There's more to the World Cup than a bunch of soccer games and funky hairstyles.
- By Daniel AltmanDaniel Altman is the owner of North Yard Analytics LLC, a sports data consulting firm, and an adjunct associate professor of economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
How many lives would be saved if the world’s great powers settled their disputes on the soccer field? How much more quickly would trade negotiations end if they depended only on the outcome of penalty kicks? How much better would the United Nations work if Sepp Blatter ruled member states with an iron fist?
A kid can dream, right?
These are fantasies, of course, but the World Cup isn’t just about soccer, Neymar’s faux hawk, or Nike’s slick ads. Sometimes, there’s much more on the line for the teams and countries involved, and that’s where we come in.
We all love the beautiful game, of course, and we’ll be glued to the television until July 13 — but we can’t help thinking about the political, economic, social, and cultural issues intertwined with the world’s biggest sporting event. For one wonderful month, billions of people will focus on Brazil, a country proud of its soccer heritage but also fraught with the kinds of governance problems that might make even FIFA, the corruption-plagued organizers of the World Cup, blush. Will this once-proud BRIC ride its soccer team back to glory, or will the tournament just paper over the cracks in its haphazard development as Latin America’s first superpower? We’ll be watching.
We’ll also be looking at how the World Cup reflects the dangers and benefits of globalization, and the systemic risks that have lately dogged economies great and small. And when a match has geopolitical implications, like when East Germany and West Germany faced off in 1974, we’ll be there to read deeper meaning into every sliding tackle. If this sounds like it could end up being a little bit tongue-in-cheek, well, sometimes it will be. But that’s part of the fun.
Every soccer team needs a midfield general to sit back, see the larger field of play, and make sense of it for his or her teammates. That’s exactly what we’ll be hoping to do for you as we look beyond the action on the field.
So, you’re probably wondering, who is this "we"? It’s a great team of our own, from one of the sport’s most exciting poets to one of the region’s leading pundits. So without further ado, here’s Midfield General’s starting XI:
Adam Bate (@ghostgoal) is a soccer writer for Sky Sports and a regular contributor to various other magazines and websites around the world.
Kevin Bleyer (@kevinbleyer) is a four-time Emmy-winning television writer, occasional New York Times bestselling book writer, and once-in-a-while speechwriter. But what really matters is that his brother does play-by-play for the Portland Timbers.
Andrea Canales (@soccercanales) writes on soccer in the United States and Mexico. She is based in Los Angeles, which combines both worlds.
Pedro Cifuentes (@pedrocifuentes) is a Spanish journalist and editor who lives, works and travels between Latin America and Spain. He is now covering the World Cup (and its malaise) for El País after having tried a few more boring things in his professional career.
Michael Goodman (@TheM_L_G) is a freelance soccer writer who’s work can frequently be found on Grantland.com. He also believes that counting things is a good idea.
Hernán Iglesias Illa (@HernaniiBA) is a freelance writer in Buenos Aires and the author of books about Wall Street, Miami, and Domingo Sarmiento’s 1847 trip around the United States. He’s a River Plate and Arsenal fan who accepts only the label "bielsista."
Musa Okwonga (@Okwonga) is a poet, journalist and public relations consultant. He has written two books about football, the first of which, A Cultured Left Foot, was nominated for the 2008 William Hill Sports Book of the Year.
Shannon O’Neil (@shannonkoneil) is Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Two Nations Indivisible: Mexico, the United States, and the Road Ahead.
Benjamin Pauker (@benpauker) is Foreign Policy’s executive editor and the author of a chapter on Ukraine’s modest Germany 2006 ambitions in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup. He was born in New York but grew up in Brazil, Australia, and Thailand, so he can — without shame — bandwagon-jump on at least three World Cup teams this year.
Rana Sarkar (@RanaSarkar_) Rana Sarkar is National Director of High Growth Markets for KPMG Canada and Senior Fellow and Board Co-Chairman at the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.
Daniel Altman, captain (@altmandaniel), is Foreign Policy‘s global economics columnist and owner of North Yard Analytics, a sports data analysis firm. His last soccer team retired his jersey — if "retired" means they told him he could keep the shirt if he’d just leave and go home.
Join us as we explore the games behind the game!