This week the New Statesman launched a World Cup podcast, Political Football, in which for the duration of the tournament in Russia we will discuss football and politics and the politics of football – as well as muse on any number of subjects, from the wisdom of England’s polite and well-spoken coach, Gareth Southgate, to whether Belgium underperforms at international tournaments because it is a fractured pseudo-state.
Those of you who have no interest in the World Cup can of course ignore our podcast. But it is increasingly difficult to ignore football, which is an engine of globalisation and one of the supreme instruments of soft power in the world. This is why autocrats such as Vladimir Putin are so eager to host this summer’s sporting jamboree.
Yet sadly the beautiful game is not worthy of the name: Fifa, football’s international governing body, is tainted by corruption and few believe that the process by which Russia and Qatar won the right to host the World Cup was fair and transparent. In many ways, football at the highest level is neoliberalism in action; a symbol of rapacious winner-takes-all capitalism in which the rich keep on getting richer and the rest can go to hell. And yet, the World Cup still retains something of its old romance and glamour. Small countries compete alongside superpowers; Africa and Asia and Latin America are well represented and, for once, the United States is among the also-rans – or not represented at all, as in the case of Russia 2018. So, enjoy the football while never forgetting the politics and, indeed, geopolitics of football.
This article appears in the 13 Jun 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Who sunk Brexit?