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All Condoned in Soccer Matches

Posted June. 19, 2002 23:23,   


Soccer, Last Acceptable Form of Nationalism

In England, waving their national flag ‘the Union Jack’ is considered a provocative act by the far right. That’s because the Union Zack is a symbol of imperialism, racism and colonialism of the past. Prime Minister, Tony Blair was excoriated by the press when he marched toward his residence in Downing Street on his first day with his supporters waving the flag.

U.S.-based Internet magazine Slate.com, however, reported on June 20 that all was condoned in soccer matches. During the England-Argentina match on June 7, for instance, Hooligans were not the only ones who chanted, "Where is your navy? At the bottom of the sea"—a reference to the Falklands War where England beat Argentine Navy forces. The chant is a display of nationalism no one can dare to venture outside a stadium.

According to the magazine, Mrs. Thatcher, who upon being told that the German team had defeated England, had allegedly replied, "They may have beat us at our national game, but we beat them twice at their national game in the 20th century."

No one outraged at the somewhat chauvinistic remarks implying that England is the motherland of soccer and that it defeated Germans in World War I and II. Instead, everyone laughed.

In Germany, a nation repeatedly haunted by Nazi ghosts, you cannot shout "Deutschland! Deutschland!" except a soccer stadium - Soccer has become a symbol of post-war prosperity along with Deutsche mark.

Late last year when Germany was hammered by England in a 1-5 defeat in preliminary rounds, conservative daily paper Frankfurt Algemine lamented, “Two symbols of post-war prosperity are gone, with the mark replaced by the euro.”

The current German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, however, halts all his current, tight election campaigning for 90 minutes every time Germany plays a World Cup match, Slate.com noted.

As for the reason Soccer has become the sole outlet of patriotism and nationalism in Europe, weekly the Economist pointed out on its June 1st issue, “European nations, seeking to dilute their national identities into the broader European Union, suppress a rise of nationalism. This makes it impermissible to display such sentiments.”

There is yet another reason soccer inspires patriotic and national sentiments. That is it is the only field of sports where Americans remain weak. The Internet magazine forecast, “If the United States started to dominate soccer the way it dominates basketball, then anti-Americanism might really start to get ugly.”

And it hopes “the U.S. team doesn`t upset the balance by winning too many more matches,” saying “Americans have plenty of opportunities to show their patriotism.”

Eun-Taek Hong euntack@donga.com