Global voices | Intriguing stories, beyond FIFA’s control

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Cambridge, Massachusetts | We long ago realized the value of Global Voices Online, the Harvard University–based project that sorts and translates Web logs worldwide, but its ability to circumvent the predictability of mass media makes it a must-read during the World Cup finals. The writing lacks a high gloss but shows the integrity of individuals, the non-credentialed masses, who offer insight into their experience of life.

Enthusiasts of Phörpa (The cup), Khyentse Norbu‘s film about Tibetan monks scheming to watch the 1998 World Cup, will appreciate the statements on Buddhism and football that Morn Vutha, of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, posts to “Vuthasurf.” While the abbot in Phörpa looks at watching soccer as a potential teaching tool—perhaps a means to finding “the middle way”—Vutha’s translation from The Cambodia Daily of 9 June indicates that other Buddhist monastics, in different Buddhist traditions, object to the World Cup’s potential influence. Gambling and excessive emotional attachment are listed as dangerous lures for the football-attached monk. Supreme Patriach Non Nget, chief of monks in Phnom Penh, states that monks may watch the games, but must watch in silence. Vutha comments:

[A]lmost [all] monks have watched sports on local and cable television such as football, Khmer kickboxing and so on. That is what I eyed. Are there law[s] or regulation[s] to ban monks [from watching] sports?

Link to photo source at Flickr
A young monk plays with one shoe, in a 2005 posting to Flickrâ„¢. (Copyright © 2005 phitar | Flickrâ„¢)

Dinesh Wagle, a journalist in Nepal, logs in from crisis-weary Kathmandu. Memories of watching past World Cup tournaments are recalled: 1990 at a hostelry, ill with fever; 1994, taking leave from the hostel to watch with friends; 1998, watching and writing about the games for a weekly paper; 2002, backing Brazil to the championship. This year, the political crisis in the Himalayan state is much in view, but football still offers escape:

I am tired of always talking about the equations of politics, being anxious about the success of the prospects of peace talks, thinking about the gloomy economic situation of the country, wandering around the polluted city of Kathmandu looking for stories for the next day’s issue of the paper. This, I think, is the perfect opportunity for me to forget all those difficulties and lost in the glories of the game.

Stacy-Marie Ishmael, a student at the London School of Economics and native of Trinidad and Tobago, draws from her undergraduate dissertation on international relations and football to assess how T&T’s first qualification for the finals will affect Trinbagonians in the long run. Along the way she engages the bleak posting of nom de blog Hassan Ramadan,The Cup of Life Still Means Death: “Many parts of our world are still hungry for peace, food and love. In many parts of our world, … [people] have no time to think about the round-shaped object that is going to be kicked for 90 minutes and at the end … gives us a winner or a loser. We will still be a loser.”

Ishmael seems to feel that football may receive blame where it doesn’t deserve it and credit for improving society, when such gains may be illusory. She writes:

Much of the study of traditional International Relations revolves around the nebulous concept of ‘power’—the power of football is limited, in that it cannot in itself change the ‘system’ (or the society in which it is played …). Football, ultimately, is a game—and even the world’s most popular game cannot change the world. The power of football comes from its ability to influence, to catalyse, to inspire and to provoke. Football facilitates, but it does not cause.

These are sane pronouncements. Like midfield maestro Juan Román Riquelme, Ishmael has managed to still the frenetic pace of media proclamation over the first two days of World Cup activity. While Bono may mouth the platitude on an ESPN voiceover, the world is not about to change from football, but we are also not about to bludgeon each other in tribal discontent.

Yet the steelpans do prod on the fighting 10-man Trinbagonian side, and the heart quickens. As Ishmael concludes—can we quote her here?—”vibes it up.”

Update: One of the most intelligent, diverse broadcasts in English in advance of the World Cup finals, “Explaining the World Cup,” aired 8 June on Radio Open Source. In addition to interviewing Ishmael, who transmits the life force of Trinidad through one’s ear buds, host Christopher Lydon speaks with German journalists and authorities on sport in the Balkans.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

Comments (2)

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  1. adwred says:

    Beautiful thoughts – this is a great blog, thank you.

  2. Thank you for your comments. It has been a day that I shall long remember.

    Quote me at your leisure.

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