|Originally Aired: June 9, 2006
2006 World Cup Kicks Off in Germany
|As soccer's World Cup kicks off in Germany, two authors talk about the history and culture of the tournament.|
RAY SUAREZ: Every four years, the world comes together
around the little black-and-white ball, a carnival scene mixing sport and
revelry with a not-so-subtle undertone of nationalism.
The World Cup 2006 edition began today across Germany.
Thirty-two teams from all around the world, Mexico,
Brazil, the U.S.,
are all here. Even the team from Togo
in West Africa qualified this time; they
brought along a voodoo priest to help.
And the host country has worked hard to accommodate the
peculiarities of soccer fans in celebration. Security at games and events is
tight, as Germany expects
some 40,000 English fans to descend on Frankfurt
on Saturday. So far, there have been no major problems.
SOCCER FAN: Good humor, good fun, and just enjoy the football.
RAY SUAREZ: But Germany has called these games
"A Time to make Friends," a welcoming motto meant to ease any
tensions before exuberance gets out of hand. For fans and organizers alike,
there's a lot at stake.
COSTA RICAN SOCCER FAN: The biggest upset of the World Cup
this year: Costa Rica,
COSTA RICAN SOCCER FAN: And it's happening Friday, tonight.
COSTA RICAN SOCCER FAN: ... Costa
Rica 1, Germany
RAY SUAREZ: Alas, that fan's hopes were dashed. In the first
game of the cup, Costa Rica
lost to home field Germany
Taking root in the U.S.
RAY SUAREZ: For more on the history and culture of the tournament,
we turn to Franklin Foer, editor of The New Republic magazine and author of the
book, "How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of
And Sean Wilsey, editor-at-large of the literary journal
McSweeney's Quarterly, and co-editor of the book, "The Thinking Fan's
Guide to the World Cup."
And, Franklin Foer, are Americans immune to World Cup fever?
FRANKLIN FOER, Author, "How Soccer Explains the
World": Well, there's certainly a subculture of us who are paying attention
to what's going on in Germany
now, and I think we are a growing subculture. I mean, alas, we are not swept up
in World Cup fever the same way the rest of the world is.
And American soccer fans tend to be somewhat booster-ish in
describing the future of the game. We sound like kind of one of those crazy
radicals on a street corner in Berkeley
predicting that the revolution is always about to happen, and it never seems to
happen right away.
But the game is growing very slowly, very steadily. Demographics
are on its side, thanks to immigration. And a lot of the kids who grew up
playing the game may not follow it passionately between World Cups, but when
World Cups come around they pay attention.
An international sport
RAY SUAREZ: Sean Wilsey, in a world that does pay very close
attention to soccer, there are national league tournaments, there are
continent-wide tournaments, there are various levels of cups and international
competition. What makes the World Cup so different?
SEAN WILSEY, Co-Editor, "The Thinking Fan's Guide to
the World Cup": The World Cup is different because every continent is
involved; every country is involved.
Players who play for league teams may not be from the
country that that league team represents, so you've got players who are playing
for money in these league games -- and they play well, and they care about
their teams, but it's for the paycheck -- whereas the World Cup, it's for your
country. And so it's deeply symbolic and meaningful, and it can really unite
I think Ivory
Coast is a great example of a country that's
been in a civil war for a number of years now. And when the team qualified for
the World Cup, President Laurent Gbagbo, who has been persecuting the North,
very anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim, embraced the whole team, gave them all
villas and commendations, a very mixed Muslim team.
And the two sides in the civil war said that this could be
an opportunity to actually put it behind them, so it's deeply significant, not
only sporting-wise, but politically, as well.
RAY SUAREZ: So that national idea, as opposed to a club idea
or Manchester United, is what transcends the already great enthusiasm for the
FOER: Exactly. I think that there aren't so many -- and especially in Europe, there aren't so many outlets for nationalism,
where people can feel good about feeling patriotic about their country. And the
World Cup is one of the rare occasions that people feel that way.
I think one of the fascinating things about the World Cup is
that it is, in a lot of ways, the ultimate expression of globalization: The
entire world is united, speaking this common vernacular of soccer; the event is
tied together by multinational corporations.
