Saturday, June 3, 2006

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The Soccer Wars

That's the title of my essay in Sunday's Washington Post Outlook section. It bears more than a passing resemblance to this blog post from earlier in the week. The punchline:

Soccer will never bring about peace on its own. The flip side is also true -- by itself, soccer cannot start a war. The World Cup, like the Olympics, suffers from a case of overblown rhetoric. Bono's assurances to the contrary, the passions inspired by the World Cup embody both the best and worst forms of nationalism.
A few citations, beyond those found in the earlier post. Joschka Fischer's quote about the World Cup can be found in Goldman Sachs' The World Cup and Economics 2006

Click here or here to find information about the soccer game that was played during the 1914 Christmas Truce.

Both Sports Illustrated and ESPN discuss Pele's ability to inspire a temporary cease-fires in Biafra. Thanks to commenters who brought up both examples in the prior post.

Here's a link to the Edmans, Garcia, and Norli paper demonstrating the correlation between international soccer losses and poor stock market performance. And here's a link to the 1973 Richard Sipes paper, "War, Sports and Aggression: An Empirical Test of Two Rival Theories" that appeared in American Anthropologist.

For more on the World Cup and international relations, check out Michael Moran's useful and link-rich summary at, and Pablo Halkyard's linkfest at PSDblog.

Finally, a thank you to Frank Foer for getting on the phone and chatting with me about Frank Rijkaard spitting on Rudi Voller -- though Frank always enjoys talking about soccer. And let me once again praise Foer's How Soccer Explains the World as a good read regardless of whether you like watching soccer.

And yes, between this and my Newsday op-ed on the World Baseball Classic, I plan on cornering the public intellectual market on sports and international relations. Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!

posted by Dan on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM


No war ever has one cause by itself, but?

posted by: Richard Heddleson on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

I plan on cornering the public intellectual market on sports and international relations. Bwa ha ha ha ha!!!

Sounds like a chance for supply and demand to run wild.

Now, how to provide a slightly inferior product (cause you are pretty good in this little niche, I'll settle for a profitable number two) at a competitve price?

Let's see, possible topics...

Sumo's Effect on the International Rice Trade

Bowling for Capitalism in Red China

Did Cricket Cause the Fall of the British Empire?

Why Aren't All The Best Basketball Players Jewish Anymore? (at one time they were)

Who am I kidding, I can think of topics, but to actually follow up, that resembles work too much for my taste.

posted by: XWL on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Different versions of this koje are around - but it does connect soccer and war ----

The British national soccer team loses to the Germans. A journalist, interviewing Margaret Thatcher, asks, "What do you make of the fact that the Germans beat you at your national sport?" To which Thatcher replies, "I don't see the significance. After all, we beat them twice at theirs."

posted by: martin on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]


I'm not sure if this came up earlier but there's a great book of memoir from a long time reporter for, I think, the Polish Press Association (Ryszard Kapuscinski) actually called The Soccer War.

The book generally describes his experiences reporting from Africa, South and Central America in the sixties and seventies.

It's been a while since I read it but, as I remember, while most of the book doesn't really consider soccer, the one chapter that does describes a conflict between El Salvador and Honduras triggered by a series of soccer matches (and at least one suicide from a despondent fan).

According to Kapuscinski's description long time followers of the region understood that the outcome of soccer matches could often be correlated with the beginnings of war.

posted by: Kramer on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Dear Dr. Drezner,

If possible, I would like to hear your comments on Sebastian Rotella's Los Angeles Times piece which speaks of the social reconcilation effect that soccer has in France.

The article is found here:,0,7920995.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions

posted by: Augustus on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Triggered by soccer matches, but caused by long festering issues between El Salvador and Honduras.

The World Cup, like the Olympics, suffers from a case of overblown rhetoric.

As do the World Series and the Super Bowl. It all comes down to tribalism of a sort as Franklin Foer argued. If Real Madrid were a baseball team and if baseball attained the same sort of popularity that soccer has in the rest of the world, when Real Madrid played Barcelona's baseball team (BC Barcelona?) the animosity would still be there.

