Following up on Maggie's World Cup post, you should take a look at today's Democracy Now interview on how the World Cup brings people together -- the whole continent of Africa as well as those fighting racism around the world. I think I have to buy this guy's book, by the way. Such a sucker for community-building in all its forms!
Excerpted (and edited for length) from Democracy Now:
The World Cup is the most-watched sporting event on the planet. Nearly every nation in the world competes to play in the World Cup.
Only twelve countries remain in the running. The United States is not one of them. They were eliminated in the first round by Ghana, who are competing in their first ever World Cup.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin joins us now. He writes the weekly column, "Edge of Sports," a regular contributor to The Nation, author of the book, What's My Name, Fool?: Sports and Resistance in the United States.
DAVID ZIRIN: Anybody who goes to any of the neighborhood bars in your local city knows that this has the pulse of the neighborhood...especially in Adams Morgan, where there’s a wonderful place called the Ghana Café. I mean, when Ghana beat the United States, you would have thought you were in Accra, because people were pouring out into the streets, singing songs, waving flags.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the significance of Ghana beating the United States?
DAVID ZIRIN: Ghana, this was their first ever World Cup. And what's so exciting about the Ghanaian team is that they seem to be fulfilling the prophesy of the great Pele, who predicted almost 30 years ago that by the year 2000, an African team would win the World Cup. That hasn’t happened yet, but to see Ghana playing with such flare and beauty and excitement really has people excited about the future of soccer in Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: In one of your pieces, you described the commentators and the people from Ghana who were watching in the Ghana Café, their response to them.
DAVID ZIRIN: Yes. Oh, they were furious about the commentators. To watch the game, you would think that it was the United States versus some team. There was just very little mention of what the Ghanaian players were doing. Everything was in relation to the United States.
[There] was very little mention of the fact that the Ghanaian players largely don't get to play in Europe at the top leagues. [Yet] when Ghana was beating the U.S., one of the commentators said, “Well, that's because so many of these Ghanaian players are now playing in Europe. They've really been able to hone their skills,” when you’re talking about literally one Ghanaian player.
So the Ghanaian fans who are just incredibly savvy and have forgotten more about soccer than the commentators they have on the air just throw up their hands and just, like, “Are you kidding me? What is this person talking about?”
There is pride in what Ghana is being able to accomplish. And it’s worth saying that it’s a continent-wide pride. It wasn’t all Ghanaians in the Ghana Café; it was people from Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Africa, Namibia. I mean, it really was this sense of a continent unity that, I think, speaks to the best angels of our nature with regards to sports.
AMY GOODMAN: Dave Zirin, talk about Iran.
DAVID ZIRIN: Absolutely. Well, Iran was part of the World Cup. They were the Middle Eastern champions this year. And there was a push to keep them from playing in the World Cup, because of the nuclear controversy that’s been going on there. The European Union passed a resolution to try to keep Iran out of the World Cup. One of the leaders of the E.U. suggested that they get Bahrain, who came in second, to play in the World Cup, because they said if we get Bahrain here, then people won't think it's an attack against the Muslim world. It will show how generous we are... which is just an idiotic, head-scratching concept.
In the United States, this happened, as well, when Senator John McCain attempted to get a bill passed through the Senate that would call for FIFA -- that’s the governing soccer body -- from keeping Iran from playing in the World Cup. I mean, it was a transparent effort to try to use the current geopolitical situation as a club to keep Iran out of the World Cup, and it's something that failed, which is a very good thing.
AMY GOODMAN: Racism at the games?
DAVID ZIRIN: Oh, my goodness. Well, in the lead-up to the Cup, there was a continent-wide controversy throughout Europe about racism at the top levels of soccer. And this is accompanied in Europe, issues around immigration, asylum, anti-Muslim sentiment. And with that, you see a resurgence of just some absolutely awful spectacles, like star African players who play in the European leagues, every time their foot would touch the ball, fans would make ape noises or monkey noises. Fans would be throwing -- I actually don't even like calling them “fans” -- but people in the stands would be throwing banana peels at them, peanuts at them. And it got so bad that a star player named Samuel Eto’o, who’s from Cameroon and plays for Barcelona, he literally started to walk off the field and said, “I’m not going play anymore.” And it took players from both teams to get together to quiet the fans down, to eject fans.
Another player named Marc Zoro, who plays for a top Italian club, who’s from Africa, he picked up the ball and started to just walk off the field holding the ball. Not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. He was pretty mad. He was ready to walk away. I mean, it’s an absolutely horrible thing. One of the African players was quoted anonymously, saying that “in Europe, we're treated as worse than dogs.” And it got some play here in the U.S. when a U.S. player of African descent named DaMarcus Beasley, he described the situation. He said, “Every time my foot touches the ball, I fell like I’m in just some horrible racist, anachronistic film, you know, of some kind.” And this is the sort of thing that soccer is facing right now.
AMY GOODMAN: But it hasn’t happened as much at the World Cup.
DAVID ZIRIN: No, and it hasn’t happened -- we should be very clear about this, that the reason why it's happened less at the World Cup, despite some little outbursts by little Neo-Nazi fringe groups trying to organize rallies or what not, is because of the organization of players and fans themselves. There’s a group called FARE -- that’s Footballers Against Racism -- that have been organizing to keep the racists out.
There’s a star player from France of African descent named Thierry Henri, who started a campaign called “Stand Up, Speak Up,” which is an amazing campaign. He actually pressured his sponsor, Nike. You don't usually think of Nike when you think of the anti-racist vanguard in the world, but he pressured Nike to actually produce these black-and-white arm bands to sell, that fans could wear in solidarity with anti-racism. They’ve sold over five million.
Meanwhile, from another newspaper: (lest you think it's all feel-good news...)
Most racism is directed against Africans, but in Holland, Dutch fans — especially opponents of Amsterdam’s Ajax club, which is identified in the public mind with Jews — often shout things like, “Hamas, Hamas, hang the Jews in the gas.”
Germany is no different. About a week before the tournament, a newsmagazine show on the RTL television network focused on hooliganism [I believe a MUCH stronger word should have been used here] in Germany’s lower-level soccer leagues. With a hidden camera, the program’s editor, Burkhard Kress, filmed fans in the former East German city of Magdeburg singing the “Auschwitz song” — “We are building a U-bahn train, we are building a U-bahn, from Magdeburg to Auschwitz.”
Soccer fans in other German cities also sing the tune, substituting the name of their city for Magdeburg.