The People's Game

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On today’s podcast, we collectively reflect on the World Cup on the day after the carnival, not entirely ready for it to be over. First, we speak to Elaine Teng, who talks about what it was like to be in southern Germany when the German national team won the World Cup. People’s Game Argentina correspondent Karen Anzoategui shares her reflections, as will correspondent Fernando Romero, who was in Brazil for part of the tournament with the Mexican national team. Finally, Alan and Meleiza share their summary thoughts on the 2014 World Cup: why they think socialism won at the end of the day, and how this year’s World Cup cycle confirms that soccer remains unique in the world as the people’s game.

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Socialism conquers the world! One of our final reflections on this year’s World Cup.

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A final reflection on this year’s World Cup:

Global football is a historical product; it has been shaped from its beginnings by multiple forces, shot through with politics, culture, pathos and pride. And, like all other social phenomena, it has two sides; it has always been a contested terrain. Thus, though not always, if you look at it with a certain kind of eye, you can, at certain times, see the world reflected in soccer.

In this way, there is a weird kind of affinity between the contemporaneous events of Brazil being hammered by German goals, Rio’s favelas being bulldozed by developers, and Gaza being hammered by Israeli bombs. In their own peculiar fashion, what we witness politically is the attempted breaking of a subaltern nation, the punishing of insurgent citizenship by the relentless powers of the dominant global order; and we feel, though hopefully to vastly different degrees, a similar sense nonetheless of shock, revulsion, outrage, and disbelief at the suffering we must witness.

From the failed experiment with a win-at-all-costs approach, to the spaces of the stadiums, to the fact that the commodification of players and Europe’s buying-up of the best from the Global South produces a national roster that cannot cohere as a team, to the physical and psychic toll on the workers, most visibly the players themselves – what happened to Brazil on the field somehow encapsulates the country’s experience with the neoliberal grand slam.

But what we also see in the face of these travesties is a refusal to be broken, of solidarity across borders, of collective compassion, respect, and strength – the little girl singing the Brazilian anthem with all her heart, German players embracing their vanquished, protestors continuing to brave the shock troops on the streets outside the Maracanã, Algeria pledging its World Cup prize money to Gaza.

And Germany showed how a different kind of model can produce a different kind of game: how investment in what’s widely regarded as a public good cultivates undeniably superior levels of quality, beauty, and dignity in collective team play. Of course, Germany does this because it can; because Angela Merkel has the privilege of not practicing what she preaches, and imposes, on other national economies.

Who knows what horrors we have yet to see in Russia by 2018, or in Qatar by 2022. We have already seen death, repression, and corruption; and we will most likely continue to see in some quarters a brutal, conservative style of play, a viewing experience that lies somewhere between the boring and the painful. But perhaps the best moments of this World Cup also remind us that another football, and another world, is possible – in the ever-present, indomitable heart and soul of the people, and the people’s game.

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The brilliant, collaborative, whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts German national team won the World Cup on Sunday. This is the product of Germany recognizing the need to allocate resources to build an institution valued by the entire society. Germany has the most coherent, well-funded national soccer program in the world, and it should be no surprise that they just won the World Cup. Socialism works. Socialism wins.

On today’s podcast, Alan and Meleiza review the final with Pablo Miralles in Shanghai. Alan and Meleiza also review the World Cup in light of the big themes surrounding the people’s game: of history, capitalism, politics, the way we live and the way we play.

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Despite World Cup Finalist Argentina’s conflicted political history, Argentinian football has always contained strong threads of political radicalism. While other footballers, such as Johan Cruyff, boycotted the 1978 World Cup in Argentina due to the dictatorship, others, like Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti, played the games as a point of resistance.

Argentina won the Cup that year, but Menotti refused to shake the hands of the generals in an act of defiance against the regime. Menotti also coined the term “left-wing football,” noting how politics is inscribed in the very way we play the game.

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The core of World Cup Finalist Germany’s superb national team is anchored in the Bundesliga’s champion club, Bayern Munich. This club, which had strong roots in Munich’s Jewish community in the early 20th century, has a rich yet obscure history of resistance to Hitler and the Nazi regime.

In the 1930s, Bayern’s Jewish president, Kurt Landauer, developed one of the best professional football training systems of its time, and is today known at Bayern as the father of modern German football. He and his players courageously resisted the pressures of the Nazi regime, which denounced Bayern as a “Judenklub,” and won the German championship in 1932. In 1933, however, Landauer was forced to resign as club president, and was later imprisoned for 33 days in Dachau.

Bayern, however, continued to support Landauer despite the repression; at a match in Zurich, the team saluted Landauer despite being under the heavy watch of the Gestapo. In 2013, FC Bayern Munich officially adopted Landauer as their honorary president, announcing that “Kurt Landauer, south German football pioneer, has returned from exile.”

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On the eve of the final, we bring a range of radical perspectives on the 2014 World Cup. Alan and Meleiza recap Brazil’s unprecedented second loss in the third-place match, and share thoughts, prospects, and hopes for the big final tomorrow, and feature Laurent Dubois’ reflections on the World Cup and its stories. Brazilian professor Maria-Luisa Mendoza speaks with KPFK’s Sonali Kolhatkar about the protest movement in Brazil in the context of the World Cup, and KPFA’s Doug Henwood discusses soccer and politics with Professor Sean Jacobs, who blogs at Africa Is A Country/Futbol Is A Country.

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My greatest wish for the Brazilian team in this unavoidably painful third-place game is that: win or lose, they can focus less on the pressure to win and remember those aspects of soccer – the joy, the teamwork, the fun, the way it brings people together – that make this sport beautiful and subversive; that make it truly the people’s game. The great Brazilian captain Socrates understood this well.

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World Cup Finalist Argentina has a great radical football tradition, despite its conflicted political history. At the 2010 World Cup, the Argentinian national football team declared its support for the Mothers/Grandmothers of the Disappeared (Madres/Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo), an organization of women whose tireless demands for information regarding the 30,000 Argentinians “disappeared” during the military dictatorship represent one of the most powerful forces for truth and social justice in the country today.

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On today’s podcast, we look forward to the two final matches of the World Cup 2014 tournament. The third-place match pits a demoralized Brazil against the Netherlands, and of course, on Sunday, the main event: the final between Argentina and Germany. Alan and Meleiza give a preview of what we may expect to see, and reflect on the significance of these matches for Brazil and the world. Then, Alan speaks with three Southern California-based left wing futbolistas: Antonio Chrisostomo-Romo, attending the World Cup in Salvador, Brazil; and Aaron Darling and Janet Lee Ortiz in Los Angeles.

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