Football has been politics of another kind. Not unlike diplomacy or state visits. However, it is very different. The World Cup is both a game of power and a super-star show of surprise. This year, surprise is a power element: all favorites have probably been eliminated and the powerful states are all but one not represented by the end. France is the powerful little once again in the top box.
The surprise? Its opponent.
In 2016, Portugal was neither the favorite nor the best. Yet, the small state won the UEFA title. Today, in 2018, Croatia was neither the favorite nor the best. Yet, they are in the FIFA cup final. What are the odds that France will not win? If the twisted logic of 2016 works in 2018, it might just start a trend.
Here is why.
The U.S. is out of this analysis: football is not an important national sport and funny enough, in our short experience, they were only in the running a few times, including throughout Obama. Twisted logic indeed. What is interesting to note is that the past few World Cup rounds have seen more countries from Asia and Africa than previously seen. The rise of the small states is here.
In the end, football is still politics. However we look, powerful giant or small state, politics remains a driving force, albeit a weird one. This time around, the playing ground is not Brazil but Russia, whose team’s presence was the “contraire” of that of Brazil: it is not a football giant (see even the stereotypes continue to exist).
Politics also, as the semi-finals showed, wielded another element: Croatia winning against England became “the youngest EU member state kicking the Brits out”. #Brexit came back in force with many laughs from the pro-European quarters. One friend suggested after the France v. Belgium match that the decision was officially made about where to keep the EU parliament headquarters (Strasbourg). The Brexit line though was infinitely the funnier one all things politics considered.
Croatia has about the same track record as Portugal: small state, good yet not well-known football team, and an internal political climate, which as stable as it seems to be, is still striving for a better future. Is it a coincidence that the match is in Russia? Probably not? A better future is faraway in the works, as Croatia, like many other states, is breaking slowly away from Russian influence. This is only a perspective.
So 20 minutes or so to go before a big win, we are currently cheering for France (because why would we not) but we are closely watching Croatia (because as the sportscaster just said, there is strength in that team) amid the long embarrassment, which football matches have become (or not). On the other hand, it might just not become a trend. Think surprise (or just indifference altogether).
I might regret publishing this.