The Run of Play is a blog about
the wonder and terror of soccer.

We left the window open during a match in October 2007 and a strange wind blew into the room.

Now we walk the forgotten byways of football with a lonely tread, searching for the beautiful, the bewildering, the haunting, and the absurd.

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A More or Less Innocent Question

The world, fragmented.

Here are two beliefs which seem to be widespread among intelligent soccer fans online.

1. That football is too much in the pocket of business interests whose treatment of the game as a commodity weakens its ties to local communities and takes it away from its traditional fans.

2. That racism and regional prejudice have no place in football and should be stamped out.

Most of the time, I think, these beliefs are seen as complementary: if you’re opposed to money controlling the game, if you want to return the game to the people, then you also believe that the people should be free to enjoy the game without being made victims of prejudice.

My question, which is innocent in the sense that I really want to hear answers from people who have thought more about these issues than I have, is whether there is actually some significant tension between these two beliefs.

Isn’t it the case, after all, that local communities, as compared to diffuse global fanbases, are far more likely to use the game to reinforce local identities, in a way that precisely lends itself to accentuating regional conflicts and racial differences?

Hasn’t the trend against racism in soccer largely coincided with, even been motivated by, the increasing corporatization of the game?

Wasn’t the “golden age” for the fans also the era in which the game lent itself most easily to mass prejudice and nationalist manipulation?

Is it possible that globalization, with its disruption of strong identifications between clubs and communities, is actually the best hope for defeating racism in football?

EDIT: It’s remiss of me not to point out that this post was to some extent prompted by the illuminating discussion on racism in Italian football that Martha began on The Offside last week, and that Roswitha and Vanda brilliantly continued elsewhere. Apologies to all for the oversight.


A More or Less Innocent Question

by Brian Phillips · January 23, 2008

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