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Soccer as a Global Phenomenon


    By Preston Price

    Soccer is a unique and long-standing product of humanity’s accomplishments and efforts to find enjoyment in life.  It embodies the essence of humanity, by exemplifying numerous concepts and attributes that are characteristic of human beings in order to live.  For instance, it involves social interaction, specifically cooperation.  Social interactions are inescapable, and cooperation is essential for the evolutionary progress of humanity.  Secondly, life is competitive, and soccer teaches basic concepts of competition and requires competitiveness in order to achieve victory.  “Survival of the fittest.”  Thirdly, soccer holds value because it abides by a set of rules or guidelines explaining how to play and hopefully have success.  This is the same in life, one must follow governmental and moral laws in order to successfully live.  Soccer is remarkable and unique from other sports in that it has evolved for thousands of years and is therefore a global phenomenon.  There is strong evidence supporting the fact that variations of the game have been played throughout time and through all parts of the inhabitable world.
    My theme for my multi-sited ethnography is the transnational flow and global impact of soccer, encompassing historical issues as influential factors.  I have decided to focus more specifically on Burma, Turkey, and Spain.  In order to find success in completing my fieldwork I have relied on useful information from Michael Angrosino’s book, Doing Cultural Anthropology.  In Chapter 10 "Carrying Out A Structured Observation," Laurie Price describes useful tips and methods for doing successful cross-cultural research, emphasizing the importance of observing and recording data in a systematic way.  In doing my cross-cultural fieldwork, I have attempted to maintain constancy and consistency in my observations at each port, and to place an emphasis on incorporating the concept of cultural relativism throughout my observational term.  I find it important to integrate both the Asian and European/Mediterranean regions for the purpose of giving the reader a better understanding of soccer on a global scale.  In doing this, soccer will come in handy as a useful tool for explaining globalization’s limits.  

Below are links to the three mini-ethnography projects that I will be discussing in this paper.


    According to George Marcus’s article, “Ethnography in/of the World System: The Emergence of Multi-Sited Ethnography,” multi-sited ethnographies relate to anthropology of today.  The product of globalization has resulted in a globalized world of today.  For anthropology, this means that a single-site ethnography does not really exist anymore.  People everywhere are moving around and intermingling making it impossible to do a historical ethnographic study of one person or group of people.  However, an ethnographer can still become a participant observer.  Marcus stated in his article, “The emerging and circumstantial sense of activism that develops among ethnographers in a multi-sited space and their close personal affiliations with cultural producers (e.g. artists, film makers, organizers), who themselves move across various sites of activity, thus preserve for ethnographers engaged in multi-sited research an essential link with the traditional practice of participant observation,...”  Therefore, although I have chosen to observe and study soccer in various locations, I have not shied away from being a participant observer.

    In my collection of data,  I found soccer to be present in some form in every country that I visited on my Semester at Sea voyage.  The majority of the countries regard soccer as the premier sport and the reputation that it holds in these places is visible in multiple facets.  The popularity of the sport presents itself through things such as:  advertisements (TVs, billboards, newspapers, commercial products, etc...), infrastructure and land use for things like stadiums and fields, interviews and questioning of individuals, and observations of people playing.  After visiting both Asia and the Europe, I have realized that Europe is like the "Motherland" of soccer, which all other countries idolize.  In explaining why, one must know that current rules of modern day soccer originated in Britain in the mid 1800s and the sport quickly spread throughout the rest of the continent.  Historically speaking, as a continent Europe has had wealthier and more stable economies and so many countries have developed  better and more solid infrastructures for soccer than that of countries in Asia.  Japan may be an exception, but it is unique in that soccer takes a backseat to baseball.  Burma is a great example of a country with a bad economy and poor infrastructure in general, much less for soccer.  The poor economy is largely due to bad historical as well as current political situations.  I never saw a true soccer field there.  Instead, I noticed that the Burmese people used any semi-grassy field that is not being used for farmland.  I noticed that one common place is a field used for hot air balloon take offs and landings (obviously for tourists), and the goals were made of 2 by 4's.  The lack of infrastructure is probably why I noticed so many kids playing in the middle of busy streets as well.

    Anyway, many of countries across the world look at Europe as the leader in soccer.  I seem to notice it every where I’ve been throughout the world so far in my life time, even places outside of North America or Asia.  In regard to the SAS voyage, every Asian country had European soccer matches on television, and many citizens in these countries casually wear jerseys of world renowned players that all play for European clubs.  In a sense, Europe is a melting pot for the best soccer players in the world.  This is why I was so surprised to discover that Turkey has such an impressive infrastructural establishment when it comes to soccer.  I never saw a game but I heard that Istanbul has some teams that are equal to other top European clubs.  Even though I was surprised by how developed Turkey’s economy is, I had no idea that it would be so Westernized.  But then again, Istanbul technically lies on both the European and Asian continent.  It makes me think differently on the highly debatable current issue of whether or not Turkey should be admitted into the European Union.  This also brings to my attention an article by Saskia Sassen and titled, “Migration Policy: from Control to Governance."  The article mentions that Europe’s immigration policy is not presently working, and admitting Turkey into the EU could significantly alter migration in Europe.  Irregardless of whatever happens between Turkey and the EU, if migration policies are not fixed in Europe in the coming years, then we may witness the downfall of Europe’s sophisticated and productive economy.  Surely this would have an effect on Europe losing its place as the “Motherland” of soccer, and in turn, reshape the world of soccer as we know it.


    Ultimately, soccer is more than a global phenomenon because it is played everywhere on a global scale.  It has become so powerful on a global scale that I now consider it to be a mechanism for reshaping politics and/or economics.  For instance, in the recent 2006 World Cup, Ivory Coast stopped a civil war to participate in the most popular global tournament held only every four years.  It was the country's first time qualifying for a World Cup.  During this same World Cup, Costa Rica declared the day that they had their first game a national paid holiday.  In Global Issues: 2007 Edition, Franklin Foer’s article titled “Soccer vs. McWorld” states that soccer is the most globalized institution on the planet, even more so than the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.  Foer uses soccer, and two wealthy clubs in Europe specifically, to describe globalization’s limitations.  He states, “It is ironic, then, that soccer, for all its one-worldist features, doesn’t evince the power of the new order as much as expose its limits.  Manchester United and Real Madrid may embrace the ethos of globalization by accumulating wealth and diminishing national sovereignty.  But a tangle of intensely local loyalties, identities, tensions, economics, and corruption endures–in some cases, not despite globalization, but because of it.

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