Soccer-punched: World Cups make fools of us all

Sport

Soccer-punched: World Cups make fools of us all

Marx was wrong - soccer is the opium that hijacks our critical attention when we need it most

Journalist

In Lisbon
Karl Marx got it wrong. Not about the importance of the workers of the world uniting, nor recognising that they who control the means of production boss almost everything, nor on the inherent evil of capitalism.
Damn straight, comrade, on those counts and many more. So, what was Marx wrong about? God bothering. Or, at least, about its place in modern society.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”
Those are 20 of the most beautifully arranged words yet translated into English.
It’s a pity we tend to remember not them but the next seven words: “It is the opium of the people.”All 27 of those words are from Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, which Marx wrote in 1834: more than 200 years after cricket became professional and 23 years before the world’s first football club was founded, in Sheffield.So he had no idea of the monster football would become. But he did take himself off to a cricket match, where, according to Ben Carrington’s Marxism, cultural Studies and Sport (2009), he decided that “if the masses could be so easily subdued by such a resolutely sedate game with its mores of bourgeois Englishness dripping from every rule and expression, then all was lost for the socialist cause”.
That explains, perhaps, why Marx didn’t see that the opium of the people wouldn’t be religion in future. Instead, it would be sport.
And that makes World Cups state-sanctioned, capitalism-controlled drug dealing that put people in the kind of funk the powerful can use to take the attention off their actions. That’s a dark thought, but there are many more and much darker where that comes from. Here are but a few:
Russians were still celebrating their team’s 5-0 thumping of Saudi Arabia in the opening match of football’s 2018 World Cup when it emerged that the Kremlin had hiked VAT and planned to raise the retirement age.During that match, Saudi forces launched a brutal offensive in their despicable proxy war on Yemen to isolate the main port and so sever deliveries of food and medicine to a nation already wrecked by famine and disease.
The day before a Moroccan own-goal earned victory for Iran, the latter’s authorities arrested Nasrin Sotoudeh, a prominent Iranian human rights lawyer, and told her she had been sentenced, in absentia, to five years in prison.
Hours before scoring all three of Portugal’s goals against Spain, Cristiano Ronaldo agreed to pay a fine amounting to almost R300-million rather than face further prosecution on tax evasion charges.
None of those stories garnered anything like the amount of coverage devoted to the comparatively insignificant action on the field in Russia.  
The masses were high on football, leaving the bold and the bad to do whatever they wanted in sickening sobriety.
That’s as much a comment on what’s wrong with media concerned with little else but their numbers of viewers, listeners and readers as it is on those viewers, listeners and readers.
Mo than he asked for
Sometimes players are dragged into the mess, like Mohamed Salah was in Grozny on Sunday. Chechnya’s boorish oaf of a leader, Ramzan Kadyrov – who insists there are no gay men in his country, which may soon be true considering he has them tortured and executed – turned up at the Egypt team’s hotel and apparently insisted the sleeping Salah be woken up.
Then he posed for photographs with the player that rocketed around the world, leaving Salah to explain the how and why of his seemingly willing fraternisation with a vicious tyrant.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s autocratic, anti-democratic president, and Donald Trump, the dangerous buffoon Americans somehow chose to lead them, must have looked on in impotent rage and envy at Kadyrov’s naked chutzpah.It’s not only countries governed by criminals who use the cover of sport to try to hide what they’re up to, or at least give it a respectable face.
At a fan park in Lisbon before the Portugal-Spain game, a former lawyer and journalist and the godson of Portugal’s last fascist dictator stopped traffic and gathered a crowd around him. 
Well he might have: he was Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s centre-left president who doesn’t need to be asked twice to pose for a selfie with his beloved compatriots, who could easily be mistaken for voters.
As a woman in Lisbon said the other day: “Ah yes. The World Cup. Our politicians always wait for it to come before they force through unpopular legislation.”
She was from Düsseldorf in Germany, which is led by the ostensibly sane, outwardly decent Angela Merkel, patron saint of refugees everywhere.
This is as much a comment on what’s wrong with media concerned with little else but the numbers of the viewers, listeners and readers they attract as it is on what’s wrong with those viewers, listeners and readers.
Outdated and laughably naive
Which would be worse, a website putting up a video of Ashwin Willemse’s pet scorpion stinging the bejaysus out of a photograph of Nick Mallett, or people clicking on that video?
And how many more hits do you think this article would earn if the names of Willemse and Mallett were in the headline, never mind that they have bugger nothing to do with this story? 
What the hell are we thinking? How can we allow something as comparatively unimportant as the World Cup to hijack our critical attention when we need it most?
Aside from the damage the tournament aids and abets in our society, the tournament doesn’t even do what it says on the tin.The idea that we will, after the final in Moscow on July 15, know which is the best team in international football is outdated and laughably naive.
What we will know is which squad of players, arbitrarily chosen more often than not, who represent nothing except themselves and their teammates, have been more successful than 31 other but similar squads over the course of a particular month. Nothing more, nothing less.
How do we keep our eye on the real ball while the World Cup is here to distract us with fakery? By turning to Marx.
“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set I go into the other room and read a book.”
Yes, that’s Marx. Groucho Marx.

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