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Today I don’t want to discuss budgetary deficits or the WEEE Directive as I feel, like many others, caught up by the collective frenzy of the World Cup. Although I don’t really like football, I have read, over the last couple of weeks, a lot of articles, comments and alternately shared hopes and disappointments. What particularly stood out of this complex literature is the incredibly high political dimension that accompanies this World Cup.
In the particular case of France, the fate of the team has become so political that I started to think of football as a political utopia. Football, as any utopia, reflects our society and can bring out the best and the worst. It is festive, has no skin colour, no social preference, and has an “unbelievable potential to bring us together” to quote Dave Zirin from the Guardian.
But it can also be aggressive, arrogant, and dictated by money. When the French Black-Blanc-Bleur team won the World Cup in 1998, it was celebrated as a success for immigration and integration. Today, after their pathetic collapse, the team is the shame of the country, and many politicians have expressed concern about their country’s reputation on the international scene as well as the way in which the team’s behaviour may influence French youth.
Should French leaders and the media expect so much from a football team? There has been too much politics, too much money, and too much arrogance inside and outside of the team. When taken too seriously, football can become as excessive and disappointing as a perverted utopia. This is what makes football so vibrant and human, but sometimes also unfair and full of disillusions.
The EU loves a good crisis. In the past we’ve had a Treaty crisis, a referendum crisis, an economic crisis, and a Euro crisis – and now, we have a World Cup crisis.
So far this has not been a good World Cup for EU Member States. Favourites Spain lost their opener to a non-EU European country (Switzerland), Germany have literally just lost to a “wannabe” EU Member State (Serbia), and France’s defeat last night accompanies similar under-par performances from EU big-shots Italy, Portugal, and England, the UK’s sole representatives.
Before the competition started some Brussels-based folk tried to put together their dream-EU World Cup team, but now it must be doubted whether such a team could go far in the competition.
Argentina have been the early pace-setters, with the other South American countries (Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile, Brazil and Mexico) all looking “useful” and creating problems for the European nations.
The African countries have shown glimpses of brilliance (Ghana) followed by slightly longer periods of mediocrity (South Africa) and just plain stupidity (Nigeria), but the same could be said for the EU nations. Basically, the EU collective has yet to play anything near to its best in the Rainbow state.
But can an EU Member State win the World Cup? Of course – after all, they have won two of the last three - but the challenges from other global regions are growing all the time.
EU countries now have to compete with the likes of South Korea, Mexico, and the United States who offer stiffer tests than they did ten years ago. Many of these countries’ best players have themselves gained experience in the EU’s national leagues, become better players for it, and now enjoy putting one over their more fancied opponents.
The EU as a bloc is struggling to find its place in a globalised world, but nowhere is this truer than football, as this World Cup has gone to show. The drawback, of course, is that it is much harder to introduce protectionist measures when it comes to a national football team than it is to slap a few hefty tariffs on imports from a developing country.
Perhaps then football is the true result of globalisation, untainted and unsullied by corrective regulations and out of reach of national lawmakers. Globalisation in its purest form. But for how long?
Good, because today The Lobby decided to embark on a totally different subject.
“Invictus” – An obscure title for a movie about South Africa after Apartheid. Yet, this was my choice this weekend for my usual lazy Sundays’ cinema (I’m trying to make sure that at the end of the month my UGC unlimited card made some economic sense!)
For a change, I decided to go and see an historical drama, one that is bold enough to feature the larger-than-life iconic figure of Nelson Mandela. This is always a potential risk, but one that Clint Eastwood, who directed the movie, overcame in my view by presenting a story which is not about individuals: this movie is about the psyche of an entire nation.
The pitch: Mandela hits upon an ambitious plan to use the national rugby team – the Springboks, long an embodiment of white supremacist rule – to symbolise the new South Africa as the team prepares to host the 1995 World Cup.
Reviews have been lukewarm, gently slating the movie for its political correctness, but in my opinion this flashback on the post-Apartheid era, narrated through the prism of rugby, is a great way to grasp the emotional temperature of a country with a very unique history.
