Political football

1 July 2010

I like watching football. It is, as is often said, a beautiful game. You feel exhilarated when your team does well beyond expectation, and feel utterly dejected when it loses unexpectedly. It is your team, as if you own it, or you have chosen it. This is a strange state of affairs, considering you rarely own the club or have selected the squad. This identification is so strong that supporters often talk in first person plural, as if they are also on the pitch. We won, we lost, we can do this or that ...

For all its excitement and emomtional attachment, it’s a game. The fate of millions does not hang on the outcome of a particular match. Nations and states do not disappear because their footballers have failed on the pitch. Yet sometimes we feel like that. When a disaster or even a catastrophe occurs, there are inevitably clamours for something to be done.

Politicians, acutely aware of the value of sports, and the mood that victories and defeats creates, sometimes meddle with football. So it seems in France and in Nigeria. France may have had an appalling World Cup, and Nigeria has not had a great campaign, but it’s doubtful political fiats and interventions are going to make the football team better.

Is football serious enough for politicians to do something about it? Or is it too serious for politicians to intervene? I don’t know. I just want to watch a good game.