World Cup 2014: Perspectives On A Global Game

Group play in the 2014 FIFA World Cup is almost over with perennial powerhouse Spain eliminated early as well as the British national team. Host country Brazil has won its early matches, but not in as dazzling a manner as expected. After coming to a draw with Portugal, Team USA has the opportunity to advance to the knockout round with a win or a draw over Germany.


FIFA FanFest Cuiabá, Brasil. Image via paulisson miura (Flickr Creative Commons).

Teams from Latin America have fared rather well this tournament. Costa Rica, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, and Colombia have all looked impressive on the pitch.

But it’s not just game play that’s making news — several issues have come up during this World Cup, including immigration and racism.


It’s no secret that there has been an increasing backlash against immigrants in countries around the world. When it comes to World Cup play, it’s been reported that 2/3 of the players come from a migration background.

The Global Post published a story leading into the World Cup — Here’s what World Cup teams would look like if immigrants weren’t allowed to play — noting that “Broadly defining ‘foreigner’ as anyone with at least one foreign-born parent, Switzerland would lose two-thirds of its players. France and the Netherlands might be knocked out of contention.”

The New Statesman published an article that suggests that the make up of World Cup teams “tells the story of skilled labor.” However, the immigration history of Europe’s footballers is often erased in news stories or discussions of teams.

For the next month, the popular press across Europe will be packed with stories about migrants – just as long as you turn to the back-pages. ‘Immigrant’ tends to be a term we reserve for the unfamiliar, unknown foreigner – which may be why we seldom notice that so many of our football heroes are immigrants too.

The United States has long been a nation that discursively takes pride in its immigrant history — wearing the label of “Melting Pot” proudly. But debates over immigration are no less heated in the United States than in Europe, as pointed out in a Guardian piece about the migrant backgrounds of several US men’s team players.

Before the World Cup re-focused our attention on our incredibly diverse world, the conventional wisdom in the Beltway was that Pelosi’s counterpart, the House majority leader Eric Cantor, had lost his primary because of a relatively open stance on immigration – and that any chance at meaningful reform (which Cantor actually opposed) would go down with him.

Often bound up with the issue of immigration is racism and/or xenophobia.


Race has entered many conversations about the tournament in Brazil after the president declared the 2014 World Cup would be one “without racism.”

This, as the complicated nature of race is embodied in Brazilian star Neymar.

In Black identity and racism collide in Brazil in World Cup, Dion Rabouin discusses Black Brazilians not seeing themselves as black. Rabouin points to Neymar as an example.

That complexity can perhaps best be illustrated by the fact that many Black Brazilians don’t think of themselves as Black. Brazilian soccer star Neymar is a great example. Asked during an interview in 2010 if he had ever experienced racism, his response was, “Never.” He added, “Not inside nor outside of the soccer field. Even more because I’m not Black, right?”

The author notes that Neymar “has been subjected to monkey noises made by his own teammates, had multiple bananas thrown at him during international matches” and, after a fellow Brazilian player responded to having a banana thrown at him by eating it before continuing play, Neymar shared an imaged of he and his son holding bananas with the text “We are all monkeys.”

Which went viral.

But Rabouin points out an internet meme can’t do much and some even found it offensive.

The intersection of racism and homophobia is at the center of this article about the chants of Mexican fans during the Brazil vs. Cameroon match and during the Germany vs. Ghana match a Nazi sympathizer ran out onto the pitch while several German fans were photographed in Blackface.

The German national team, it should be noted, has a number of starters who are of migration background — including Miroslav Klose who kicked the goal that secured Germany’s draw against Ghana Saturday.

Delta Airlines entered the fray after it shared an offensive tweet celebrating the US win over Ghana.


Screenshot of Delta tweet before it was deleted.


The United States defeated Ghana 2-1 in that match up — Lady Liberty is clearly meant to represent the US in the above tweet; the giraffe Ghana. Delta later deleted the tweet and apologized for its publication.

All of this, writers at Bloomberg note, undercutting a nationwide “We Are One” campaign in Brazil meant to fight racism in the country and celebrate its multicultural background. The 2011 Brazilian census shows half the population categorizes itself as either black or mixed race.


There has been quite a bit of research done on the various impacts of the World Cup — on media, host nation, and the game of soccer (or football to our readers outside the United States) itself.

This article from Tourism Management examines the reactions of residents of Seoul to the games after Korea hosted in 2002. Another article from that journal focuses on the economic impact of the 2002 event. (Economics have been at the heart of many conversations about the tournament in Brazil as the nation is estimated to have spent $4 billion dollars in preparation. The cost of the World Cup has sparked protests over economic inequality in Brazil.)

This piece from Urban Forum actually examines how such mega-events might aid in poverty reduction. Its focus is the 2010 South African tournament, which the authors suggest failed to spur urban development.

The idea of the nation is at the heart of an article in Media, Culture & Society. Through a study of the Argentina vs. England match in the 1998 World Cup, the authors explored how narratives of the nation were perpetuated in television coverage of the game.

We come back to the issue of migration in this article from Soccer & Society. In it the authors trace the ways in which the sport had been (their focus is also the 1998 World Cup) shaped by “elite labour migration.” They suggest it may help shape the sport into a “global intercultural interchange.”

Making Sausage

Finally, if you haven’t seen it yet, here is John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight explaining why he is both repulsed and enraptured by the World Cup.

Let us know how you feel about the tournament in the comments section.

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