked inevitable when Landon Donovan put the ball in the back of the net. The tavern erupted! Cheers, hugs and high-fives. The U.S. would advance out of the group stage and to the round of 16. As I looked next to me I noticed Alfredo jumping up and down cheering for the Donovan goal.

I am not sure who Alfredo supported Saturday when Ghana eliminated the U.S. from the World Cup. It was a close game , in which Ghana needed extra time to defeat the U.S. 2-1. Now that the U.S. has been eliminated, I can admit that it is great that an African country like Ghana advanced to the quarter finals in the first World Cup to be held in Africa. The same way Africans feel pride for Ghana, I am proud of the American athletes, what they accomplished and what they stood for in South Africa.

The rest of the competition promises to be exciting. Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and the Argentines, like several South American countries, have surprised the pundits. This at the expense of European powers like England, Italy and France, which have been sent home before the quarter finals. The Democratic Peoples Republic of Korean and the U.S. are gone. But for Alfredo and I there is much soccer to watch, beer to drink and yes politics, always politics.

Foster Richards can be reached at: [email protected]

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