NDN Blog

Thoughts on the globalization of soccer

Yesterday, James Crabtree posted his latest essay here in a series he has been writing from Asia and India. This one reflected on the power of soccer, history’s first truly global sport. James talks about soccer as a sign of British “soft power.” It also says a great deal about the emergence of our first truly global communications network, a network that is in the process of bringing together all the world’s people onto a single real time, broadband communications platform. Soccer is becoming the universal sport of this emergent network, and as soccer becomes a globalized commodity, it is also changing the sport itself.

My kids and I watch a lot of soccer. My wife thinks way too much. Each weekend we are able to watch games Spain, England, Germany, Italy, Latin America and now that our MLS is back, here in the US. With our special soccer package on our Comcast system, there are as many as 5 games on the same time from all over the world. Players like Saha, Ronaldinho, Rooney, Adriano, Eto'o, Ronaldo and now DC United’s Christian Gomez are very important people in our lives, athletes we follow as closely as the baseball players of my youth. These players come from Argentina, Brazil, Cameroon, England, France and Portugal.

On Thursday night I went to a DC United game here against a Honduran team, CD Olimpia. There were more fans at RFK that night rooting for Olimpia than DC United. DC United won, 3-2, and its goals came from players from Argentina and Brazil. Even here the sport has a global, universal feel. And that is before Mr. Beckham arrives this summer.

For my kids soccer has become as obsession. I can tell that they understand that when they play it, daily, they are playing a sport that is both played and watched all over the world. They are doing what all other kids are doing, everywhere. Soccer has become to sports what English has become to language. It is a global common experience, shared increasingly by all the people of the world, an experience that somehow knits all us together. It is remarkable to think that if my oldest son goes to China 30 years from now and has dinner with some Chinese of his age they could end sharing their opinions about the Zidane headbutt in the 2006 World Cup.

James talks about how what they see in Asia is not just soccer, but British soccer, the Premiereship, the top league in Britain. Soccer fans may find that strange, for why not the Spanish La Liga, or Italy’s Serie A, or Germany’s Bundesliga? Or the many magical teams in South America like Boca Juniors or Santos? First, I think English is the world’s tongue, making British soccer, broadcast in English, more accessible to more people. Second, Rupert Murdoch, owner of Skynews, Fox and so many other media outlets has a global footprint, and is using soccer to create a global, universal product that can transcend cultural boundries.

This globalization of the English Premiere League has had a huge impact on the League itself. Seeking a global audience its teams have been much more aggressive about signing players from all the over world. You see many more Africans, Americans and Asians in England than any other European league. Yes the Spanish have their Brazilians, but most of the European teams still draw heavily from players in their home countries. They are not yet truly globalized. But I expect that will come.

As this globalized 21st century media platform emerges, sports is increasingly becoming the lingua franca, the media experience that binds people together in a much more fragmented and personal media world. Remarkable soccer goals often make the top 10 on YouTube. ESPN is emerging as the most powerful cable channel among the hundreds now available. Mastery of the emerging media of this century will mean many things, but one thing it will mean for sure is the ability to connect one’s values to sport, as the Republicans have with NASCAR and the NFL. What is the progressive response? We tried soccer last year, with great success. But there is clearly much more to be learned and tried in the years to come.

What a mess Bush is leaving all of us

It just doesn't stop.  Now we have the Walter Reed scandal.  Has there been an Administration in American history who has failed so utterly at the very basics of governing?

The list is incredible.  2000 days later and Osama is still on the loose, and is now regaining strength.  Iraq continues to cost American lives, money and prestige, without making us safer.  New evidence out this week showed Bush and his team blew it on North Korea, completely misreading what was happening there, and ended up making the confrontation much worse.  The systemic undermining of our civil liberties, including the condoning of torture, the undermining of the Geneva Convention, warentless spying on our citizens and the stripping of habeas corpus from all non-US citizens in the US, even legal immigrants and of course tourists.  Our military has been degraded.  Trillons have been added to our debt.  Our Department of Homeland Security remains badly led, unorganized and unprepared.  This age has seen the greatest systemic corruption of Congress and the federal branch in our history.  The minimum wage has been allowed to erode to its lowest level in 50 years, and now earns a family just $11,000 a year.  Wages have dropped.   More are uninsured, more are in poverty and family debt has hit historic levels.  Tens of millions of dollars spent on ads demonizing Hispanics, comparing them to Middle Eastern terrorists. Our relations with Latin America have eroded terribly.  And, perhaps most perniciously, the serial lying of our leaders about just about everything that has caused many to wonder about the integrity and the values of America itself. 

