[FOUNTAIN]Soccer and politicsThe official soccer ball of the World Cup is 69 centimeters (27 inches) in circumference and weighs 441 grams (just under a pound). The passion and rage surrounding the ball is like a snowball, growing bigger and bigger as it rolls along.
Football can make or break a leader. President Hipolito Yrigoyen of Argentina was deposed in a military coup in 1930 when Argentina lost to Uruguay in the championship match of the first World Cup. In 1994, Silvio Berlusconi, a media mogul, became the prime minister of Italy, and it was the football club A.C. Milan that made his political career so successful. He is the president of the prestigious club. The name of his party is Forza Italia, meaning “Go Italy.” It is an Italian football chant equivalent to “Daehanminguk” of Korea.
We can hardly find a dictator in a country where the sport was popular who neglected soccer. Benito Mussolini of Italy was a pioneer in exploiting the sport as a propaganda instrument for his regime.
The hosting of the second World Cup was a part of propaganda efforts by Mussolini. The main stadium was named “PNP,” after the National Fascist Party. After it won the second and third World Cup titles, the national soccer team was dubbed a group of warriors devoted to the country.
There was a popular joke in Hungary about a football match with the Soviet Union. When the Hungarian football squad defeated the Soviet team, the Kremlin sent a short telegram: “Congratulations on your victory. Oil and gas supplies will be suspended.”
In those days, Lavrenty Beria, the chief of the Soviet security and police apparatus and the president of a football club, sent the members of rival clubs into exile.
To Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister in Hitler’s Germany, soccer was quite different from the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which were the perfect publicity opportunity for Nazi Germany. When Germany lost to Switzerland in a match on Hitler’s birthday in 1941, Goebbels ordered, “Definitely no sporting exchanges when the result is the least bit unpredictable.”
The World Cup is a stage where nationalism breeds conflict. In the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Argentina upset England with a controversial goal by Diego Maradona, who much later admitted his hand had touched the ball. To him, the match against England was revenge for the Falkland Islands War between the two countries in 1982.
The 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany is a day away. Perhaps the games’ slogan, “A time to make friends,” will make things different.
by Oh Young-hwan
The writer is a deputy political news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.