The World Cup is seen as a uniting event, bringing together several different nations to play soccer. The ideal behind the World Cup is to promote a racial harmony among all the nations. I mean what is more harmonious than having a bunch of different countries gather together to engage in some “friendly” competition?
Even the fact that this year’s World Cup is hosted by South Africa is considered to be something else, taking into account South Africa’s checkered and controversial history. From racial apartheid to a peaceful democracy, South Africa has invested a lot of money into being the host country for the World Cup in the hopes that it will boost their economy. Although the World Cup shows heartening images such as black and white players joyously hugging and kissing each other whenever a goal is made, this has not always been the case.
Soccer, much like the host country South Africa, has a pretty controversial past. Even in the teams today reflect some of the racial tensions that are still prevalent in their home countries. For example, today Brazil is the poster country for a having a racially harmonious soccer team with all different types of races being represented on their soccer team. However, Brazil in the 20th century was not the model of racial equality that it is today.
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Back at the beginning of the World Cup in 1930, Brazil barred all black players from the team, and they sent an all-white team to the very first World Cup. The soccer team was extremely segregated, and even a few years after the World Cup, Brazil only managed to incorporate one black player into their team. Things did change though, after Brazil realized that one of their best players, Pele, happened to be a black man.
Over the years more black and brown faces have appeared in teams, but that was not always the case. Even in Europe’s teams, the German team was a model example of blonde haired blue eyed players a few decades ago. Most of the European teams back then were all pretty homogenous. It was difficult to see any players on these teams that did not look like they were from the country they happened to be representing. Countries are paying less attention to these details now, but in the past it took a whole lot of controversy to put a colored person on the team.
The United States is also not a stranger to this racist past in soccer. In the early 1990s, the U.S. picked players that were mostly drafted straight from college and the team was overwhelmingly white. Yet, the U.S. has changed its ways, now sending in a team to South Africa featuring six out of the 23 players to be ethnically diverse. Six may not seem like a lot, but it’s a definite upgrade from years in the past.
World Cup soccer is not the only groups of soccer teams that had racist practices. There are many blacks from Africa or Latin America in European soccer leagues. Black players are often harassed with monkey chants and boos, and have even had banana peels thrown at them in the past. There are hardly any black team managers or coaches in Europe.
Italy is one of the teams this year that has boldly sent an all white team to the World Cup. Most teams seem to have at least one minority, but Italy has taken the leap of faith and has decided to stick to an all white team. A Somalian, Mario Liverani was the first black player on the Italian National team but no black player has ever been chosen for the senior Italian World Cup team. Mario Balotelli, is a striker for Inter Milan born in Palermo. He has had to deal with chants from the crowd saying that “A black can’t be truly Italian”. He was left off the Italian World Cup team despite his talents. With the victory of the 2006 World Cup in Germany, they may feel confident, but few people are expecting them to repeat the feat. Maybe Italy should look into expanding their racial diversity to add some more talent to their repertoire.
Although African teams have not been performing well at this years World Cup it is safe to say that many countries have begun to realize the ramifications of having an ethnically homogeneous team. Not only does it look bad, but to deny the many talents of minority players can actually hurt a team’s chance at winning. Like many sports, soccer has come a long way from being exclusive to evolving into more acceptance. The World Cup has tried to break some of these barriers, but at the same time it is hard to dismiss many of the racist sub-contexts that are still present today.