Sports Nationalism

The commentary portion of the World Cup broadcast just brought up a somewhat intriguing point in reference to the spectacular failure of the French. Apparently, the French government has requested an “inquiry” into what happened to cause this meltdown. FIFA and the French Football Federation are against this course of action, because, as the commentator put it, they believe it’s important to keep the football-governance structure separate from the running of the country.

And yeah, okay, in some ways it’s actually really easy to mock something like this as far too trivial and trite, and to be sure, an inquiry would be a pretty unjustifiable use of funds. But at the same time, FIFA’s suggestion that it’s absolutely ridiculous to consider this anything but a pure football issue seems a little bit disingenuous. World-stage sports – especially such massively popular events like this one or the Olympics or whatever – obviously have a nationalistic component to them, but it’s always been somehow sanctioned as separate from the problematic kind, the actual work of nation-building and identity formation…even though it’s not, not really. This is a non-governmental channel for unification, a positive source of group pride and energy and whatnot.

It’s a brief point, and a minor one, to be sure, but it just seems to point further towards this sense that “well yes, we’re representing France as a nation, and whatever we do on the field is pretty strongly suggested to be connected to our identity and to our national cultural features, but this isn’t an issue that should concern France as a state government”. International sports fascinate me as a site of discourse-construction, and this little moment of contestation raising the question of whether the jersey-nation can or should really fall into the governance structure of the flag-nation brings some of the reasons why to the surface.

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