Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Passing the Ball

If a change in the “international community’s” receptivity to an Obama-led America is a real phenomenon, then this, I suspect, embodies the extent of it:

The U.S. Soccer Federation thinks the election of President Barack Obama will help persuade FIFA to award the 2018 or 2022 World Cup to the United States.

“Given everything that, frankly, President Obama has said, everything he stands for, everything he’s talked about in terms of reaching out to the world,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said Monday, “that trying to bring the global game to the United States and opening our borders up for a festival of 32 countries and hundreds of thousands of people from all corners of the world would be viewed in a very positive way.”

At the end of the day, after the Obama magazine covers, the Obama club hits, and the Obama sweaters, don’t be surprised if all Europeans see in an Obama White House is an America ready for soccer. What worries me is they might be right. It’s hard to come up with a better description of Barack Obama’s significance than “bring[ing] the global game to the United States.” Soccer is the big multicultural dream, and there is a whole literature devoted to “Why Americans Don’t Like Soccer.” There are a host of reasons (all good), but the most important one cuts to the very core of America’s historical role.

Europe’s love of World Cup soccer is sustained by passionate identification with national teams. When a Frenchman watches the French team go up against the German team, he sees France versus Germany. As Ian Baruma wrote: “Soccer, more than most sports, lends itself to tribal feelings: the collective effort, the team colors, the speed, the physical aggression.” And with European leaders forcing their nations to meld into one EU, soccer is the last bastion of national pride. When your currency, your mores, your economic system, your culture, and your government are identical to those of your neighbors, what makes you stand out? If you’re a resident of a modern European state — a score of 1-0.

But for the U.S., it’s still different. We’ve stood out on our own, without a proxy playing field. There is, after all, a real competition among nations. In America, national pride isn’t tied to men in cleats and striped shirts; it’s based in the knowledge that we are freer, more dynamic, and more democratic than any nation in history. National pride comes from the endurance of our unique Constitutional character. And consequently we’ve always been more interested in bringing the United States game to the globe — not vice versa. However, if we move closer to the EU model, and let the government swallow the private sector, apologize for accomplishments, “reach out” to bad actors, fetter ourselves with political correctness, and saddle industry with environmentalist punishments, we may soon find ourselves in a mobbed stadium hanging all our national hopes on eleven men in shorts.