Sunday, June 11, 2006

The World Cup is Better than the Olympics

The Economist has a couple of interesting articles about football this week (I refuse to call it soccer, of course). This is unusual because they do not cover sports news, which is one of the reasons why I read it. In a leader ("Let the Games Begin"), they point out that "the World Cup, unlike the Olympics, is wonderfully difficult to manipulate for political purposes":
"Over its long history, success at the Olympics has usually been a fairly accurate measure of global political power. [...] During the cold war, the United States and the Soviet Union repeatedly struggled to gain a symbolic victory, by winning the most medals at the Olympics. Already a similar, politically charged battle for supremacy between America and China looks likely in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

By contrast, the World Cup has its own hierarchy, which is pleasingly divorced from the global pecking order. There is a sole superpower—Brazil. The Italians and French, apparently doomed to gentle decline in the real world, remain formidable competitors on the football field. And then there are the rising powers—which are more likely to hail from Africa than Asia. America will field a serious team at the World Cup, but nobody expects it to win. The Chinese, who have discovered a passion for football, failed to qualify for the tournament."

Another good excuse to watch some games...