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FIFA’s World Cup Follies

One of the ironies of modern football is that national teams whip up passions in a kind of carnivalesque performance of patriotic partisanship. But the players are mostly colleagues in club teams, speak several languages, and are often close friends off the field, making them unsuitable avatars for this type of chauvinism.

NEW YORK – Count on the International Federation of Association Football, better known as FIFA, to come up with a fatuous slogan for the World Cup in Qatar: “Football Unites the World.” An official promotional video has Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Brazil’s Neymar mouthing the words in Spanish and Portuguese, respectively. Is it true? Does football really unite the world?

Of course not. It does not even unite nations. Back home in Brazil, the team’s yellow and green colors have been coopted by supporters of the recently ousted president, Jair Bolsonaro (backed by Neymar), which has annoyed supporters of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, backed by the team coach, Tite, and the dyed-blond striker, Richarlison.

The idea that sporting events unite the peoples of the world is an old obsession, going back to Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s invention of the modern Olympic Games in 1896. Sports, in the baron’s mind, and that of an endless succession of sporting officials, ought to transcend politics, international tensions, and any other discord. FIFA, too, subscribes to the fantasy of a world without politics, where conflict is confined to the playing fields.