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Nation-Building:

With all the lip-flapping about nation-building going on, here's a thought that is, alas, way too simple (and way too obvious) to ever be taken seriously. Aprroximately two billion people out there care more about the outcome of the World Cup than about pretty much anything else. Or, more precisely: people care more deeply about the fate of their national team than they do about damned near anything else in life. That goes for people in the Ivory Coast and for people in Germany and in Iran and in just about everyplace on earth. A hundred million dollars to build up Iraq's soccer team would do more for nation-building than any other damned thing we could possibly do -- why nobody sees this is totally beyond me.

Lehuster:
7.1.2006 10:42am
patrick (mail):
why nobody sees this is totally beyond me.

Because it sounds like one of Tom Friedman's glib and shallow observations like his one about "no two nations with a Mcdonalds has ever gone to war with each other."
7.1.2006 10:57am
Medis:
Um, we're trying to build them into an AMERICAN-style nation.

Next thing you'll want to make French their national language.
7.1.2006 11:00am
John Jenkins (mail):
I assume this is a joke.
.You assume incorrectly. DavidP
7.1.2006 11:00am
anonymous coward:
As far as I know the beautiful game has yet to be besmirched by soccer suicide bombers, but isn't it just a matter of time?
7.1.2006 11:01am
breen (mail):
An Ivory Coast in the Middle East! Soccer doesn't happen to feature goalposts that move, does it?
7.1.2006 11:14am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Yes, let's give them bread and circuses. It appears to work in this country.
7.1.2006 11:22am
johnt (mail):
Let's spend the hundred mill on developing an Iraqui baseball team, that way they can join the list of nations that beat the American team in the baseball world championships. A community within the world community and a force for international understanding.
7.1.2006 11:23am
DNL (mail):
What David is arguing for is building a national spirit where there is otherwise not one -- in this case, in Iraq. A monolith like a good WC team may actually accomplish that goal.

You'd think this would be obvious -- but I guess if people don't want to see the obvious, they won't see it. The evidence from the actual world -- as opposed to the world that most people seem to carry around in their heads -- is that this is the best way to build national spirit (short of warfare). It is also, relatively speaking, quite harmless (unlike warfare). How silly of me to think that it really matters!
David P
7.1.2006 11:37am
Shangui (mail):
These soccer posts have really moved into the realm of self-parody. I'm pretty skeptical of the truth value of a statement like "people care more deeply about the fate of their national team than they do about damned near anything else in life." It sounds nice, but is it really true? Would they rather have 100 mil. spent to teach men to kick around a ball than to get a fully functioning electric grid? And to what degree is soccer fandom still a primarily male domain? I know that many women are fans, but does it come near the percentages of men?

But more to point, it seems that a great soccer team is simply not built by fiat plus a lot of money thrown at it. There has to be some sort of infrastructure supporting the game at many levels. That's why China, for example, cannot simply create a great soccer team while they can create great swimmers, divers, runners, etc. These sports don't depend on competition the way soccer does. That is, they are individual skills that can exist more independently of a competetive context in which people need to respond to the actions, strategies, etc. of other teams.
7.1.2006 11:50am
frankcross (mail):
First, I think there may be some truth to the thesis that a great soccer team could moderate Iraq. Sunnis playing alongside Shia and all that.

Second, I question whether there is any truth to the thesis that throwing $100 million in would produce such a soccer team. This is an empirical question. Has any nation in the past, with little soccer success, substantially improved its team with $100 million?

It's a fair question. I admit, the $100 million was plucked out of thin air. The empirical support, though, comes from Angola -- which [though I don't know the details] spent enormous sums of oil money on its soccer team (and, of course, reached the World Cup for the first time this year. DavidP
7.1.2006 12:30pm
Bertram (mail):
Ah, so the real problem the Quebec secessionists have is that the Canadian soccer team sucks.
7.1.2006 12:34pm
CG:
I think David is right on the money. Compare: Dr. Don Beck worked in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa on social and political reform. He suggested that a strong rugby showing could help bring the country together, and felt strongly enough about it to serve as an advisor to the team (who did, in fact, win the 1995 World Cup).

http://www.wie.org/bios/don-beck.asp
7.1.2006 12:57pm
Joel B. (mail):
If rugby is a sufficient game to build "national spririt," why should soccer be preferred? The whole 2 billion number also seems preposterously silly. Maybe a lot of people worldwide care about soccer, probably yes even more than baseball, but for crying out loud 2 billion, yeah right, China and India did even field world cup teams, do we really think that many people in those countries are following the world cup with such a devoted interest. That leaves us with a pool of 4 billion soccer watchers. 50% of the world is devoted to soccer ha!

