Kicking Off

The idea that politics and sport don’t mix is one of the oldest clichés in the book. But it’s a little bit like saying you shouldn’t drink wine and beer in the same evening: Mixing is inevitable, if undesirable, and sometimes has disastrous consequences. But this World Cup could determine Iran’s attitude to diplomacy, how ...

608360_Ball5.jpg
608360_Ball5.jpg

The idea that politics and sport don't mix is one of the oldest clichés in the book. But it's a little bit like saying you shouldn't drink wine and beer in the same evening: Mixing is inevitable, if undesirable, and sometimes has disastrous consequences.

But this World Cup could determine Iran’s attitude to diplomacy, how long Tony Blair can stay PM in Britain, and whether Germany liberalizes its economy. (And no, I’m not just saying this to justify taking a long lunch to watch the 2nd half of today's opener.)

Just imagine the consequences if Iran gets knocked out thanks to a couple of dodgy decisions from the predominantly Western referees? An England victory could buy Blair some much needed breathing room. If Germany wins, Angela Merkel's rating will roar into the stratosphere. She'd then have the political capital to implement the kind of reforms that her razor-thin mandate knocked off the agenda. Politics and the pitch just go together.

The idea that politics and sport don’t mix is one of the oldest clichés in the book. But it’s a little bit like saying you shouldn’t drink wine and beer in the same evening: Mixing is inevitable, if undesirable, and sometimes has disastrous consequences.

But this World Cup could determine Iran’s attitude to diplomacy, how long Tony Blair can stay PM in Britain, and whether Germany liberalizes its economy. (And no, I’m not just saying this to justify taking a long lunch to watch the 2nd half of today’s opener.)

Just imagine the consequences if Iran gets knocked out thanks to a couple of dodgy decisions from the predominantly Western referees? An England victory could buy Blair some much needed breathing room. If Germany wins, Angela Merkel’s rating will roar into the stratosphere. She’d then have the political capital to implement the kind of reforms that her razor-thin mandate knocked off the agenda. Politics and the pitch just go together.

Well, I hear you say, at least America is splendidly isolated from this kind of nonsense.  I’m not so sure. Admittedly, an American victory—which is about as likely as me persuading Kate of the importance of the World Cup—would do little for Bush’s numbers. But it would certainly affect America’s standing in the world.

The United States winning at the world’s favorite sport, when it doesn’t even really care about it, would be just too much. (Even your very pro-American correspondent doesn’t root for Team USA at the World Cup, unless you’re playing the Germans, Argentinians, or any other team that has recently broken my footballing heart.) In 2002, then-FPer Carlos Lozada, now at the Washington Post, went as far as to argue that patriotic Americans should root for their team to get knocked out, as an American victory would be a “senseless waste at best, a grave injustice at worst” that would unleash a tidal wave of anti-Americanism. In Little Italy, they can roar for the Azzurri without facing charges of dual-loyalties.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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