Tuesday, 13 July 2010

World Cup: the agony and the ecstasy

Now that the World Cup is over, it’s time to take stock of its contribution to our lives.

It’s well known that if the national team wins a major trophy for a significant sport, there’s a general improvement in morale of the nation as a whole. This has to be a good thing and should be encouraged, even though there is a downside to it: sadly, the government also generally benefits from the upsurge. Since governments tend to be more than sufficiently self-satisfied  anything that contributes to them feeling better about themselves is probably best avoided.

Still, whatever helps ordinary people is welcome. And obviously the people of Spain need a boost more than most, given their parlous financial state and the looming risk that it’s about to get an awful lot worse. So good luck to them.

On the other hand, wouldn’t it have been nice if the Portuguese, the Greeks and the Italians could have had a similar boost to their self-esteem? After all, they along with Spain and of course Ireland – which didn’t even qualify for the World Cup, denied by a scandalous and insufficiently punished handball by France – form the PIIGS group of Eurozone nations most badly affected by the financial crisis.

And that’s the problem with this kind of competition. One nation gets a boost, gets its spirits lifted – but there were 32 taking part in South Africa. The other 31 all came home more or less disappointed – including Ghana, denied a place in the semi-finals by a scandalous and insufficiently punished handball by Uruguay – leaving their compatriots un-lifted or even downright dejected. The latter was the case, in particular, in England, though I don’t share the general depression: I believe the England team to be outstanding only in its capacity to disappoint, so I didn’t feel let down at all.

The overall picture is of one country getting a fillip, while 31 came home disappointed, while others didn’t get to go at all.

Where’s the mileage in that? It’s hardly the greatest good for the greatest number. This really isn’t the most effective way of spreading the feel-good effect around the most possible people, is it?

Still, the upside I suppose is that 31 smug governments – not to mention Ireland’s – at least got their wings clipped a bit.


Lia said...

Here, here, David. I completely agree! It's interesting to see this living in a country that lives and breathes football. My Brazilian husband was not entirely disappointed that his team was knocked out in the early stages; relieved that the absence of the "hexa" would mean that people wouldn't forget the fact that the country has thousands of problems that have a tendency to be overlooked when their football team is the best in the world! This time the government didn't off the hook...which is especially important as it's election year! ;)

Mark Reynolds said...

Apropos of almost nothing, I was reading a sensible suggestion to make flagrant handballs like Uruguay's or France's punishable by three penalty kicks (or one on an open goal), rather than one. As it is, the cost/benefit is too much in favour of committing the foul if it will definitely prevent a goal, and lead to a penalty kick that only might lead to one.

David Beeson said...

Excellent point, Lia. Of course, there's the Bill Shankly view, 'some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that', but I imagine that there are other matters to deal with in Brazil and it would be no bad thing if the government focused on them a bit... Perhaps the team's early exit will help.

David Beeson said...

Mark, the other solution is to take a leaf out of Rugby's book and introduce the concept of a 'penalty goal'. If a rugby team deliberately infringes to prevent a certain try, certainly if it persistently infringes to prevent the other side scoring, the referee will avoid a penalty try. A penalty goal should have been awarded to Ghana, and Africa would have had its first ever semi-finalist.

Awoogamuffin said...

This makes me think of a fun Planet Money podcast I listened to talking about LeBronomics, referring to some basketball player called Lebron deciding to change the team he played for. They try to apply economic principles to his decision, by trying to figure out the value of his decision to the city he chooses. It's lots of fun!

Turns out his decision to go for Miami was the worst one possible