Fascism On The Field?

Andrew Sullivan —  Jun 28 2014 @ 7:36am

Saj Mathew explains why the Argentine short story writer and essayist Jorge Luis Borges disdained soccer:

His problem was with soccer fan culture, which he linked to the kind of blind popular support that propped up the leaders of the twentieth century’s most horrifying political movements. In his lifetime, he saw elements of fascism, Peronism, and even anti-Semitism emerge in the Argentinean political sphere, so his intense suspicion of popular political movements and mass culture—the apogee of which, in Argentina, is soccer—makes a lot of sense. (“There is an idea of supremacy, of power, [in soccer] that seems horrible to me,” he once wrote.) Borges opposed dogmatism in any shape or form, so he was naturally suspicious of his countrymen’s unqualified devotion to any doctrine or religion even to their dear albiceleste.

Soccer is inextricably tied to nationalism, another one of Borges’ objections to the sport. “Nationalism only allows for affirmations, and every doctrine that discards doubt, negation, is a form of fanaticism and stupidity,” he said. National teams generate nationalistic fervor, creating the possibility for an unscrupulous government to use a star player as a mouthpiece to legitimize itself. In fact, that’s precisely what happened with one of the greatest players ever: Pelé. … Governments, such as the Brazilian military dictatorship that Pelé played under, can take advantage of the bond that fans share with their national teams to drum up popular support, and this is what Borges fearedand resentedabout the sport.

Sarah Albers, on the other hand, offers a more positive take on the sport’s cultural impact – at least for Americans:

At the Wall Street Journal, Jeremy Gordon called the World Cup a “global ritual.” And it would seem so. But, more importantly, it is a national ritual: it is a means for people from all around the country to connect, an opportunity so rarely afforded us anymore. William Leitch of Sports on Earth says that we “can talk all we want about a globalized society, … but that has always seemed more true in theory than in practice. In real life, we search out our own.”

And I think that this cuts to the heart of the issue: it is through sports that Americans, so wary of religion, race, and politics, can finally have confidence that we are among “our own.”