June 1st – 21st…….. The opening game between France and Senegal was a strange mixture of realising that the France of 1998 was no longer in shape, and that there was at least one man in the French team who could be playing on the other side. It was the French African Empire playing itself. I imagined the French being spoken on the field wouldn’t have sounded very Sorbonne. I remembered being in Montreal and asking what the French thought of the Québécois. It seemed that there was some kind of mutual hostility. This may have been diminished in the last dozen years as we’ve all been made increasingly aware of each other’s humanity. And after the defeat by the Danes, I had the impression that most french people had turned The World Cup very firmly off. Back home, thankfully, Jean-Marie Le Pen was also to be found in one of the early June tumbrels rattling into the Place De La Concorde. July probably wouldn’t be anything like as embarrassing.
By the time we scrambled a defensive victory against Argentina on the 7th of June, I’d really got into the world cup. If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll have marvelled at the newness of the place, although you’d have probably also realised that the beavering attitude’s always been there. It didn’t just arrive in 1945. Underneath the neon, it’s a very old place, but from this distance, the stadia which have been built and refurbished for this World Cup seem to be almost unrivalled modern facilities. After the Sydney Olympics, which I thought were the best olympics for a very long time, it was difficult to imagine that the impending World Cup in Japan/Korea could live with that kind of standard, but it has done. The obvious thought is that these massive world events are becoming true expressions and celebrations of human togetherness. In this context, it’s infuriating to see the world’s leading economy lagging so far behind the rest of the world’s appreciation of this movement and this particular event, and especially when they’re represented at the festival by a good young energetic team of their own. It’s almost as if the US news corporations want to discredit it until such time as they can buy it, divide it into ‘franchises’, and dominate it. Like ‘how dare they all play a game we hardly know anything about…. and it’s a woman’s game isn’t it’?
But here it is. And all the world has the opportunity of entering. There are over 200 national federations around the world. You don’t need commandos carrying sixty pounds of gear and ammo up a remote mountainside in secret. All you need is a bunch of kids and a round ball. It can be played on the street, on the beach, or anywhere else. So why do it? What d’you get to see? You get to be confirmed in a lot of the good things you thought about the human family. You get to marvel at the glorious differences in the tribes. They all confirm their strengths and weaknesses, their best and worst. Their worst is increasingly liable to observation, and by huge numbers of other observers around the world, because not much can be hidden any more. leastways, the worldwide public domain is perhaps becoming more inclusive. As games are billed, you can begin to pick out cultural elements which can swing games one way or another. Like, will the Brazilian beach boys, replete with hybrid vigour, play with their customary physical genius?