How Soccer Explains the World

<p>Franklin Foer tackles globalization from soccer fields around the world. </p>

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

Soccer scribes are a bit like wine connoisseurs, detecting hints of national character where others just see corner kicks. They
also tend to be European (Nick Hornby)
or South American (Eduardo Galeano). Franklin Foer is that rare thing: a homegrown soccer pundit. Here, Foer presents the game as a case study on the effects of globalization, both good and bad. At times, this connection between sport and theory can feel somewhat forced and airy-fairy. But Foer put himself on a lot of airplanes, and several chapters stand alone as surgical strikes of intelligent reporting. In the former Yugoslavia, for example, he has a funny and terrifying interview with a member of a Serbian soccer gang that helped foment ethnic hatred.
He also writes movingly of a Nigerian forward
in Ukraine who has the awkward distinction of being the only black man that most locals have ever seen.

Foer’s bigger ideas about globalism lack the clarity of his reportage. His fervent hope is that as soccer becomes more polyglot and global, it will provide an outlet for a healthy, sporty togetherness that supersedes race and creed. The best example Foer uncovers is Iran, where soccer stadiums have become the place for both Arab men and women to engage with the Western world. And he
reserves his highest praise for the city of Barcelona, which he sees as a model of an open and adaptable culture that uses soccer to forge a benign but proud Catalan identity.

A lovely idea, yet Foer’s own reporting shows how religious extremism, racist attitudes, and jingoistic songs still thrive around the soccer pitch. And then there’s the United States, where the sport has long struggled to gain traction and, indeed, serves as a cultural fault line. Foer quotes an abrasive radio jock vowing, “My son is not playing soccer. I will hand him ice skates and a shimmering sequined blouse before I hand him a soccer ball.”


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend