The Wretched of the Earth
The seventh in my occasional series of short takes on the culture and politics of football.
Frantz Fanon, the Martinique-born African nationalist and champion for the liberation of Algeria, died of leukemia on December 6, 1961, in a hospital in Bethesda, Maryland, in the United States, a country he had once referred to as "the nation of lynchers." Fanon also happened to have played a lot of football when he was young and utilized football as therapy at the Algerian clinic where he worked during the independence struggle. As Cahiers du Football, argues, Fanon’s approach to the game can be detected in the methods of coaches like Marcelo Bielsa, Jürgen Klopp, and Diego Simeone. And in “The Wretched of the Earth,” his book on colonialism first published in 1961, Fanon summarized his thoughts on football thus: “… The youth of Africa ought not to be sent to sports stadiums but into the fields and into the schools. The stadium ought not to be a showplace erected in the towns but a bit of open ground in the midst of the fields that the young people must reclaim, cultivate, and give to the nation. The capitalist conception of sport is fundamentally different from that which should exist in an underdeveloped country. The African politician should not be preoccupied with turning out sportsmen but with turning out fully conscious men who play games as well. If games are not integrated into national life, that is to say, in the building of the nation, and if you turn out national sportsmen and not fully conscious men, you will very quickly see sport rotted by professionalism and commercialism. Sport should not be a pastime or a distraction for the bourgeoisie of the towns.”
Supporters and defenders of Israel’s genocidal violence against Palestinians brand their critics as antisemites. So, it is worth repeating what the great Eric Cantona said about that ten days after the October 7th attacks by Hamas, which killed 1,200 Israelis. Since then, Israel’s army has murdered nearly 16,000 Palestinians: “Saying ‘Free Palestine’ does not mean you are anti-Semitic or 'want all the Jews gone. ‘Free Palestine' means free Palestinians from the Israeli occupation that's been robbing them of their basic human rights for 75 years. 'Free Palestine' means stop caging 2.3 million Palestinians in the world's largest open-air prison, half of whom are children. 'Free Palestine' means ending the apartheid imposed by the Israeli government. 'Free Palestine' means give the Palestinians control over the basic infrastructure in their land.” Eric Cantona played 143 games and scored 64 goals for Manchester United. He also had 45 caps for France. Why haven’t UEFA and FIFA expelled Israel yet?
When Henry Kissinger died last week, social media and sports sites were awash with soft pedal media references to his love for soccer. That, among others, he convinced Pele, after he retired from the Brazil national team in 1970, to play for New York Cosmos in the US and, in the process, kickstart the NASL (the forerunner to the MLS; Kissinger served as its first CEO); that Kissinger was made an honorary member of Bayern Munchen in 1989; and helped bring the World Cup to the US in 1994. Bonus: He still supported his boyhood German club, Greuther Fürth. The thing is, it still doesn't wash away his reputation as a war criminal or other parts of his football biography, including that he was an overzealous guest of Argentina's murderous junta during the 1978 World Cup and may have helped them rig the competition.
On November 19th, Argentina elected right-wing libertarian Javier Milei as President. On November 21st, Brazil played Argentina in a World Cup qualifier. After the match, Brazil striker Rodrygo said he had received racist messages on social media following an in-game argument with Argentina captain Lionel Messi. Rodrygo received many messages with emojis of monkeys and bananas.
Very few of us root for Australia in anything, but we wanted them to defeat India in the final of the Cricket World Cup. With nothing to offer Indians, Narendra Modi was trying to use cricket and the World Cup, along with Islamophobia and with Israel as a proxy, to get reelected. It didn’t work out as planned.
Sports Illustrated published articles by fake, AI-generated writers, like “neutral white young-adult male with short brown hair and blue eyes.” When Futurism.com confronted them about it, Sports Illustrated quickly deleted everything. The problem is also more widespread than you can imagine.
The German soccer federation had to limit comments on the Facebook page of its junior teams following a slew of racist and discriminatory comments against its Under-17 players. The FA to the racists: "If you don’t share these values, please unfollow us." Those same players won Germany the Men’s Under-17 World Cup. In 2018, Mezit Ozil announced his retirement from the German men’s national team. He left with this: “I am German when we win, but I am an immigrant when we lose.”
No one, following the recent xenophobia violence in Ireland that exploited a tragedy (the fatal stabbing of children), is surprised that retired MMA fighter Conor McGregor is rightwing. MMA is the sports arm of the white supremacist, anti-immigrant, and "libertarian" right in Euro-America and its offshoots: Australasia, parts of South America, especially Brazil, and Eastern Europe.
Random: Sumaya Kassim quoted in Dan Hicks’ book, “The Brutish Museums: The Benin Bronzes, Colonial Violence, and Cultural Restitution”: “I do not want to see decolonization become part of Britain’s national narrative as a pretty curio with no substance – or ... decoloniality to be claimed as yet another great British accomplishment: the railways, two world wars, one World Cup, and decolonization.”
Finally, I want to pay tribute to Jermaine Craig, a football journalist and later PR specialist (2010 World Cup, Kaizer Chiefs Football Club, CAF, and Afcon), whose death earlier this week came as a shock. He collapsed while working out in a gym in Johannesburg. He was 47 years. My condolences go to his mother, wife, and children. Death is cruel. Jermaine is also from Cape Town, and we first met while playing club soccer. After returning from studying in Chicago, I joined Parktown United FC in Athlone, where my friend Natheer Marshall, also a journalist, was captain and chairman. I was not a very good footballer, but Jermaine was. In that part of Athlone, he played for the Silver Spurs, Parktown's local rivals. Getting to know him, I also learned he was a journalist. What a beautiful, calm spirit. As I settled back into Cape Town, I ran into him elsewhere socially and followed his career after he moved to Johannesburg. Man, death is cruel.
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