Monthly Archives: April 2010

World Cup and Poverty: Make a Difference

This summer 32 nations will fight in South Africa to be named the world’s best footballing nation. This summer 63 international matches will take place in 10 top-of-the-line stadiums. This summer the entire country of South Africa will open its arms and embrace the world.

This summer 6 billion people will come together and be united as one.

A large sporting event in a developing country inevitably brings an influx money into the economy through tourism and jobs. This summer’s World Cup will contribute over $7 billion to the South African economy, generate over 400,000 jobs (20,000 for building stadia), and contribute $2.5 billion in tax income to the South African government. The $6 billion that South Africa spent on infrastructure pales in comparison to the revenue that is coming into the nation. The hurdles that South Africa has overcome to prepare for the World Cup will “send ripples of confidence form the Cape to Cairo,” claimed South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Whilst the World Cup highlights the progress that industrial Africa has made within the past few decades, it also underlines the increasing disparity within social classes in the country. The 415,000 jobs that were generated in all sectors do not make a dent in the 24.3% unemployment rate. 20,000 workers were required to build new stadiums while thousands of other jobs were spread out throughout the tourism industry. But 400,000 salaries at near-minimum wage do not require billions of dollars in revenue, so where does the money go?

The answer lies in the gulf in class between the rich and poor. It is the wealthy that benefit from such an influx in the economy, and consequently it is the poor that are left without any benefits from such large government spending.

… lives in a mud house accessible by a dirt road whose cavities deepen with each rainfall. His doorway is a short jaunt to the new stadium. “Those who’ll benefit from this are the wealthy that already have plenty in their hand,” he said, not in resentment so much as weariness. “Some people were hired to work on the stadium, but not enough. We’ve been promised a better life, but look how we live. If you pour water into a glass, you can see things moving inside.”

(from the New York Times)

Millions can barely afford even one $18 ticket that is specially priced for South African residents. Yet these millions scrounge together whatever little they have so they can fulfill their dream of attending a World Cup match. Their lack of running water, electricity, and toilets does not keep them away from the sport that they hold dear to their hearts.

The terrible plight of South Africa’s poor is shared by countless across the world.

One of the few things that brings them together is football.

Despite not having a team participating in South Africa, nearly every nation on earth will be watching. One of these is a nation whose history was greatly affected by the experiences of one Mohandas Ghandi in South Africa. This summer I’ll be going to Gandhi’s motherland to volunteer at several primary schools that are in dire need of help. These schools are home to underprivileged children, children of poor laborers who can only afford to send their kids to school until they are 8 because then the children are expected to bring their own income into the family. One particular school has only one classroom so the principal’s office is in the same room as over a hundred kids, another doesn’t have benches so children are forced to sit on the unhygienic floor, and yet another has one staff member who serves as principal, administrator, and teacher for five grades. Teachers have to deal with an extremely limited budget– so limited, in fact, that a chalkboard is the only means they have to educate the children. No books, no paper or pencils, and certainly no hands-on activities.

I figured I would somehow incorporate the World Cup into my activities when teaching the children. I plan on teaching geography based on World Cup Qualifiers and perhaps even something about teamwork with mini-games. I’ll also buy a few balls to pass out to the children.

Everyone can help to bring change into even one child’s life. Donate a football; it doesn’t have to be a Nike T90, just something from your neighborhood supermarket. It doesn’t have to be shipped overseas to some third-world country; local charities can find children who would love to have a real ball to play with. It doesn’t even have to be a football. Do something creative as there are countless underprivileged children that would appreciate even the smallest of gifts.

Football is the only sport that brings the entire world together. With the flagship of football taking place this summer, it is our duty to reach a helping hand to our brothers and sisters across the world and ensure that they enjoy it as much as we do.

Challenge yourself. How can you change the world?

Burying War Through Football in Lebanon

A student posted a link on my “Global France” blog about a fascinating football tournament organized in Lebanon recently as a way of commemorating, but also burying, the wars that tore about the country starting in the 1970s. You can read her post here, and the full story here. Interestingly, while the match was intended to create a context for peaceful encounters between political groups that were once at war, it was considered to delicate an event to allow for spectators, though the event was broadcast on TV.

Why Video Technology Is Not The Answer

Sports have kept in touch with technology as the information age has changed the face of modern games. Cricket, basketball, rugby, tennis, American football, and a plethora of other sports employ video technology in order to help referees make decisions and review calls. However, football, arguably the world’s most popular sport, has yet to integrate video technology into its rules. Although I disagree with the majority of FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s opinions, I am in concord with him distancing football from the use of video technology.

Several controversial incidents have caused a public outcry for video technology to be implemented in football, most notably Ireland’s loss to France in World Cup Qualifying due to a Thierry Henry handball. Smaller errors that occur almost week in week out often go unnoticed to the public eye, but these mistakes by referees often have large implications on the season’s outcome. The media has decided that video technology is the answer to all their problems, and that if implemented, will eradicate almost all problems from refereeing.

