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Does football unify or divide?

Football is the most global sport; you can find people playing it from the favelas of Brazil to the new megacities of Asia. However it is very much a tribal game, you support your team and sometimes your country against all comers. This can result in outbreaks of violence and hooliganism when two sets of supporters clash and on the other hand can unite a while country and more behind individual teams.

All the Yes points:

  1. Can create improve racial harmony
  2. Can unite politically divided countries

All the No points:

  1. Can cause diplomatic crises
  2. Fans can get violent

Can create improve racial harmony

Yes because…

France was considered by many to be the most racially troubled country In Europe prior to their World Cup win in 1998. But the win by a team made up of many different ethnicities showed the benefits of immigration and racial difference.

Head of Time magazine in France

“The soccer team [did] more to promote racial tolerance in France, and pride and a sense of belonging amongst its immigrant population, than anything the government could have ever done.”

Those had cried out against immigration were declaring their love for Zidane and Desailly.

In South Africa people are hoping that the World Cup will help to heal their racial divisions, which have become more prominent recently due to talk of land resettlement and the murder of a white supremacist earlier this year.

No because…

In South Africa, all the wealth and glamour of the world cup has managed to do is make the differences between the wealth of white and black people clear.

DJ Trevor Nelson

“That’s not just going to disappear because the World Cup is or was in South Africa. This is going to be Fifa’s biggest profit-making World Cup. They are going to make more money out of it than any other tournament.

“It is perverse. Almost none of that money will trickle down to the people that need it, those in the townships.”

Sport also shows other evidence of the divide between black and white. In South Africa football is considered more of a black sport, while rugby is a white sport. This was clear when at one of the World Cup warm up matches nearly 100% of the crowd was black [[http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/top-stories/2010/05/31/dj-trevor-nelson-tells-how-south-africa-s-shiny-new-stadiums-only-mask-poverty-and-a-racial-divide-115875-22298531/]].

Can unite politically divided countries

Yes because…

Honduras was in a state of political turmoil with the President Manuel Zelaya forced into political exile last July.

Honduran Football Association President, Rafael Callejas

“If we had not qualified for the World Cup the differences in Honduras would have become enhanced and probably we would have had high levels of violence…People were tranquilised by the game, it gave them hope and happiness.”

The country is now able to unite behind their national football team for this year’s World Cup in South Africa.

In the Cote d’Ivoire football team has also helped to unite a country previously torn apart by civil war. Drogba was able to help unite his country by and convince them that the five-year-long civil war was truly at an end by insisting that a vital World Cup qualifying match in 2007 be played in the formerly rebel north. The Ivory Coast then went on to qualify for the tournament for the first time, uniting all of the country with a shared sense of achievement and hope for the future [[http://www.newsweek.com/2010/05/28/uniting-africa.html]].

No because…

In 2000, after the the Cote d’Ivoire went out of the African Cup of Nations in the group stages the whole team was imprisoned by the military government, who had seized power in a coup two months before.

The players were taken to a military camp and were not allowed to leave once they arrived at the airport upon their return from the tournament. It emerged that the incarcerated players were being given “lessons in patriotism”. Apparently few Ivorians cared. There was no Amnesty-style campaign to “free the Ivory Coast 22”. In fact most appeared to think that a little jailing was the least their former heroes deserved, especially as they were paid £4000 to represent their nation, a small fortune by Ivorian standards [[http://www.wsc.co.uk/content/view/3731/29/]].

Also, in the recent African Cup of Nations in Angola, 3 people were killed in an attack on the Togo team bus as it travelled through the region of Cabinda. The attack was carried out by the rebel group Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda (Flec), who had been fighting for independence for several decades. In this case hosting a tournament was not enough to unify a politically divided country.

Can cause diplomatic crises

No because…

Soccer war of 1969 between El Salvador and Honduras coincided with rioting during the 1970 world cup qualifiers where the two teams were playing each other. Broke out just 3 weeks after the match. It left 6000 people dead.

Ryszard Kapuscinski, foreign correspondant
“In Latin America, the border between soccer and politics is vague…There is a long list of governments that have been overthrown after the defeat of the national team.”

During the recent world cup qualifying campaign Algeria’s win over Egypt nearly caused a diplomatic crisis. There was intense violence in Cairo, and Egyptian businesses in Algiers were attacked after stones were allegedly thrown at the Algeria team bus. Algeria has recently frozen a $750mil deal with Eqypt’s Ezz Steel as the project ‘has been affected by the financial crisis and problems linked to soccer’. Egypt has been punished by FIFA and cannot play their next two qualifiers in Cairo.

Also during this world cup qualifying campaign a qualifying match between North and South Korea had to be moved from Pyongyang to Shanghai, after North Korea refused to play the South Korean national anthem.

George Orwell
“At the international level sport is frankly mimic warfare,”

Yes because…

This year the World Cup could help to ease tensions between North and South Korea after the recent sinking of a South Korean ship, allegedly by a North Korean missile.

Glyn Ford, author of ‘Korea on the Brink’
“North Koreans would prefer South Korea to win against anyone else, unless they’re playing them.” They’re cheering for Koreans.

Korea marched under a single flag at the 2004 Olympics. Shows uniting qualities of sport. In previous world cup campaigns good runs by either of the Korean teams have helped to unify the people.

Pak Doo-ik, member of 1966 NK team
“I learned that football is not only about the winning,” he says. “Wherever we go football can improve diplomatic relations and promote peace.”

Fans can get violent

No because…

Fans are often very passionate for their teams and this can often lead to violence. Football is well known for hooliganism and this can often occur when there are international football matches. As a recent example there has been violence between Egyptian and Algerian fans in the games leading up to the final qualification for this year’s world cup in South Africa. After the match between Algeria and Egypt that sent Algeria to the finalsJames Montegue
As pictures beamed back of wild Algerian celebrations, Egyptian TV was flooded with calls from Egyptian fans claiming to have been attacked by knife-wielding Algerians. “Damn the so-called Arab unity, we should no longer talk about it,” an angry Ibrahim Hegazi said on his NileSport show. “We should review our situations. We can no longer bear such incidents.”
[[http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/06/11/unity_through_soccer_not_in_the_middle_east]] Not surprisingly this had been after the match mentioned above where the Algerian team had been attacked. Montegue goes on Mubarak watched the aftermath of Egypt’s failure to qualify for the World Cup on TV, his finger hovering over the red button, ready to send Egypt’s special forces to Sudan to protect his citizens. Thankfully, he took his finger off the trigger. “Egypt does not tolerate those who hurt the dignity of its sons,” he later told a televised address to parliament. “We don’t want to be drawn into impulsive reactions. I am agitated too, but I restrain myself.”
This shows the amount of worry about the violence that can come out of football matches.

But of course there is plenty of violence in domestic games too that potentially serves to divide communities. Again a reasonably recent example of this would be the violence between Milwall and West Ham fans in August 2009 that involved pitch invasions, West Ham fans bombarding the police with imporvised missiles such as bottles, and a man was stabbed.
All hell broke loose – it was very frightening. Bottles and bricks were being thrown from the back and some were hitting West Ham fans at the front. There were loads of people with bloodied faces.
[[Mass violence mars London derby, BBC News, 25/8/09, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/8221451.stm%5D%5D

Yes because…

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