Who to support in 2006?
Apart from Snap and tiddlywinks, soccer - football, I should say, before I get death threats from the Poms - is the only truly international sport, so it's no surprise that bloggers around the world are getting excited about the imminence of the 2006 World Cup. In England, in China, and even in the United States there are prognostications and prayers being offered, as loyal fans limber up for a solid month in front of the TV. For some of us, though, things are more difficult. I mean, if you live in a country like New Zealand, who do you support at the 2006 World Cup?
I am just old enough to remember the glorious year-long campaign that saw our All Whites team reach the 1982 World Cup Finals in Spain, but barring a miracle, or federation with Australia, I don't believe we'll ever make football's elite event again. Who should I support, then, as I sit in front of somebody else's TV with my chips and beer? I don't automatically support New Zealand sports teams but, given soccer's minority status in this country and my own martyrdom as a teenage soccer player in South Auckland in the '80s, I'm inclined towards uncritical support for the All Whites. I'll certainly be cheering them on next Monday, when for the first time since the glory days of 1982 they take on the might of Brazil in a friendly designed to give the World Cup favourites a pre-tournament workout. (If we somehow scrape a 0-0 draw with the big guys and they go on to win the Cup, can we call ourselves World Champs too? And before you Poms write us off against Brazil, just remember - we drew with Estonia a week back!)
With the All Whites out of the picture, though, who do I support? Well, didn't Karl Marx say that the workers have no country, and that only capitalists had an interest in nationalism? Trouble is that I don't work, so I guess I'm not a worker. Perhaps though it's all for the best that my country doesn't have a team in the tournament, and that I can get on with making a principled, internationalist choice about which team to support? It just so happens that the British - or should I say English, since for the purposes of soccer, sorry, football, Britain doesn't exist? - left blogosphere has been awash in arguments about the 'correct' team to support. An entertaining discussion has broken out at Paul Hampton's blog, after Hampton ridiculed the call by Socialist Workers Party member Keith Flett for English workers to support 'Anyone but England'. In the absence of Cuba and Venezuela, Flett wants us to support Iran; in Hampton's comments boxes one fan says that he is going to support Brazil, on aesthetic grounds, while another bloke thinks that support for England should be non-negotiable for English socialists. Left-wing historian David Renton has weighed into the debate with a post called 'What's so wrong with supporting Trinidad and Tobago?'
When I look back to 2002 I can discern no consistent principle upon which I supported and scorned teams. I supported Senegal in that wonderful opener against France because they were massive underdogs, even though they employed a somewhat negative style of play; I backed Korea against Italy for similar reasons, and because I had Korean friends on the verge of nervous breakdowns; I backed Brazil to beat Germany in the final on purely aesthetic grounds, figuring that a victory for the machine-like Krauts would set the game back decades. If Brazil had been playing Senegal, though, I would have been for the Senegalese, and I would have been for the All Whites against anybody (let's face it, they would need all the help they could get).
So can anyone elucidate a coherent progressive strategy for World Cup 2006, or should we just accept that sport is irreducibly irrational, and support whoever takes our fancy? I've just gotten my World Cup programme today and have yet to place any bets at the TAB, so I'm open to suggestions...