Thierry Henry’s infamous handball against Ireland

However, there lie several complications that will crop up if video technology is ever introduced in football. The subjective nature of refereeing and time-delayed alerts mean that it will be extremely difficult for video technology to have a profound impact on football.

The outcome of a football match is at the sole discretion of the referee: he has the authority to abandon a match and dictate gameplay. While the majority of referees do not abuse their powers, several “styles of refereeing” are obvious during a football match. Some referees tend to stop play whenever they see a foul whereas others value gameplay and prefer to allow the game to flow. This distinction between officiating styles is vital because it highlights the subjective nature of refereeing. A particular referee could decide an incident in the 18-yard box to be a penalty while another might consider it a case of diving.

On the other hand, video technology places importance on objectivity: was the player offside? did the ball cross the line? This black and white nature of video technology would rarely influence decision-making in a football match. Referees could see slow-motion replays of incidents but still arrive at different conclusions based on their interpretation of the rules. For example, video replay might show that a player’s hand did indeed make contact with the ball, but it would be up to the discretion of the referee to adjudge whether it was ball-to-hand or hand-to-ball.

Thus, there are only a few objective scenarios where video technology actually be of assistance to the referee, such as whether or not a player was offside or if the ball completely crossed the goalline. However, not even all of these objective decisions could be resolved by video technology.

Any implementation of video technology would require at least a few second delay in processing the information of an event and passing it on to the referee. This means that there will exist incidents where video technology detracts, rather than assists, the gameplay of the match. Consider this scenario: Drogba was actually onside before he scored against Manchester United but the linesman flagged him as offside. The referee would stop play and award United an indirect freekick, but Chelsea would appeal the decision and video technology would show that Drogba was indeed onside. How would the referee give the advantage back to Chelsea? Giving them a freekick would be unfair as it would not necessarily give them a clear goalscoring opportunity that might have occurred had Drogba not been flagged offside. In the real world, video technology would have ruled Drogba’s goal offside, but is implementing such an expensive technology worth solving only a handful of officiating problems?

Video technology is only useful for black and white decisions

In any case, referees are human and mistakes will inevitably occur under any circumstance. FIFA should impose stricter consequences on refereeing mistakes and propose a referee promotion/points system that will improve the quality of officiating instead of implementing an artificial technology that will inevitably be futile.

The beauty of football lies in the fact that it is a “natural” game. The game that is played by millions in their local park is the exact same game that earns professionals millions of dollars. Introducing video technology truly makes “natural” football an endangered species as nearly ever aspect of the game would become a business. In fact, controversy adds a bit of spice to the football.. without it, the passion of the game disappears.. and we are left with a sport that values business over beauty.

Joga Bonito. Árbitro bonito.

“El Clasico” in Haiti

Laura Wagner, a UNC Anthropology graduate student who was in Haiti during the earthquake (and wrote a searing account of her experience at, has recently returned to continue her research there. On Saturday, she took this photograph in Port-au-Prince, in the neighborhood of Delmas 32. The chalk board in front of this damaged building — you can see a broken gate inside the building, and the tarp is a necessary addition now that the rainy season has begun — invited fans to come watch the Real-Barca game, something that is of course not to be missed under any circumstances. (For a history of “El Clasico,” click here).

Written in Creole, the message invites passersby to come “in a crowd” to “watch Messi,” for the reasonable price of 10 gourds (about 25 cents). As Laura wrote to me, the sign signals a “certain return to normality.”

What would we do without the solace of football?

The photo reminded me of the amazing, crystallizing scene in Abbas Kiarostami’s film “Life and Nothing But,” which he filmed in Iran in the wake of the 1990 earthquake there, which took place in the midst of the World Cup. In the scenes below, he discovers that, even in the midst of the devastation, people still have their priorities.

The version below is with French subtitles (the film is in Persian), but watch how, starting about 3:45, when he finds a boy he has been looking for and asks him to tell him about the earthquake he ends up hearing a lot about football instead. Later in the scene, starting at about 4:55, he meets a man setting up an antenna above a refugee camp to watch a match. When he asks whether its appropriate to watch football in the midst of so much death, the man replies that the World Cup is only every four years, and you can’t miss it. “Life goes on,” he explains with a smile. My thanks to Negar Mottahedeh, a colleague at Duke and specialist on Iranian cinema, who told me about this film last summer. It has turned out to be an important form of solace itself in the past months.

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Pelada at Full Frame Film Festival

For those of you who are in the Durham area and missed our screening of Pelada last fall, or who are eager to see the final cut, there will be two screenings of the film at the Full Frame Film Festival this weekend. There is a free screening in Durham Central Park at 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 10th, and a ticketed screening at the film festival at 7:30 April 11th.

The film got a great review in Variety recently.

Congrats to our Duke alums Rebekah Fergusson, Gwendolyn Oxenham, and Ryan White (and of course their Notre Dame friend Luke Boughen) for the release of the film!