Soccer Explains the World

This article is more than 16 years old.

In my conversation with Franklin Foer, he cheerfully acknowledged that his recent book, "How Soccer Explains the World, (An Unlikely Theory of Globalization)" was conceived mostly as an excuse to travel around the world watching soccer games. But what he found in Scotland, Spain, Iran, Brazil, and a host of other soccer venues was that the game did tend to reflect the changes in the world that can be grouped under the term "globalization," or, in some cases, the stubborn and violent resistance to some of those changes. Foer found a dandy example of the latter circumstance in Scotland, where supporters of Celtic and Rangers bring to matches vicious prejudices that have,unhappily, withstood the test of a lot of time. Celtic fans loudly blame Rangers for the potato famine, and Rangers fans energetically insult the Pope. When he attended a game, Foer was advised to wear black, so that neither team's supporters would mistake him for the enemy.

The positive side of the globalization that Foer found in the world game is that players and coaches of many different nationalities, colors, religions, and languages are prospering together on the strongest teams, whether those teams are in Spain, England, Germany, France, or Italy. Of course a lot of those "best players" are Brazilians, and the back end of the globalization process as it applies to soccer has bankrupted the Brazilian teams. Most of the country's best players have become exports, and some of them have become so disillusioned with the game at home that they've vowed not to return, even in retirement. The leagues in Brazil have been left to corrupt administrators. Their flagrant contempt for the game and their criminal conduct have discouraged Brazilian fans as well as players. At one point Foer maintains that "thousands more fans attend the average soccer games in Columbus, Ohio, and Dallas, Texas, than in the top flight of the Brazilian league."

The unhappy fact is that most books having to do with sports are niche works dumbed down for fans of particular teams, games, or players. How Soccer Explains the World is exceptionally ambitious, thoroughly literate, and very challenging. Readers may not agree with Franklin Foer's conclusions about what the passion for soccer in Iran has to say about the future of the Middle East, but he's collected some observations worthy of consideration, and anybody willing to bring an open mind to his book will know a great deal more about both soccer and globalization's mixedblessing when he's finished it.

This program aired on July 9, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.