And of course there are all the big challenges unmet.  Funding the retirement of the baby boom.  Providing health insurance, and good health care, to all Americans. Global climate change.  Modernizing our schools and creating a 21st century strategy to help existing our existing workforce transition into the digital age.  Bringing broadband to all Americans.........

The Bush era, this era of compassionate convervatism, has been a disapointing and shameful period in our history.  The country is oh so ready to go to a new and better place, and is looking, desperately, for leaders to take us there.

Next generation of social networking sites

The Times this morning has a look at the next generation of social networking sites.  It features some comments from friend Marc Andreessen, who discusses his new venture, Ning.

An excerpt:

The new social networking players, which include Cisco and a multitude of start-ups like Ning, the latest venture of the Netscape co-creator Marc Andreessen, say that social networks will soon be as ubiquitous as regular Web sites. They are aiming to create tools to let ordinary people, large companies and even presidential candidates create social Web sites tailored for their own customers, friends, fans and employees.

“The existing social networks are fantastic but they put users in a straitjacket,” said Mr. Andreessen, who this week reintroduced Ning, his third start-up, after a limited introduction last year. “They are restrictive about what you can and can’t do, and they were not built to be flexible. They do not let people build and design their own worlds, which is the nature of what people want to do online.”

Social networks are sprouting on the Internet these days like wild mushrooms. In the last few months, organizations as dissimilar as the Portland Trailblazers, the University of South Carolina and Nike have gotten their own social Web sites up and running, with the help of companies that specialize in building social networks. Last month, Senator Barack Obama unveiled My.BarackObama.com, a social network created for his presidential campaign by the political consulting firm Blue State Digital.

Cuban oil a problem for the embargo?

The Miami Herald tells us that Cuba's recent discovery of oil could cause problems for the U.S. embargo. Oil, Cuba, and an embargo. This could get interesting...

Which 08 Candidate Gets the Power of Soccer?

No, this isn’t a pop quiz. It’s the second in my rather faltering series of thoughts on “globalization from the road,” this time from Kerala, in South India. As you know, NDN is keen on soccer, having run some tremendous campaigns using the sport to connect with the hispanic committee. But, that isn't all that the beautiful game has to teach the Democratic presidential hopefuls.

I haven’t actually read Frank Foer’s book on soccer and globalization. I should have, but there you go. Everyone says it is very good, and I apologise in advance if I’m making the same points he does. But I have been ceaselessly struck on my travels by the power of soccer. And not just any type of soccer, neither. It doesn’t matter if it is Malaysian billboard or Thailand metro adverts; Singaporean cable or New Zealand radio; or even the sports pages of cricket crazy India. The world is watching not any old soccer; the world is watching English Soccer. If I were to guesstimate, I would say that the English Premiership has roughly 90% market share in these fast-growing Asian markets, with Spain somewhere around 10%, and the rest absolutely nowhere. That isn't just a result. Its a drubbing.

Now, before you think “smarmy brit bragging about his country’s only half decent export”, there is a political point to this. And it is wonderfully encapsulated in this quote found in Niall Fergusons book Empire, about the decline of British imperial power. Ferguson quotes Sir Richard Turnbull, the penultimate governor of the British protectorate of Aden (now Yemen, who said, rather perceptively, that:

“When the British Empire finally sinks beneath the waves it will leave only two monuments: the game of Association Football, and the expression “f*ck off.”

Turnbull didn’t know how right he was. Soccer is now a non-trivial source of Britain’s soft power infrastructure. People pay attention to the UK, visit the UK, send money to the UK, and even like the UK because of soccer.  And it seems to me that the Democratic candidate who can best articulate similar ways in which America can once again use its considerable cultural, artistic and even sporting arsenal to win friends in Asia, will really be onto a trick.

Sure: there are many, many hard aspects of geo-politics that can’t be solved by a decent PR campaign, a charm offensive or a baseball tour. But while travelling through Asia I have been very struck that while people – “the man on the street” - admires America, and wants to live in America, no one actually likes America. Machiavelli said words to the effect it was better to be feared than to be liked. But for America, it would be nice to be both. And in achieving that there is much the three major candidates can learn about America's potential place in the world from the success of an English game with 22 men on a grass field, being watched by billions around the world.