Yes, Eastwood could have done better in trying to keep away from the Hollywood melodramatic clichés, but the match scenes, Morgan Freeman’s performance, and Matt Damon’s body, chiseled into pure muscle, are dazzling!
As I was walking home, thinking that this story is further proof of the unifying power of sport, I wondered if the new EU Sports Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou will one day come up with a proposal for an EU rugby or football team, which would capture the imagination of all Europeans who would paint the EU flag on their faces…
While some are focused on tonight’s France-Ireland or Portugal-Bosnia games, another match is taking place in Rome this week. The goal: to find a way to feed 9.2 billion people by 2050.
Since Monday, world leaders, convened at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Headquarters for the UN World Summit on Food Security, have been reflecting on the best ways to eradicate hunger. A key solution foreseen is to boost agricultural investment in poor countries. New technologies were also discussed as a way to “produce more food with less” – three polemical initials should come to your mind in this regard – GMO!
But the real wake up call was the warning by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon that failure at next month’s international climate change negotiations would result in a further rise in hunger. “There cannot be food security without climate security”, he said. In particular for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which already are suffering from declining yields and a worrying frequency of extreme weather events.
But can climate change and hunger be solved together? The biofuel example, which has introduced competition between “crops for food” and “crops for fuel” and exacerbated the rise in food prices, proves that if the two problems are linked, then it is necessary to find joint solutions.
UK Minister Jim Fitzpatrick declared that food and climate security were “two sides of the same coin”. Well, the die is cast but there are no doubts about the bets of politicians. If Copenhagen and its preparation have been focusing political attention for over a year, many noted that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was the only G8 leader to attend the UN Food Summit. Let’s just hope that political will is not the only key to buck the hunger trend.
If you want to play a role on the ground, you could start by taking a Fair Trade Breakfast this weekend. This Oxfam initiative should be a convivial opportunity to familiarise people with the issues surrounding global trade and its impact on hunger in poor countries.
Last night’s Champions’ League Final was one of those games which – unless you’re a Barcelona fan – will not live too long in the memory. After a bright start, Manchester Utd wilted after Barça took the lead, and from then on the result was never really in doubt.
The Spanish side’s victory ensures that Spain now heads the league table of European Cup victories, with 12, whilst England and Italy lie joint second with 11. The much hyped duel between Utd’s Ronaldo and Barça’s Messi never really took off either, despite the latter heading in the second goal which effectively sealed the victory. The real stars of the show were Barcelona’s midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta, who pick up their second major title in a year following Spain’s victory in the European Championships in 2008.
Utd meanwhile must content themselves with one Premiership title, a League Cup, and a World Club title achieved back in December by beating the little known Ecuadorian side Liga de Quito in Tokyo, of all places. But the one they really wanted took place in Rome last night – so why didn’t they show up?
To non-afficiandos of Belgian football, (and I am sure there are some of you!) you may not know that there is a stalemate at the top of Belgian league between Anderlecht and Standard Liège. This means that two sudden-death “test matchs” – a first in the history of the league – will take place this week.
This led to an appeal by my Standard-mad Belgian flatmate that this was a sporting and cultural event not to be missed. Convinced, we raised ourselves at the ungodly hour of 6h00 on Sunday, bleary-eyed and still tired from the previous night’s festivities. A one-hour drive, two and half hours being rained upon in the queue – only to be told that we were too far back to have a chance of a ticket.
Demoralised and damp, we decided to head back to Bxl for a hearty breakfast, only to spot a gap in the barriers at the very front of the queue for tickets. How much do we want these tickets? We jumped in, skipping a few thousand people in the process and straight away were wracked by guilt. Catholic consciences kicked in and we decided that the fans we had skipped were just as keen as us for tickets, only prepared to get up that bit earlier. So, we stepped out of line, ticketless but with moral fibre intact.
My Mum would have been proud, my football loving Dad disgusted.