I mean it’s about time there was a backlash against football nationalism in Korea, not it’s about time that I wrote something here (although that’s true too). Earlier this week the Korea Times reported that an alliance of citizen’s groups (NGOS basically) have got together in Korea to express concern about the way in which World Cup fever in Korea distracts attention away from important social, and political issues. We’re not talking here about a serious analysis of sports nationalism and capitalism, but still I’ve got to admire them for trying. I’d be more than happy to see some prominent organisations and people here in the UK who had the balls to mount such a campaign.
As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also been something of an internet backlash over the behaviour of Korean fans at the team’s friendly with Ghana in Scotland last Sunday, where they played the kwaenggwari (small noisy cymbal) during the Ghanaian national anthem. The article also picks up on the uneasiness that football fans feel about the commercialisation of football and the way no opportunity is wasted to try to sell something to the captive audience of flag-waving fans whether they’re sitting at home or forming red waves in front of Seoul’s city hall.
This has interesting tie-ins with what is happening here in England/UK (confusing distinction for many people at times like this). On the one hand the fact that the South Korean team was up against Ghana is interesting to me as there are quite a lot of Ghanaians around where I live and the flags have been very much in evidence (particularly since they squashed Korea 3-1 on Sunday!). Of course there are lots of England flags being flown from cars everywhere you go but also others like Ghana, Cote D’Ivoire and Portugal. In fact I’ve seen two cars in the last few days that were flying both England and Ghana flags, one on each side. So our multicultural community actually gives you twice the chance of being on the winning side.
Having said that, I do get a sense that there might be the slightest hint of a backlash here too, even before the World Cup has begun. The problem, as in Korea, is the massive and overwhelming commercialism of the event. I mean people have long complained about the commercialisation of sport but this has reached epic proportions - finding a brand name or a piece of advertising that is not using the England flag or at least a reference to football is almost impossible. This kind of overkill can only drive sane people slowly round the bend and must make people question what the hell it’s all about. The BBC reported that there has been some controversy about flying England flags, although it mainly centres around health and safety issues or the possible negative environmental effects of using more petrol when you have a flag on the side of your car (really).
Anyway, I expect that Korea and England are not peculiar and capitalism is having its wicked way with football nationalism in every one of the 32 competing countries (ok, perhaps not the US as they don’t care about ’soccer’ and prefer colonial wars to whip up nationalist sentiment). It’s one of those classic paradoxes of capitalism eating itself - I think the logic goes something like:
“Football nationalism is good because it unites everyone, makes the workers forget about their rubbish daily lives and distracts people from all the dodgy things going on in the world that they might be worrying about otherwise. In other words football nationalism is noble and lofty and it suits us down to the ground…. But we’re going to shit all over it anyway by trying at the same time to use it as a way of selling people all sorts of things they don’t want and can’t afford (new tellys) or stuff that’s just plain bad for them (Maccy Ds, Mars bars and Coke).”
[For readers of Korean, who want something a bit more coherent, in-depth and politically clued-up on the subject of football nationalism, the latest edition of Ta Hamkke has a two-page special on the subject.]