The World Cup is a marvel of global representation. So why is it getting whiter?
This World Cup, therefore, should not be confined to the quality of the football (surely a disappointment, with a truly great team failing to emerge) but also deal with its broader cultural meaning. In this respect it has been an even bigger disappointment. With this World Cup, global football has taken a step backwards.
The importance of football has grown in direct proportion to its ability to become genuinely global and not primarily European. Unlike virtually The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event, it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance. Any evaluation of every other human activity – from politics and economics to universities and the military – football has managed to give a growing place in the sun to those who are normally marginalised and unrepresented. The growing importance of Africa and Asia in football are testimony to this.
But, alas, not in this World Cup. In the last sixteen there was only one African side and no Asian. In the last eight, there were six European and two Latin American: the last four was a European monopoly. (Compare this with the last World Cup, where there were only three European sides in the last eight and just one in the semi-finals.)
With the next World Cup being held in South Africa, we must hope for a much greater representation of African sides. Without doubt, Ghana and the Ivory Coast were two of the best sides in this World Cup, but they fell well before they should have done, while Nigeria and Cameroon, the traditionally strongest African sides, never made it to Germany. Fifa needs to find a way of increasing the number of African sides in the last 32 – hopefully at the expense of Europe.
But this feeling of regression is not just related to the over-representation of European sides – linked no doubt to the fact that it was held in Germany – during these championships. It is also about the question of colour. We are now familiar with the incidence of black and brown players in European sides. This traditionally, however, has only been a characteristic of the French, English and Dutch sides. I haven’t tried to make any precise statistical analysis of the European sides this time around but it feels that here again there has been a retreat.
For the record, basically Germany had one, generally introduced as a substitute; Italy none; Spain (managed by that well-known http://football.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,,1353008,00.html Aragones) one; Portugal one; and so on. More seriously, the Netherlands had hardly any: yet this is a country which more or less ever since Gullit and Rikaard has had a core of black and brown players. Why? Is it a dearth of talent or is it related to the racist atmosphere now gripping the country? Even the English team took a step backwards, with only two black players normally in the starting line-up, compared with five in the match against Brazil in the 2002 World Cup. (It is not widely known, incidentally, but an English manager of the early 90s has said he was advised by the FA not to select too many black players. Hopefully that word in the ear is no longer spoken.) The glorious exception is France, with a majority of non-white players. This is why the French national side has become such a powerful emblem in the fight against racism there – both in 1998 and in 2006.
But the matter cannot rest there. There is also something else that is deeply regrettable about global football, namely the overwhelming predominance of whites as managers and coaches. Even Brazil – a team invariably with a majority of blacks and browns – always has a white Brazilian manager. The same is always true of all European sides. Alas, it is also generally the case with African sides. Exactly the same state of affairs, of course, prevails in European club football with barely a black or brown manager to be found – yet the manager of the best club side in world football today is Frank Rikaard of Barcelona.
Administration and management is regarded as a white world and a white world likes to appoint its own: worse, there is an underlying assumption that black people may be brilliant on the field but when it comes to mental skills and leadership – brains if you will – then whites are what you need. Even in the television studio the old prejudices and priorities continue to prevail. All the permanent fixtures were white: with the excellent Ian Wright and Marcel Desailly only making occasional appearances.
There may be nations and races galore on the field, but racist assumptions continue to imbue and shape football. And this World Cup has been a step backwards.