States and Soccer: Does Sport Reflect Politics?

Last Sunday, a stretched-out four weeks of the Euro 2016 soccer championship came to an end. Most of the games were not particularly exciting, the level of playing was moderate, and mostly dominated by tactical considerations. As always, there was the odd and vastly popular outliner: Iceland.

The relationship between popular sports events and politics was always enigmatic, and it remains so. There were wars triggered or even caused by soccer like in 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras. There were boycotts. There are even theories and books trying to correlate a certain style of playing soccer with political backgrounds (like in the case of Germany: the victory in the world championship in Switzerland in 1954 symbolizing a successful reintegration of Germany, the success in 1974 representing the lightness of the social-democratic-liberal turn-around (Willy Brandt’s ‘we want to take a chance with more democracy’), the victory in 1990 as a sign of the newly united Germany, and the one in 2014 – signifying Germany’s new weight and role in Europe and beyond, as a successful civilian power).

So is all of this pure speculation? Or are there links between a team’s success in sports, and politics?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Sergei Medvedev 2 years ago

    Football is closely related to politics. It is one of the key institutions of society dependent on the flows of resources, power struggles, media technologies, and social mobilization. A country's success or failure in the World or Euro Cup is one of the key indicators of human development and social cohesion, as proven recently by Iceland.

    In this sense, Russia's failure in the Euro was pre-programmed in the economic and political structure of national football. It is essentially a "serf theater" (krepostnoi teatr) of the state authorities, very poorly rooted in society, local tradition, or even the national championship. Grass-roots football in Russia lacks resources, the level of the national championship is extremely low, while the authorities press the oil oligarchs to pay exorbitant sums for guest star players and coaches. In a way, this resembles Russia's superfluous modernization -- an attempt to buy expensive Western technologies without changing the local productive or social base. This does not work -- either in football, or in economy.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 2 years ago

    There are links between sports victories, defeats and politics. When a country triumphs in a sport contest government earns popularity points – that is why prime ministers try to be closer to the athletes during the greetings at home after their victories. About the population’s likings and dislikes for another country one can find out by questioning about the most popular sport there. Which victory for the Ukrainian football team would be the sweetest – to beat Portugal, Germany, Brazil? No – Russia! It is more difficult to judge in the old European countries, where the former antagonism almost disappeared. But, say the Scots would be more pleased to defeat England than the World or European champions. When I come to a less familiar country usually I ask the local people - which country's football team would you like to beat the most? The answers explain a lot.

    Popular sports – like politics - are becoming a bigger and bigger business. Not seldom a dirty one, even a game without rules. Unfortunately, brutal fights which tickle the nerves of the viewers become popular - it brings more money. However, it is still very far away from the gladiator fights. Lets hope that a true Olympic spirit will prevail in sport – and politics.

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  3. Alexei Voskressenski 2 years ago

    There are always, from the beginning of human civilization, two types of competition between humans, tribes, states, nations - war and sport. Both reflects national specifics of survival and competition. There are tons of literature, mostly about war as the deadliest of competition, even before Sun Zi and more after. Since through our development the war is more and more expensive because of the human loss, the sport is becoming the substitute of war. So how nations perform in sport may reflect their vitality and their political and economic performance. Thus the sport becomes politics and also reflects politics.The sociological and political analyses of this phenomena is worth considering. However the result of this analyses may be sometimes disappointing.

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  1. Stuart A. 2 years ago

    Will be interesting to see if this reflects in the coming Olympics. Will Brazil's team, despite being host, perform very badly - reflecting the poor state which the country is in (economically, politically, etc.)?

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  2. AW 2 years ago

    Well, Vladimir Putin just said, that ntervention of politics into sports is "unaccaptable" ( and still his comments on the possible exclusion of Russian team from the Rio games is exaclty that - interverntion of politics into sports. In general I have an impression, that many countries like Russia or China consider sportrs to be an alterbative to other sources of soft power. Nit sure, if it really works, though.

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  3. Joshua Lorenzo Newett 2 years ago

    Interesting documentary about the DPRK and the 1996 World Cup called 천리마 축구단 (The Game of Their Lives) that may be of relevance here.

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  4. A.S. Farzin 2 years ago

    In my opinion it does correlates to each other. In the World Cup 1998 Iran played against USA and won the game. This game drew some attention due to decades old political tension between the two countries. Although Iran lost against Germany and Yugoslavia, but their victory against USA was like the winning of the world champion.

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  5. WANG Rui 1 year ago

    Although in China we are usually taught that "sports should not be interfered by political issues”, in reality, the complex links between sports and politics are undeniable. For example, many countries boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to Soviet Union's illegal invasion to Afghanistan, also because of the macro-background of the Cold War. Four years later, as a revenge, Soviet Union chose not to participate the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. So political issues and international relations play an important role in sport events. Separately, sports also have influence on politics. Sports can be regarded as a symbol of soft power, the victory of one country in significant sport events, such as Olympics, the World Cup, can make positive contribution to its national images in other countries, e.g. the improvement of reputation and fame. As far as I'm concerned, "sports and politics are separated" is an ideal situation, which cannot be realized at the moment.

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