Tuesday, June 22, 2010

French Politics and Les Bleus

The French national team was fittingly eliminated from the World Cup today, losing 2-1 to South Africa. This follows an entire month of dysfunctional behavior by a team and its coach along with much hand wringing in France. In fact, it struck me that the way the French press has covered the French team resembles, in many ways, the way French journalists write about French politics.

Instead of the general outline of big political events like we get in most U.S. papers, French dailies spend pages and pages examining the internecine struggles within parties, the power plays between low-profile ministers in the ruling party, or the minor debates between potential candidates within the opposition (even though the election may be three years away). The coverage is always intense and journalists love to look for behind-the-scenes strife and to expose the politique de corridor.

In the lead up to the World Cup, the French press began looking for--and perhaps inventing--rifts within the team: the Ribéry faction v. Gourcuff; the old guard v. the young players; those supportive of coach Domenech and those who hated him.

With this backdrop (along with the fact that Domenech's successor had already been named) it is not surprising that things blew up as they did (the dismissal of Anelka, etc.). And the reaction of the team was, once again, typical of French political struggles: they went on strike, refusing to practice on Sunday.

Vive la France.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

FIFA, UEFA, Nationalism and Culture

Another post from one of Sven's colleague's on Pileus discusses the issue of soccer, nationalism, and citizenship and the ongoing debate between FIFA and UEFA.

Here is my comment to the post:

While there are frequent disputes between FIFA and UEFA, I think this article points to one of the main cultural differences between American sports and European ones. In the U.S. we crown a single champion at the end of the season. In Europe teams compete in multiple competitions at once. A soccer player may compete with his club for the league season title, the league tournament title, the country's cup tournament (among all the clubs), the champions league or Europa cup, all while playing on his country's national team competing for the European cup, Confederations cup, or the World cup.

So lose one, another one is still up for grabs. This has the disadvantage of not crowning a decisive champion, but has the advantage of keeping fans' interest on a number of levels: even if a team is eliminated early on in one competition, they may remain competitive in two or three others. And fans keep spending money to watch matches. Teams and players are judged on the number of trophies they bring home from the many different competitions.

Just this season Portsmouth, a team at the bottom of the Premier League table, managed to keep their fans coming to games because they made it to the finals of the FA cup (where they eventually lost to Chelsea).

All this to say that Americans like crowning a definitive champion in all sports: winner-takes-all. A look at the debate surrounding college football's bowl system confirms this. American sports are also more insular (no offense Toronto Blue Jays). British or Spanish club teams, for example, look at themselves as part of the broader network of international football. The Yankees and Lakers see any international competition as little more than an occasional nuisance.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

NASCAR and the World Cup

Sven sends me this link to his blog post about the connection (or the lack thereof) between NASCAR and the World Cup.

Here is my favorite quote: "Soccer seems to be hugely popular with university professors, but I think very few of them actually watch soccer. They just fake it. They love soccer for the same reasons that they hate Dick Cheney."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Are Video Games Sports?

Jeremy sends me this story about the similarities between high-level gamers and professional athletes.

I know a number of gamers actually hire coaches. And despite their terrible fitness level, they have great reflexes.

So... sport or not?