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The Power of Football

Another predictably dismal English performance at a major tournament has come and gone, and we can now look forward to a trouble free qualification route to, and probable quarter final exit at Euro 2016. However aside from England’s woes there are two World Cups to look forward to in Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022; both of which have sparked controversy for different reasons.

Tensions between Russia and the West have been rekindled by the crisis in Ukraine and have led to fears that the Winter Olympics in Sochi and a World Cup in 2018 could act as a platform for Putin to flex his political might, as the 1936 Berlin Olympics did for Hitler. Meanwhile the selection of Qatar has caused no end of debate, and not just because the average high temperature for June/July is just over 41°C! The Qatari bid has also been shrouded by allegations of corruption, on both the parts of Qatar and FIFA, and while we at Art of Football wouldn’t want to ignorantly accuse anyone of anything, we would also point out that there is usually no smoke without fire.

That being said, World Cups are joyous events, and this will forever be the case no matter where on Earth they take place. This year’s World Cup final was watched by an estimated One Billion people making it the most watched television event in history, and with 26.5 million viewers in the United States (CBS) it was the most viewed football match of all time in North America. This proves that FIFA is succeeding in tapping into new audiences, in countries and continents where football was previously not popular.

In the early 1990s FIFA set the goal of making Football, which was already an internationally popular sport, a truly global phenomenon. And it is through this perspective that Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 should be viewed. In 1994 the World Cup was held in the USA, a place where up until very recently ‘soccer’ was a widely out-casted and under-rated sport, and it is mostly thanks to the 1994 World Cup that football is now blossoming stateside both professionally with the MLS, and in terms of social status. Another untapped market was the Far East, and a World Cup swiftly followed in Korea/Japan 2002, with a bid that was unanimously chosen by FIFA ahead of Mexico. Then more recently in 2010 the World Cup was held for the first time on African Soil in South Africa, during which Ghana became the first African team to reach the quarter finals only to go out at the hands of (quite literally) Luis Suarez. The only major region of the world yet to host a World Cup (sorry Australia but I’m going on population) is the Middle East, and in 2022 we have a World Cup in Qatar.

While the sceptics will say that this expansion is purely for marketing and financial reasons, football should not be underestimated as a force for uniting the world and creating a global community that can forget its problems for one incredible summer of Sport. Sport is a language that everybody speaks and is played and loved by billions across the World. Football is without doubt the top dog in sport in terms of inclusivity, simplicity, and through its power to bring people together under the banner of fun, fair play and unity. I will of course remind everyone of Christmas 1914 on the Western Front, where warring British and German soldiers threw down their arms in favour of Football!

Football can be used as a tool for global development, and there is lots of evidence to suggest that it will be a successful one in future! It is for these reasons I will be happy to watch and enjoy the next two World Cups, but it would be interesting to here your opinions on the debate in the comments below.

Tom Jelpke

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