To the true football fan, the World Cup itself is part of an ideological struggle between two competing corporate goliaths, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (“FIFA”) and the Union of European Football Associations (“UEFA”). Even the names of the two organizations are themselves indicative of the ideological divide. The stakes are high – in the hundreds of billions of the currency of your choice. The goal is nothing short of world domination. And the time for choosing sides is closing in upon us.
FIFA represents the distinctly twentieth century notion that nationhood is the most important and powerful bond between humans. While nations are free to define themselves, individuals, for the most part, are not. FIFA insists upon a competition between nationsquanations, but FIFA does not demand that nations define themselves in a particular way. There is no requirement that “a national,” or what we Americans commonly refer to as “a citizen,” be defined in same way that Germany, Serbia, Italy, or Spain choose to define those terms, namely, by ethnicity. Nationality, under these ethnic conceptions of it, is “closed” to those born outside the required genetic boundaries. As in race-horses, it is a matter of breeding.
UEFA, on the other hand, represents a distinctly different ideal, one that is timeless. It is also one with which Americans ought to sympathize, namely,freedom of contract. To be sure, UEFA also satisfies some of the thirst for nationalism, sponsoring its own competition between national teams every four years, the European Cup, in the interstices of the World Cup. But UEFA’s real claim to fame is its sponsorship of club competitions, the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa Cup. These two competitions are betweenclubteams, not nations. These clubs are organized, for the most part, on free association and freedom of contract.
... UEFA understands what FIFA does not, namely, thatfreedom works. National teams will never be as good, as entertaining, or as compelling as teams composed of free individuals willingly and contractually cooperating toward one common purpose. Open systems of nationality come closer to the ideal of freedom than closed systems, and the national teams themselves recognize this. Germany, for example, is a successful national team drawn from a “closed” conception of nationhood. But Germany fields players born outside the formal genetic constraints applied to mere mortal would-be citizens. The German national team boasts Cacau (a native of Brazil) and Jerome Boateng, one of the two Boateng brothers playing in the 2010 World Cup; the other is a member of the starting line-up for their native Ghana. In other words, if you are good enough, even closed nationalities can be open to you.
FIFA and its World Cup, like nationalism, will persist as long as we have nations and nationalists, ethnic pride and prejudice, to perpetuate them. These ideas that destroyed so many lives on so many occasions throughout the twentieth century are the not-so-beautiful underside of the beautiful game. The game is unquestionably more beautiful without them.