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Brazil 2014 and Soccer Diplomacy

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For one month, the world was virtually enraptured by the theatrics and tackles of the round leather game. All eyes were on Brazil as passions peaked and emotions oscillated between high and low reflective of victory or defeat. For a while, drums and rumours of war lost substantial space as the excited echoes of exuberant football fans filled the airwaves.

The battlefront shifted to the pitch. Nations rose against nations. But it was strictly friendly fires and nothing more. And there were stringent rules to ensure that those on the field of play did not stray out of the realm of fair play. And that is why when Luis Suarez put his incisors to vulgar use he was quickly shown the way out of the game. His animalistic conduct earned him worldwide condemnation and a graduated ban from the sport. In prosecuting war, nations deploy their best arsenal and most lethal weaponry. But in the football battle, it is all about the best eleven a country can muster to defend her honour on the pitch. And then, there is the energetic bust of patriotism and mercantilism which supporters and match-fixers respectively invest on their teams.

Thus, while you have 22 players engaged in the convivial combat on field, there are millions off-field simultaneously suffused in support of their teams. Imagine the amount of energies that must have been removed from the contriving and execution of vicious acts and invested into building world peace and understanding whilst the games lasted. This is of course not to deny the deviant behaviour of terrorists, separatists, and supremacists who still ignited bombs, guns, and rockets in Baghdad, Sloviansk, Gaza, Chibok and elsewhere when the best of soccer artistry kept the world entertained and enthralled. In a sense therefore, football contributed to global co-existence in a way that leaders, statesmen and diplomats can learn from.

It is interesting how the protests in several Brazilian cities prior to the games galvanized into nationalistic fervour for the Samba boys at kick off. Once the whistle blasted, Brazilians put their unrest over high cost of transportation, low living wage, falling standard of education and other socio-economic troubles which propelled them to the streets behind them. They settled quickly into the national football culture- that unique fabric of the Latin American nation- and peace reigned even though a huge security web remained in the favelas and other potential trouble spots around the country. Brazil’s national brand index which had received some testy knocks prior to the games took on resurgence.

At the end of the day, the host nation should be coming to terms with the gains of the $1 billion invested in the venture- the world should have seen the country in a different light as a strong and reliable nation with hospitable and friendly citizens; a country whose image is reinforced as a destination of economic strength and business potentials ready for investments from abroad. These and much more are the benefits of hosting the world cup. No wonder the bid to host the world cup is usually a fierce contest and can be quite controversial as the case with Qatar 2022 has shown. In fact, the enormous resources and diplomatic overtures thrown into winning the hosting rights for the world cup underscore the importance of soccer diplomacy.

Other important lessons in diplomacy bequeathed to the world by soccer include the values of courtesy, fair play and the sense of shared victory. Even though the 90 - 120 minutes combat on the pitch must produce a decisive winner and loser the entire affair is made to reflect the ‘no victor, no vanquished’ rhetoric as even the losing team gets some respect, recognition or even reward. This is because football’s world governing body, FIFA places fair play at the heart of the game. World leaders can take a cue from this even in prosecuting armed conflicts by upholding the conventions of war like precluding attacks on unarmed civilian populations.

The devastation in Syria and the spiralling crisis in Gaza for instance would have been ameliorated if the rules of fair play are being fully observed by combatants. If the USA and Iran can partake meaningfully in the games with each side upholding the pride and integrity of their nations amidst respect in engaging their opponents on the field, why can’t a similar attitude be made brought into the discuss on nuclear capabilities?

But world soccer also has some worrisome aspects too. For instance, Nigeria has been banned from all global competitions by FIFA for alleged government interference even though the issue really stemmed from the decision of a law court. Recall that in 2010 when President Goodluck Jonathan directed Nigeria to withdraw from all football competitions following the senior team’s dismal outing at the world cup, it was principally the fear of FIFA hammer that caused a reversal of the directive.

The world governing body is strict about not allowing political interference in the administration of football but is this really feasible? In countries like Nigeria where government still funds sports soccer can total interference be ruled out? In fact, can non-interference be absolute? This is a debate that must be allowed to fester for the good of the game. But it is good that the game is having positive influences on diplomacy.

Article Credit: Thisdaylive

Updated 5 Years ago

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Tags:     Brazil     2014 FIFA     President Goodluck Jonathan