Football has conquered the world. Some of the brightest stars in Portugal this summer will have been born in Africa and Latin America, and top European clubs increasingly sign players from every continent. Martin Jacques talks to players, fans, businessmen and the head of Fifa to discover how globalisation is changing football – for better and worse – and why international competitions may yet save the game from rampant greed
The European Championship was once a lily-white occasion. No longer. The teams of the former great imperial powers, such as England, France and Holland, are today kaleidoscopes of colour, mirrors image of the people who populate their great urban centres. Their sides are ethnically diverse – breathtakingly so in the case of France – a tribute to Africa and the Caribbean as much as Europe itself. When England play France on 13 June, up to half the players on the pitch will be black or brown. The tournament may be called the European Championship, but it is also, at the same time, a global occasion, invigorated and inspired by the rhythms and athleticism of other continents.
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As the only racial group that never suffers systemic racism, whites are in denial about its impact
I always found race difficult to understand. It was never intuitive. And the reason was simple. Like every other white person, I had never experienced it myself: the meaning of colour was something I had to learn. The turning point was falling in love with my wife, an Indian-Malaysian, and her coming to live in England. Then, over time, I came to see my own country in a completely different way, through her eyes, her background. Colour is something white people never have to think about because for them it is never a handicap, never a source of prejudice or discrimination, but rather the opposite, a source of privilege. However liberal and enlightened I tried to be, I still had a white outlook on the world. My wife was the beginning of my education.
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There was a knock on the door.
‘Come in,’ I called. It was the moment for which I had been waiting. He was slightly shorter than I had expected but no less imposing, with long hair, now mainly grey, and a beard. His complexion was rather darker than I imagined. Of course, I thought: ‘The old Moor.’ I offered him a seat, thanking him for making time for the interview. He shrugged his shoulders, looked at the tape recorder with some puzzlement, and waited for me to begin.
‘Mr Marx, you wrote in the Communist Manifesto, on the eve of the 1848 revolution, that: ‘A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of communism.’ The spectre haunting Europe now looks more like capitalism.’
I began to explain what had happened in 1989, but he interrupted with some impatience. ‘I know, I know. I have been following events, I don’t sleep while I am in the Reading Room.’ Of course, I thought, seat G7. As he seemed well up with the news I hastily revised my interview.
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