And yet, despite all this globalization, it is still this
incredible festival of nationalism. And a lot of people thought that
globalization would smoosh nationalism, but the World Cup, in a weird way,
shows that the two can coexist.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, that's kind of the paradox though. I mean,
we were told for a long time by big thinkers that countries would matter less
in the 21st century, as currencies became common, as borders were being erased.
You've got the rising E.U., and here countries matter a great deal.
FRANKLIN FOER: Yes, try
telling that to England
fans who are living and dying for what happens in this tournament and are
walking around with their country's standard.
RAY SUAREZ: Sean Wilsey, when you look at the club sides,
the players come from all over. I mean, the players for a famous side in France or Italy might not have very many
Frenchmen or Italians on it. Is that part of the attraction, to have a unified
SEAN WILSEY: It very much is. One of the funniest pieces in
"The Thinking Fans Guide" is by Nick Hornby. And Nick writes about
how, when he was young, his idea of a fantasy team would have been the national
team, because that's when all the English players who played for all the
different league teams would come together and all the best ones would be on
the national team, whereas now it's almost a nostalgic and different kind of
While the most star-filled team in England is a
club team, it's all foreigners -- not all, but largely foreigners. It's called
Chelsea. And it's owned by a Russian, and it is dominant. It just won the
So now you only really do see English players playing
together, and they're not always the best players in the English leagues,
because a lot of them are foreign, but you do get to see an all-English team on
the national team. So those two things have switched, you know, in the last 10
No shortage of rivalies
RAY SUAREZ: Is there an ugly side or a darker side to that
nationalism and what it brings out during an event like the World Cup?
FOER: Yes, sure. I mean, over the course of the next month, I guarantee you
we'll see fans from losing teams go on rampages across their country. They may
even beat up some immigrants who are living within their midst, and this
happens in every tournament. And I'm sure in some of the stadiums we may see
some traces of racism.
But on the other hand, I think that what the World Cup shows
is that nationalism is not a pure evil, that it can also be a wonderful,
beautiful sort of thing, and not at all harmful.
RAY SUAREZ: Sean, what about on the field of play itself,
rather than in the stands, when former imperial powers play one of their
colonies, or a former invader plays a former occupied country?
SEAN WILSEY: Well, there's a potential for a lot of games
that fit that description. Trinidad and Tobago are going to be playing England,
and so that's colony versus colonizer.
And, as Frank actually pointed out in a piece he wrote for
the book, surprisingly enough, you would think that the colony would actually
tend to be more inspired to actually best their former colonizer. But the way
it often works out historically is that the former colonizer really has a lot
And, throughout past World Cups, colonizers have usually actually
defeated their former colonies. Trinidad
and Tobago does not have a very good chance.
They are the longest odds in the entire tournament at 1,000 to 1. So England
thinks they're going to win that one.
But you never know: Underdogs do triumph in the World Cup,
and Trinidad and Tobago could be surprising this year. I hope they are.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, long odds, but also the smallest country
in the tournament at the same time.
SEAN WILSEY: Exactly.
RAY SUAREZ: It's a tiny place.
Playing in Germany
RAY SUAREZ: Franklin, the cup
being played for the first time in a unified Germany.
FOER: That's right.
RAY SUAREZ: How is that important?
FRANKLIN FOER: Well, Germany
has actually used soccer as a way of reintegrating themselves into the
community of nations. After the war, they won the 1954 World Cup, surprisingly,
and this was a great psychological boost to the country, in which they felt
like they were able to feel good about Germany in a publicly,
internationally acceptable sort of way.
Then, in 1990, they won the World Cup again, which was a
triumph that occurred just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there was a
certain sense of national euphoria that came with this.
And this World Cup is, I think, an example of a very mature Germany
that really doesn't have a lot of angst about the past, showing itself off in a
very modern, proud way.
RAY SUAREZ: And quickly, a pick, do you have one?
FRANKLIN FOER: Listen, I hate
going with the over-dog all the time, but I've got to say Brazil.
RAY SUAREZ: And Sean?
SEAN WILSEY: You know, this is a totally imbecilic pick, but
I actually think the U.S.
has a real chance of going all the way. And it would be shocking, but it could
RAY SUAREZ: Sean Wilsey, Franklin Foer, thank you, both.