World Cup beyond the four lines

Image: Juan Salamanca
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By FRANCISCO FERNANDES LADEIRA*

The Cup is a great showcase for geopolitical propaganda, a powerful mechanism for exercising soft power

Once the most important election in our history is over (fortunately with the expected result), starting this Sunday (20/11), a new agenda will dominate the public agenda of Brazilians (and the planetary population, in general). This is the FIFA World Cup – Qatar 2022.

Not that this sporting tournament is immune from the political sphere. Quite the opposite. In Brazil, the two areas have always been intrinsically intertwined. The third championship of the Brazilian team, in 1970, for example, was used by the military government as propaganda for the regime, being a kind of smokescreen for the atrocities that occurred in the so-called “basements of the dictatorship”. The boycotts of the Tupiniquim elite to the two World Cups held here (1950 and 2014) were aimed at destabilizing, respectively, the governments of Eurico Dutra and Dilma Rousseff.

On the global stage, the association between the World Cup and politics is even stronger. After all, an event attended by billions of people across the planet is a great showcase for geopolitical propaganda, a powerful mechanism for exercising soft power.

Like the Brazilian military, the Italian fascists used their team's victory in the 1934 World Cup (played at home) as propaganda for the regime. Even, on the eve of the decisive match against Hungary, the Italian players received a telegram signed by the dictator Benito Mussolini himself, with the succinct and direct message: “It is to win or to die”.

In the following decade, the political influence on the football tournament was more radical. The cups scheduled for 1942 and 1946 were not held because of World War II, the biggest armed conflict in human history.

On the other hand, the neutrality maintained by Switzerland in the military conflict mentioned in the previous paragraph gave the small European country the opportunity to host the 1954 World Cup (curiously won by the nation responsible for provoking the Second World War: Germany).

In 1978, like the Italian fascists and the Brazilian military, the Argentine dictatorship also used the title of its team for political purposes. Eight years later, in the cup held in Mexico, in 1986, the same Argentina would beat England by 2 to 1, in a match held just four years after the defeat of the South Americans by the British in the Falklands War. Evidently, a football match does not carry the same weight as a war conflict; however, it would be controversial to deny the geopolitical character of this historic confrontation.

The headquarters of the last three World Cups – South Africa, Brazil and Russia, in 2010, 2014 and 2018 – symbolize the strength of the Brics in the current global geopolitical scenario. By the way, speaking of Russia, because of the Moscow army's invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the country's national team was banned by FIFA from qualifying for the World Cup in Qatar (a factor that led to the accusation to act according to political ends, considering that the same punishment was not applied to other selections, such as, for example, the United States).

Finally, the World Cup is not immune to external constraints. Football, the most popular sport on the planet, influences and is also influenced by other social instances. Not by chance, in recent days, the CBF has started a campaign to “depoliticize” the shirt of the Brazilian national team, that is, it wants the Canarinho uniform to no longer be associated with the fanatical supporters of Jair Bolsonaro. If this endeavor will be successful or not, see the ideological polarization of our society, that is another story.

The fact is that, not only in Brazil, but in several other countries, a World Cup title (or a humiliating defeat) can help elect governments, depose presidents and contribute to increasing or decreasing the self-esteem of an entire nation. remembering a famous meme: "It's not just football".

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral candidate in geography at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (CRV).

 

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