Teams fielded in the World Cup are predominanently continentally American (North and South) and European, that's leaving a lot of people on the sidelines.

Next, wouldn't the US be better off building up baseball teams in foreign countries? I mean why not try to build up the national pasttime in other countries, get other lands to start following baseball, look at how close we have gotten to Japan and Korea for example. It sure seems like history suggests that Baseball is the far better choice for atheletic export.
7.1.2006 1:16pm
dick thompson (mail):
Once again the commenters here are way behind the reality. There has already been an Iraqi soccer team and it won matches against Syria and others in the last year. The Americans have been helping the Iraqis build soccer fields andplaygrounds all over the country and have also provided a lot of soccer balls to the kids as gifts from a lot of the private people who have donated to the military assistance. There have been games between the US troops and the Iraqi troops in many areas of the country. It will take time for the national team to come together but the raw materials to do so have been in place in many areas of Iraq and the US troops are doing all they can to help out. Your commenters really need to take a look at what is going on in Iraq from more than the MSM since the MSM doesn't report anything but battlefield statistics and whatever they claim the US troops are doing wrong now.
7.1.2006 1:59pm
Enoch:
And to what degree is soccer fandom still a primarily male domain?

Women like football.


Yes, they do.

They do, indeed.
7.1.2006 2:12pm
Fooburger the Foo (mail) (www):
I don't think the point was 'buy a soccer team for $100M', but basically put more emphasis on things like soccer which help build national identity. Certainly the US media would have a field day with US money going towards an Iraqi soccer program, but how about getting an Iraqi up in the International Space Station, or an Iraqi to head the UN. These are lower-bar activities than building the infrastructure for a competitive soccer league and team.
They need ambassadors to the world to rally behind.
-fooburger
7.1.2006 3:39pm
PersonFromPorlock:
You might want to consider the 1956 British farce, "The Green Man" which, IIRC, begins with an assassination by exploding soccer ball.
7.1.2006 6:11pm
breen (mail):

Sunnis playing alongside Shia and all that.

I'm afraid this quote assumes Sunnis would make a national team. Unfortunately, they are no good at soccer and are even worse dancers from what I've read.
7.1.2006 6:58pm
Fishbane (mail):
A good, pseudo-Straussian suggestion. Distract the proles, and they won't worry about the big things.

The problem is one similar to regulatory capture: the people who care more about exploitation and religious empire won't watch soccer.
7.1.2006 8:19pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
A hundred million dollars to build up Iraq's soccer team would do more for nation-building than any other damned thing we could possibly do -- why nobody sees this is totally beyond me.

Possibly because you haven't provided any actual evidence to support the contention.

Possibly. But exactly what kind of evidence would you like me to provide? If you have a specific suggestion, I'd like to hear it. It's not enough, I take it, that there was a ceasefire in the Ivory Coast while the World Cup was on, I guess -- or that the Germans uniformly regard this World Cup as one in which reunification finally took hold. Or that the Ghanaians now feel more Ghanaian than they did three weeks ago, prouder of their county. No, that wouldn't matter, to you. Open your eyes, Jim. DavidP
7.2.2006 10:54am
breen (mail):
Well, how about some evidence that 100 million dollars would provide the impetus for Iraq's national team to reach the heights of those countries you just described? You've provided decent examples of good national teams building unity in their respective countries, but no evidence that throwing money at Iraq's squad would make them the next Ivory Coast or Ghana or Germany. Did these countries follow your suggested path to World Cup glory? Central planning seemed to work so well for the former Communist countries that always dominated the World Cup. What's that? They didn't? Oh, never mind.

Angola. It actually did follow this strategy, using gobs of oil money, as I understand it, and it has worked. Quadruple salaries in the Iraqi (or Angolan) league, and you'll get much better players, in a hurry.

