In soccer or in war, a bronze medal isn’t worth much.
- By Kevin BleyerKevin Bleyer 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. Follow him on Twitter: @kevinbleyer
The team that lost this week is trying to beat the other team that lost this week. It’s Brazil versus Netherlands — honestly, I may have that wrong — and at this point, even Brazilian supermodel Adriana Lima is barely interested. #because
Ah, the curse of the consolation match. No young wannabe Maradona dreams of playing in the game that determines who comes in third in the ho-hum run-off that’s played a full day before the World Cup Final! And yet, here we are. They’re gonna turn the cameras on and everything.
A run-off for third place makes sense in American Youth Soccer Organization. But in the World Cup? At the very least, it offers a reason to hand out a few more, if slightly smaller, trophies. And, granted, coming in third is far better than coming in second from a purely psychological perspective: third-place finishers are lucky to get a medal. But does it really make sense on an international stage, with the reputation of countries and continents on the line? We already know that Brazil isn’t the powerhouse it used to be. Do we really need to know at this point if Brazil is better than the Netherlands? Must we separate the chaff from the chaff?
Even those who compete in third-place competitions are on record: "This game should not take place," said the coach of Bulgaria’s fourth-place team back in 1994. Twenty years later the same words are still relevant. "This match should never be played," said the coach of Netherland’s team this week. "Teams don’t want to play for third place," Dutch coach Louis van Gaal whined. "I’ve been saying this for ten years."
Which brings me to a question that’s been asked for ten centuries. From a geopolitical balance-of-power perspective, does anyone care who comes in third? Is there a war in history where a country took home (at least, what was left of home) the proverbial bronze medal?
After President Bush declared Mission Accomplished in the Iraq war, did he announce a run-off between Al Qaeda and Moqtada al-Sadr?
When the Allied forces beat the Axis powers, did some neutral country — Andorra, say, or the Mutawakkilite Kingdom of Yemen — demand to know where it ranked (literally) in the new world order?
In the Peloponnesian War, after the Spartans battled the Athenians, did everyone wonder how the Olympians fared?
And in the words of John Belushi, "was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!" But only because we still had to determine whether the Italians would defeat Costa Rica at the Alamo.
So on the question of global bronze medals and whether they have the power to shape history, I doubt it. History is written by the winners. It’s hard enough for losers to get a fair shake. For third-place finishers to get the attention they’re due, even revisionist history would need one more level of revision.
But I’ll still watch today’s consolation game. #becausefutbol. And #becausememphis. And #becauseadrianalima.
And because I suspect if Brazil loses again, they may just go to war.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |