As the undisputed “World’s Most Popular Sport”, association football (or soccer) comes steeped in cultural implications as diverse as its estimated global fan base of more than 3 billion. For World Cup viewers around the world, it quickly becomes apparent that for many, the tournament represents much more than a game – it’s a de facto symbol of the national character of each team’s country.
According to The Washington Post, as the World Cup continues, we’ll likely hear many references to the different playing styles of national teams and how fans believe they relate to the cultural characteristics of each country. Both sports analysts and fans alike often cite the “Gallic flair “of the French, the “samba-like” movement of the Brazilian team, and the “clinical and effective” playing style of the Germans.
While it may seem to be an obvious connection, the author of the WP piece (German studies scholar,Andrei Markovitz) argues that cultural characteristics do not adequately explain a particular team’s playing style. Using Germany’s transformation from a militant superpower during WWI and II to one of Europe’s most peace-seeking countries, he claims that “national character” cannot even be proven to exist and that if it did, it wouldn’t manifest itself in something like on-field sportsmanship.
Markovitz may say that cultural explanations of team play are too “facile and convenient” but even the German-born US coach Jurgen Klinsmann sees a connection. Recently, he made public his plans to create a truly “American Style” of playing soccer, which would be immediately recognizable to viewers around the world and leverage the perceived strengths of US culture. “Americans are proactive,” he explains. “You want to be world leaders in everything you do. So, on the field, you shouldn’t just sit back and wait.”
Do you agree more with Markovitz or Klinsmann? How reflective of national culture do you think a team’s playing is? What cultural qualities of your own nation (if any) do you see in your own regional soccer teams?