Notes from Babel: ‘To win a World Cup you must be at your most virtuous’

That said, it is important that if we are still to watch the World Cup on television we do so as critical spectators. Will the dark history of Robben Island be sanitized for television through the positive associations offered by sport, for example, much in the same way that the dark history of Tian’anmen Square was sanitized for the 2008 Beijing Olympics? If there is to be any political potential whatsoever it must grow from a critical awareness of one’s own engagement with the media.

PA: Who do you root for in soccer? Virilio, one of the key thinkers of modern technology and its speed, admits that he actually hates technology. Do you really like sports of postmodern corporate spectacle such as the World Cup?

SS: Of course I like these sports! To win a World Cup you must be at your most virtuous, your most highly attuned, as a poorly played match just won’t be good enough. If you have played the sport at any level you can appreciate what is on display. I don’t really root for any particular team, however, which can be quite liberating as it allows me to simply marvel at skilled and artful play.

It is very fascinating to live in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, during the month of the World Cup. One diasporic community after another parades through the streets with every win by their home nation, honking horns and flashing team colours and waving flags from their cars. The collective joy that can emerge from a sporting competition is truly impressive.

But the romance and nostalgia of these sporting nationalisms can perhaps blind us to the broader processes of imperialism at work today. These new processes are still very much rooted in identity and spectacle, though in more fluid ways than ever before. And if we always see the world in terms of binary competition, as we do with sport, we will fail to understand the shades of grey that lie in between—not to mention the potential of our being-in-common with one another, on the field of play or simply in the world.


  • Jean Baudrillard, The Transparency of Evil: Essays on Extreme Phenomena (London: Verso, 1993).
  • Jordan Crandall, Drive (Berlin: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2003).
  • Gilles Deleuze, “Postscript on the Societies of Control,” October 59 (winter 1992): 3–7.
  • Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: Penguin, 1977).
  • Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).
  • Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play Element in Culture (Boston: Beacon Press, 1950).
  • Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, eds., Autonomia: Post-political Politics (New York: Semiotext(e), 2007).
  • Brian Massumi, Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002).
  • Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: New American Library, 1964).
  • Paul Virilio and Sylvère Lotringer, Pure War, trans. M. Polizzotti (New York: Semiotext(e), 1997).
  • Paolo Virno, A Grammar of the Multitude: For an Analysis of Contemporary Forms of Life (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004).

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1 comment on this post.
  1. Dylan Tooby:

    Great article. Keep the good stuff coming.

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