The politics of the magical game!

Nabil Abdel Fattah
Saturday 3 Dec 2022

Football, the magical universal game in our contemporary world, represents an expression of the essence of competition among national teams, nations and countries, which are in the post-colonial stage of building the nation-state.


In developing countries, the game emerged through competition among local teams after the end of colonialism as an attempt to regain some of the features of distinction that characterised the British, French, Italian and Portuguese occupiers.

At the same time, games that were previously confined to the ruling classes and the filthy rich became accessible to other classes, making innocent fun and healthy exercise available to the masses.

Football was and still is the sport of the poor, with players mostly coming from the poor and low-middle classes in Brazil, Argentina, African and Arab countries.

While supporters may be found in any class, the core of support for local teams within national leagues lies in the poor and the middle classes. This is because the game relies on competition, individual skills of players, football formations and serious performance.

Football artistry is the son of talent, movement performance, the player’s intelligence and alertness in controlling the ball, making passes or scoring.

The relationship between politics and football is as follows:

First: On the level of internal politics, the national team plays an important role in integrating sub-national groups in society – ethnic, religious, sectarian and zonal. This happens when players are selected from these sub-national groups and engaged in playing in the name of patriotism without discrimination between players save for talent, efficiency, serious performance.

Second: The national football team plays an important role in national political mobilisation when they compete in continental or world contests, as is the case in the World Cup. This happens whether fans support the team directly in the stadiums, or by watching remotely, as has become the predominate way of viewing matches today.

Third: Some totalitarian and authoritarian regimes and their remnants in the Global South use football in fulfilling political functions. They use it to channel class polarisation and anger in the political and social spheres, diverting it to the harmless world of sports.

Even more important, football is used to channel social strife into competition between regional teams expressing zonal affiliations in some countries across the African, Latin American and Asian continents.

Due to the digital revolution, conflict between clubs is aggravated by social media and other communication technologies. Statements by clubs’ leaders can trend, provoking counter-statements and comments from club personnel, coaches and players alike. This breaks social polarization, channeling it into football and personal conflicts between clubs.

There are other roles for football on the global level that are as follows:

First: In Europe, Canada and America, the multi-coloured and multi-ethnic national teams have grown to reflect ethnic and religious diversity in these countries after several generations of immigration.

Second: Football fans for regional teams are not only sorted by national affiliation. Certain European and Latin American teams in continental or national leagues are supported by viewers outside their geographic area. For example, most Egyptians support Liverpool FC as a way to support Mohammed Salah, the brilliant Egyptian player. National players are also distributed to other teams playing in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil and Argentina. Football fans from around the world choose which big football teams or players to support.

This is an expression of some global cultural and sporting characteristics in the evolution from nationalism to a humanistic dimension transcending the national affiliation to football teams.

Third: Methods of supporting a team have changed. Hardcore supporters of a club – known as ultras – have embraced a political stance in some countries during popular uprisings or political and social upheaval. In addition, support during matches often takes the form of national symbols intertwined with cheers, music, uniforms and colours.

Beyond the political dimension to football, the magical game remains rich in excitement, enthusiasm, fanaticism and movement. Music, singing and dancing – whether for the homeland or for clubs – serves as an innocent and fun release of individual and collective anger at the national, continental and global scale. It is a global carnival.

The game of football is based on passion and the skills and talents of top players, who are transformed into global and national icons, expressing the power of their nation.

The game has been developed through science and technology, for example by using artificial intelligence to aid referees decisions and by using digitalisation to study the state of other team and to analyse their squads and formations.

The game has been commodified by spending on players’ transfers and their salaries and that of coaches and mangers to the point where one no longer flinches at the huge sums of money spent annually and monthly. Some small states, such as Qatar, spend billions of dollars on football in order to appear bigger than they actually are.

Football is an astonishing game because it represents a beautiful visual narrative through the skills of players and merging of formations, intelligence, attack and defence, playmaking and goals. It is a socio-collective, cultural and aesthetic state that captivates the minds and eyes of the world. It instills the values of tolerance and human fraternity along with competition.

Politics is inseparable from the universal game in our turbulent world.

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