Ringtones as the Tip of the Mobile Media Iceberg

This week the Associated Press moved a story on how an environmental group is using ringtones of endangered species to raise awareness of this extinction  issue among people with mobile phones. You know, wolves in the wild or blue whales. I was quoted in the story as showing how this is just the tip of the iceberg of the ways that mobile media will be used in politics in the next couple years.

However, I elaborated on that concept this week in the public radio show Future Tense that airs on about 100 stations.  I talked about how those little snippets of sounds can actually have an impact on how people think. Remember that it goes off every time the phone rings, and that all of the person’s social network of friends and family who are around them will also hear the sounds and spark a conversation. And all those little sparks can add up to start a fire...

You can listen to the 5 minute podcast here.

Peter Leyden  

Event next week - The Dawn of a New Politics

I hope you'll join us for a joint NDN and New Politics Institute (NPI) presentation and lunch on Thursday, March 8. Simon and Peter Leyden, Director of NPI, will lay out how transformations in technology and media, changing demographics, and new governing challenges are transforming the political landscape.

The Dawn of a New Politics
Thursday, March 8
12:00pm
Human Rights Campaign
1640 Rhode Island Avenue, NW

Since the 2006 elections, the political terrain for progressives has opened up in unexpected – and very positive – ways. And Peter and Simon's “New Politics” multimedia PowerPoint presentation provides high-level strategic analysis of these changes and what they mean for this emerging “New Politics.”

Their provocative thesis has been presented to various audiences – from elected officials in Congress to the Netroots – and now will be presented in an open public event for any interested individual or progressive group.

To RSVP, contact Tracy Leaman at tleaman@ndn.org or 202-842-7213.

A change in position?

The New York Times has a very interesting article on the comments made by Cabinet Secretaries Gutierrez and Chertoff, who testified yesterday before the Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration legislation. Their comments on offering temporary legal status instead of citizenship to illegal immigrants was particularly interesting, as it seemed to represent a shift in thinking on behalf of the White House. As the article points out:

The citizenship measure has been derided by conservatives as amnesty and hailed by some Democrats, Republicans and immigrant advocates as a provision that will encourage millions of illegal immigrants to come forward. In August, President Bush suggested that he supported such proposals, saying they sounded like “a reasonable way to treat people with respect.”

But on Wednesday, Mr. Gutierrez and Mr. Chertoff declined to endorse the measure. Mr. Gutierrez said many illegal immigrants might prefer working here for several years and returning home.

...

It was unclear whether the officials were simply trying to ease conservative concerns about the citizenship question or whether Mr. Bush had actually shifted his position. Scott Stanzel, a White House spokesman, said Mr. Bush still supported a path to citizenship that would include payments of fines back taxes and a requirement to learn English, among other things. But it seemed unlikely that the two cabinet secretaries would make such remarks without first consulting the White House.

We'd like to hear your thoughts on this one, so please comment below. As always, for more on NDN's work on immigration reform, check our website.

Chertoff lobbying for immigration reform

The LA Times has a great article on the White House's efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which include a big push by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Swift Boat Ads Funder Up for Ambassadorship

Sam Fox wrote a $50,000 check to the 527 organization that created and aired the noxious and patently false "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ads.  His reward was a cushy appointment to be our next Ambassador to Belgium.  But Ambassadorships are Senate confirmable posts, which means Fox had to face Senator John Kerry and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday.  As this article from the WAPO reveals, he offered wishy-washy excuses for his involvement, clearing lacking confidence in his convictions:

The panel did not vote on Fox yesterday, but committee member Kerry got in his say. He walked in a bit late and explained that he did not intend "to play some sort of 'gotcha' game," but he wanted to know: How does the nominee feel about the level of "personal destruction" in politics these days?

Fox replied that he was "very concerned" that politics have become too "mean and destructive," especially with the participation of independent "527" groups such as Swift Boat Veterans. He tried not so subtly to redirect Kerry's line of questioning by saying, "Sir, you're a hero," adding that no 527 group "can take that away from you."

Why then, given Fox's dim views of 527s, did he give such a large chunk of money to help Swift Boat? Kerry asked.

Fox explained that he and his wife donate generously to GOP political causes. "When we're asked, we generally give," he said. He said he could not recall who asked for the Swift Boat donation but explained that he thought it was important to give to a 527 working on behalf of Republicans because a 527 "on the other side" was stooping to such low levels as comparing President Bush to Adolf Hitler.

"So two wrongs make a right?" Kerry asked.

Fox said he thought the dirty work of 527 ads was "disgraceful," but "that's the world we live in."

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