Location, Location, Location

By Steven D. Stark

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"""The more interesting issue is whether countries with a history of racism among their soccer fans may play less well...""

Soccer’s World Cup is always special – but what makes this one especially noteworthy is that it is the first tournament held in Africa, in this case South Africa. It’s difficult to overstate how much that means to almost all Africans. “It’s an inspiration which I have never seen in my life,” a Johannesburg street vendor told a Washington Post reporter. “Not only to benefit us – but to recognize that Africa can do something – for itself.”

Each World Cup is a reflection of its host and this one promises to be no different. Home teams and teams from the home continent tend to perform better, which means that for the first time, an African team could reach the tournament semifinals as the whole continent goes wild. And viewers will soon become accustomed–if they can–to the constant wail of vuvuzelas–a horn that gives off a sound somewhere between a foghorn and a bleating elephant, not that I know what a bleating elephant sounds like. In any event, the sound is so constant and so loud that players can’t hear one another, much less their coach, which is why the head of Japanese soccer asked that they be banned at the Cup–which made him public enemy number 1 for awhile in the host country.

The more interesting issue is whether countries with a history of racism among their soccer fans may play less well as a result. Fans of the sport know, unfortunately that racism permeates parts of European soccer–such as in Spain, Italy, and Slovakia–where black players have been known to be greeted by monkey chants and even bananas thrown on the field. I’m not saying that the players on those teams share those sentiments but the World Cup is a tourney unlike any other. From start to finish, the finalists have to spend more than a month in a strange locale–different food, different customs, different fans. It’s not outlandish to suggest that players from some countries and cultures may have more trouble acclimating to an African environment.

If so, expect some of the western European teams without players of color to struggle. And conversely, look for teams from Africa, Brazil, and even perhaps France to do well."

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