But you're right -- I don't know that it will work. Seems like we do a lot of things we don't know will work; some of them do, some don't. This one seems worth a try to me. DavidP
7.2.2006 12:20pm
DM Andy (mail) (www):
Joel, you're right, it's not 2 billion, the viewing figure for the 2002 World Cup Final was 1.1 billion, with the total for the entire 64 games being 28.8 billion, an average rating of 450 million per game. But you're wrong that China doesn't care about the game. Out of that 1.1 billion watching the 2002 final, 300 million were Chinese.
7.2.2006 12:57pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
Maybe you could scrape together the money from fines against Halliburton and Bechtel for corrupt practices and non-performance on such lesser projects as electricity production, potable water, and waste treatment.
7.2.2006 1:08pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Possibly because you haven't provided any actual evidence to support the contention.

Possibly. But exactly what kind of evidence would you like me to provide? If you have a specific suggestion, I'd like to hear it. It's not enough, I take it, that there was a ceasefire in the Ivory Coast while the World Cup was on, I guess -- or that the Germans uniformly regard this World Cup as one in which reunification finally took hold. Or that the Ghanaians now feel more Ghanaian than they did three weeks ago, prouder of their county

Of course, you have evidence for your claim that the Germans UNIFORMLY (emphasis added) regard the World Cup this way and that the Ghanaians feel more Ghanaian. Systematic evidence, that is, not a quote in some newspaper.

"Systematic evidence" ... like what, exactly? A poll? You don't think the Ivory Coast example even worth discussing? Because it is not "systematic evidence"?
DavidP
7.2.2006 6:10pm
Joel B. (mail):
DM Andy,

It's worth noting, that in the 2002 World Cup, China at least qualified a team, and the World Cup was in Korea, much closer to home. That there are going to be 300 million watching this year is quite speculative given the properties of the 2002 vs 2006 World Cup.

As to the 1.1 B number, that's a little more reasonable, but still it's all extrapolated data that all in all seems fairly unrealistic, oh well...my argument against it is not so impassioned.


In any event, this post (and David's comments in the comments) just has the kind of goofy silliness that Americans come to expect from the Soccer prophets. If we all just advanced the game of Soccer, there would be world peace, people would live in harmony with their environment, the barren would be with child, cancers would go into remission, and poverty would be eliminated. Soccer...is there anything it can't do!

I don't really care all that much about soccer either way, not all that fun for me to watch, but hey if it's your cup of tea, drink up, I'll have my coffee thanks much, and don't need to be convinced that tea is better.
7.2.2006 6:28pm
Aultimer:
And once every state has a beloved soccer team, we get the black helicopter division of the UN to implement the transition to the Rollerball protocol.
7.3.2006 9:47am
AK (mail):
Because it sounds like one of Tom Friedman's glib and shallow observations like his one about "no two nations with a Mcdonalds has ever gone to war with each other."

Incidentally, that's no longer true since whatever the hell that conflict was in the late 90s where the US was bombing the crap out of Serbia or Bosnia or Montenegro or Gzbczwcz or whatever. One of those places had McDonald's.
7.3.2006 11:25am
KevinM:
Any Yankees fan (and, I suppose, any conservative) knows that throwing $100 million at the soccer problem won't necessarily solve it. You've got to be sure the money's not entrusted to al-Steinbrenner.
7.3.2006 12:14pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Gee, doesn't this fall under the general heading of: Seeking a Propaganda Victory? And weren't propaganda victories considered A Good Thing by, for example, both sides in WWII and both sides during the Cold War? Because they, umm, work? I go with this as a good idea, given the caveat that all good ideas can be ruined by spending way too much money on them, and the additional caveat that spending too little money on them also frequently leads to failure.

Yours,
Wince
7.3.2006 1:38pm
Mork (mail):
Maybe a lot of people worldwide care about soccer, probably yes even more than baseball, but for crying out loud 2 billion, yeah right, China and India did even field world cup teams, do we really think that many people in those countries are following the world cup with such a devoted interest. That leaves us with a pool of 4 billion soccer watchers. 50% of the world is devoted to soccer ha!

Joel, you couldn't be more wrong. What is occuring now is the World Cup Finals, which features the teams that have survived a long qualification process. Both China and India competed in the Asian qualifiers, but were unsuccessful.

And having been in China during a previous World Cup finals, I can attest that the country is football mad ... as is most of Asia. China, in fact, hosted the last Asian Cup and the Chinese team lost in the final to Japan.

You need to remember that most parts of the world are less parochial than America, and their citizens will watch an event like the World Cup or the Olympics regardless of whether or not their nationals are competing. And there is no bigger sporting event than the World Cup.
7.6.2006 3:58am