My better half is Brazilian and one of the major reasons why soccer is so popular around the world is its simplicity. She has told me that if the kids in her neighborhood when she was growing up didn't have a ball, they went to the butcher shop, and if the butcher had slaughtered a pig that day, he would clean out the baldder, inflate it and they would use it for a ball. Many aspiring athletes in Brazil couldn't afford all the equipment to play baseball, for example.

posted by: Randy Paul on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Ever since I was a child my dad has been telling me soccer (he calls it football) is war.

posted by: bucket on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Dan writes:

Anthropologist distilled the debate into two simple, but contrasting, arguments. One is that combative sports and war are substitutes for aggressive behavior -- that the presence of sports is a healthy way for people to discharge their competitive urges. The other is that sports induce a warlike attitude, abetting conflict rather than reducing it.

There was an interesting example of the former argument - that sports are a substitute for aggressive behavior - in the most recent (I think) ESPN The Magazine.

The magazine contained an article about polo played in Pakistan between two tribes (Gilgit and Chitral) separated by a mountain range in the Hindu Kush. In the past, they had fought each other in battle through a mountain pass. Now, though, they play each other in polo each year in that pass. (Polo is the most important sport in northern Pakistan - it originated with the Mongols who passed through there centuries ago, and was only picked up by the Brits from there and brought to the West relatively recently.) There are a number of quotes from the tribal elders that directly cite the polo matches as substitutes for the tribes' former battles. In fact, the elders say that if the matches ever stopped, they'd go back to battle.

Seems to me a nice bit of evidence in favor of the anthropologists' substitution argument.

posted by: Al on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

Additional soccer wonders:

My niece, age 12, was suffering from a severe head cold. While she was frankly too sick to play in her soccer game, the team was short-handed, so she was forced to play as best she could. The next day, her cold was gone!

In Des Moines, Iowa, 68-year old Bernice Walters, upon accidentally viewing a commercial for the 2006 World Cup, found her rheumatoid arthritis miraculously cured the following morning.

Doctors in the St. Cecilia's Cancer Clinic in Columbia are shocked by what appears to be clear evidence that soccer cures cancer. Terminal patients have formed a team and are playing soccer on the clinic grounds. Over the past season, fully half of the team show no signs of the disease, and most of the rest have enjoyed a cessation of symptoms. Note that the team is not yet competitive (they were recently beaten 316-0 by the Bogota Diablos, a semi-professional farm team), but doctors are confident that with their upcoming draft picks and this summer's selection of Juan Ruales, former coach of the Bogota University soccer club, the team will stand a chance to make the national quarterfinals.

It is a little known fact that Adolf Hitler was a soccer fan and amateur player, who played religiously during lulls in battle during the war on the Eastern Front. Mysteriously, his health showed clear patterns of progress and regress as his playing and attention to the game rose and fell. During the winter of 1942-43, when the Battle of Stalingrad consumed all of his time and thus he had no time to devote to the game, health problems, including his well-known nervous tic, stomach ailments, and sleep disorders, all made their first appearance. In June, 1944, the Western Allies invaded in Normandy, again shutting down his ability to 'juggle the balloon' as they say. Not coincidentally, on July 20th, 1944, his health again deteriorated precipitously (an unsuccessful assassination attempt by bombing maimed him, and severely damaged one arm). And finally, in April, 1945, the regional championship match between the of his beloved Berlin Prussians and the Hessian Storm out of Frankfurt was cancelled (the entire rosters of both teams were shot by the Red Army in the Bergenstrasse stadium seconds before the match). The next day, Hitler suffered an irreparable health setback as he shot himself in the head and Albert Speer, a lifelong fan of the Hessian Storm, incinerated his remains in gasoline. Eva Braun, another Prussians fan (she owned nothing but red underwear-red and black being the Berlin team colors), suffered a similar fate.


posted by: Steve on 06.03.06 at 07:21 PM [permalink]

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