Is everything political? It can make a certain sense to say that it is. Given the centrality of political processes to modern life, given that connections, either direct or indirect, can be drawn between most things, it is usually going to be possible to trace out the way in which some given event or phenomenon has a political aspect to it, even when this isn't at once obvious. At the same time, there is a sense in which some things needn't be treated as political, not at least in the general run of things. If you walk along the road looking at clouds, or if you and your mates go for a picnic or spend an evening playing cards, it's not compulsory to situate these activities in their political context.
Step up to the podium Martin Jacques. The man has become rather a one-trick pony - that trick being, approximately, thumbs down to the First World and thumbs up everywhere else (but especially China). Your heart sinks - OK, my heart did - as you begin reading and what you read is this:
The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event, it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance.Oh no. And it's immediately followed by this:
Any evaluation of this World Cup, therefore, should not be confined to the quality of the football... but also deal with its broader cultural meaning.You see: 'should not be confined'. Why can't it just be that if Martin wants 'deeper' and wants 'cultural and political importance', he can do the analysis, while anyone else is free to enjoy the football?
Now, you might say that I'm being unduly harsh and literalist here: he needn't have intended anything more than that he wanted to do a bit of cultural analysis. Say away, friends. But take a look at what closely follows by way of the analysis. With this World Cup, Jacques tells us, 'global football has taken a step backwards'. And for why? For because:
The importance of football has grown in direct proportion to its ability to become genuinely global and not primarily European. Unlike virtually every other human activity - from politics and economics to universities and the military - football has managed to give a growing place in the sun to those who are normally marginalised and unrepresented. The growing importance of Africa and Asia in football are testimony to this.I'd call that an undue politicization of the subject at hand. Jacques is obviously aware, for example, that the all-European last four was a result of... er, the results - the results of the preceding games - since he knows that there were two Latin American teams in the last eight. Still, it's a 'monopoly' and plainly regrettable. Then again, Ghana and the Ivory Coast were there, he acknowledges, but they fell 'before they should have done'. It's about representation, you'll have gathered, not about football. Presumably the Martin Jacques World Cup would settle these matters in a way more sensitive to the multi-continental nature of the planet we live on and not so slavishly attuned to the outcome of the actual games. The perfect sporting competition would be one - call it the Curled Wup, involving not football, but curling a wup into its matching thrup - in which the outcome always exactly mirrored the great heterogeneity of nations. Exciting wouldn't be the word.
But, alas, not in this World Cup. In the last sixteen there was only one African side and no Asian. In the last eight, there were six European and two Latin American: the last four was a European monopoly. (Compare this with the last World Cup, where there were only three European sides in the last eight and just one in the semi-finals.)
With the next World Cup being held in South Africa, we must hope for a much greater representation of African sides. Without doubt, Ghana and the Ivory Coast were two of the best sides in this World Cup, but they fell well before they should have done, while Nigeria and Cameroon, the traditionally strongest African sides, never made it to Germany.