because it’s never just sport –

Of Aldo Cazzullo

I don’t think we can condemn the fans who will follow the World Cup on TV after such difficult years — and they’re not over yet —: football is the childhood of the world

The sport never just sports. Especially when it becomes a global competition, an occasion for propaganda and business. In 1964 Giorgio Bocca wrote that it was a shame that to inaugurate the Games was the emperor.

Not even in the hour of the most terrible massacres of the war, Hirohito had distracted himself from taking care of his flowers, wrote the great journalist, and for this he was challenged to a duel by the samurai of the Black Dragon Company (at least so he said). In 1968, on the eve of the Mexico City Olympics
, the army fired on the students in Piazza delle Tre Culture, the dead were at least 300, Oriana Fallaci was wounded; ten days later the Games began, remained in the collective memory for the infinite flight of Bob Beamon and the clenched fists of Carlos and Smith (but Evans too, after the legendary record of the 400m, ignored the American anthem and started fiddling with the Basque ).

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In 1972 the attack by Palestinian terrorists and the inexperience of the German police caused a massacre that did not interrupt the Olympics. In 1976, the year of the Soweto uprising, almost all of Africa was missing to testify against apartheid. In 1980, a year after the invasion of Afghanistan which was to turn out to be Soviet Vietnam, America and some allied countries including West Germany boycotted the Moscow Games; the USSR and other communist states fought back four years later in Los Angeles. The Athens 2004 Games contributed to the collapse of Greece, the Beijing 2008 Games celebrated the capital-communist regime. But the 1992 Games had marked the relaunch of Barcelonalike the2006 Winter Olympics put the Turinese in a good mood.

Brazil hosted the World Cup and the Olympics two years apart, in a completely different context. In 2014 we were still on the long wave of the economic boom, even if the Arena Corinthians in São Paulo had booed Dilma’s presidency. The crisis began in 2016the Olympic stadium in Rio was not new but recycled, the Brazilians looked sadder than after the seven goals scored two years earlier in the semifinal by Germany.

The most beautiful Olympics of recent times was that of London 2012: horse riding in Greenwich, endurance swimming in Hyde Park, beach volleyball 400 meters from Buckingham Palace, tennis in Wimbledon (Federer lost in the final to Murray, exhausted by the semi with Del Potro which lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes, a record for a best-of-three-set match, also because the third finished 19-17). In short, sport had returned home, where it was born. The British avoided gigantism by focusing on efficiencythe audience smiled at images of the Queen (and her stunt double) parachuting onto the stadium with James Bond, and we all sang Hey Jude with Paul McCartney in unison.

Four years ago, at the opening of the World Cup in Russia, on the metro to the Luzhniki stadium, formerly Lenin, I was the only civilian in a train car full of seconded soldiers to applaud Putin; even if the propaganda summit had been the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

In summary, politics and business are always joint at major sporting events. This does not justify the scandals of Qatar 2022, the far from clear assignment, the unacceptable human cost of the infrastructures, the environmental impact of the stadiums, the obscurantism of the rulers. But that can’t stop us from talking about football.

Because in the end, when the competitions begin, the context tends – unfortunately – to disappear, and the eyes of the world public inevitably end up focusing on the ball. I’m not saying it’s right; I say what. If anything, there is work to be done to moralise international football, make allocation mechanisms transparent, demand humane and safety standards. It is useful to remember that democratic countries, where human rights are respected and the law provides for equality between people without distinction of sex, race, language, religion, political opinion, personal and social conditions (article 3 of the Italian Constitution), remain a minority in the world.

I don’t think the fans who will follow the World Cup on TV can be condemned. They will be very many. More than expected. why Europeans, and not only them, are coming out of the worst period of life. In fact, they fear they are not out of it yet. Pandemic, prices, war, nuclear threat. Football is the childhood of the world. His story, Borges said, starts over every time a child kicks something in the street.

Our children are not guilty of anything. They will see the farewell step of Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. They will get excited about the French attack Giroud ready to support Mbapp and Griezmann — and for young Spain. They will learn never to underestimate Germany. They will forgive England the punished arrogance of the European final. Maybe they will cheer for African teams. They will know the thrill I felt when in 1973 my father picked me up in his arms and said to me in front of the TV: those are the Brazilians and they play better than anyone else (we won 2-0, goals from Riva and Capello, and we deluded ourselves that the next year in Germany they would have been ours; instead it was Azzurro tenebra). And in four years it’s back to Mexico, which will share honors and burdens with the USA and Canada; because the financial and social costs of a major sporting event are better sharedin this case between the big three North American democracies.

November 20, 2022 (change November 20, 2022 | 11:55 am)

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About David Martin

David Martin is the lead editor for Spark Chronicles. David has been working as a freelance journalist.

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