The FIFA World Cup

Politics, Commerce, Spectacle
and Identities

Edited by Stefan Rinke
and Kay Schiller


Printed with support from FIFA.

Bibliographic information published by the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek

The Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the Deutsche Nationalbibliografie; detailed bibliographic data are available in the Internet at

© Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2014


Stefan Rinke and Kay Schiller



David Goldblatt

Another Kind of History: Globalization, Global History and the World Cup

Alan Tomlinson

FIFA: Beginnings, Tensions, Trajectories

Pre-War World Cups

Stefan Rinke

Globalizing Football in Times of Crisis: The First World Cup in Uruguay in 1930

Marco Impiglia

1934 FIFA World Cup: Did Mussolini Rig the Game?

Paul Dietschy

The 1938 World Cup: Sporting Neutrality and Geopolitics, or All-Conquering Fascism?

World Cups between Traditon and Modernity

Bernardo Buarque de Holanda

The Genealogy of a Defeat: Sporting Memories and the Meaning of the 1950 World Cup for Brazil

Markwart Herzog

Win Globally – Party Locally: The “Miracle of Berne“ and Its Local Reception

Torbjörn Andersson

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden: Between Modernity and Idyll

Brenda Elsey

Football at the “End” of the World: The 1962 World Cup

World Cups before the “Gold Rush”

Tony Mason

England 1966 and All That

Claire and Keith Brewster

“He hath not done this for any other nation”: Mexico’s 1970 and 1986 World Cups

Kay Schiller

The 1974 World Cup in West Germany: A Non-Event?

Raanan Rein

Football, Politics and Protests: The International Campaign against the 1978 World Cup in Argentina

Ángel Bahamonde Magro

The 1982 World Cup: Ambitions of the New Democratic Spain

Multiculturalism and Commercialization

Nicola Porro and Francesca Conti

Italia Novanta: “Magic Nights”, Globalization and a Country at the Crossroads

Joshua H. Nadel

Cup of Welcome? Media, Marketing, Latinos, and the 1994 World Cup

Albrecht Sonntag

France 98 – A Watershed World Cup

Christian Tagsold

Remember – Forget: The 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea / Japan as Reconciliation of a Dark Past?

Thomas Raithel

The German Nation and the 2006 FIFA World Cup

Chris Bolsmann

The 2010 World Cup in South Africa A Continental Spectacle?


Key to Acronyms

Notes on Contributors

Stefan Rinke and Kay Schiller


As Brazil 2014 will doubtlessly show, the FIFA World Cup is a mega-event followed by billions of spectators around the globe. From the first World Cup in 1930 to the nineteenth in 2010, the tournament has exerted strong influences and acted as an important indicator of political, economic, social and cultural developments. Over the course of these 80 years and from its European and Latin American beginnings, football has become a truly global sport and FIFA now boasts more members than the United Nations. The sport is indeed one of the most effective means of popular mobilization of our time and assumes an important role not only in a cultural sense. Football is more than just a game to be played, more than just a product to be consumed. Football is also a spectacle and an element of everyday life, reflecting and sometimes heightening social tensions. The development of the sport and its major stage, the World Cup, is a mirror of historical change throughout the twentieth century and beyond.

This volume is the first scholarly attempt to capture the history of the FIFA World Cup in its entirety. In bringing together contributions by international experts from history, cultural studies, sociology and politics, this volume explores some crucial issues linked to the World Cup: from the political exploitation of the tournament for domestic purposes to its economic ramifications for the host nation and beyond; from the part it plays in national identity and national self-representation to its potential to realize transnational modes of identity and interdependence; from its role as a global media event to its impact on the commercialization of football on the national and transnational stage.

David Goldblatt and Alan Tomlinson open the volume by conceptualizing some of its main themes. While Goldblatt reflects upon globalization and the new writing of global history in relation to the World Cup, Tomlinson engages with the history of the organization that has invented the event, FIFA. The next section of the book presents the three pre-war World Cups of the 1930s. Stefan Rinke shows how the initial tournament in Uruguay in 1930 was a conscious attempt to globalize football and to strengthen FIFA’s influence beyond Europe. The political dimension of this world event became even more obvious four years later when Mussolini left his mark upon the World Cup in Italy, as Marco Impiglia argues. In 1938, the event remained in Europe, being staged in France. Paul Dietschy shows that it was overshadowed by the imminent war which was to bring a rupture to the history of the World Cup.

After the Second World War, the tradition was reanimated and it was no coincidence that the tournament went back to Latin America. Indeed, in the following four decades the seat of the World Cup was more or less constantly alternating between that continent and Europe. As Bernardo Buarque de Holanda shows in his contribution on the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, in the meantime football had become a passion strong enough to cause a whole nation to sink into depression when the hosts lost the final against Uruguay. In Switzerland four years later, the “miracle of Berne” contributed to the national myth of the young Federal Republic of Germany. Markwart Herzog discusses the relationship between the global event and its local reception in Germany. In 1958, then, according to Torbjörn Andersson, the World Cup in Sweden merged modernity and tradition, alternating between the global and the local, with many games played in small stadiums in far-off places. The latter was also true when, in 1962, the event was transferred to what many considered the “end of the world”, Chile. Brenda Elsey questions the myth of social harmony in Chile during the World Cup, which has for long dominated historiography.

Between 1966 and 1986, the World Cup grew bigger, receiving more media coverage while not yet reaching the levels of later decades. Tony Mason focuses on England in 1966 when football received worldwide live television coverage by satellite but sponsors were still hard to come by. Mexico’s role as host of two World Cups in the short period from 1970 to 1986 is discussed by Claire and Keith Brewster. The Brewsters demonstrate that the tournaments were staged against the odds in a poor country wrecked by natural disasters through the political will of ruling elites who relied on patriotic rhetoric and state patronage. In the midst of an economic crisis, the 1974 World Cup was not welcomed enthusiastically in West Germany either. Kay Schiller argues that the fear of terrorist attacks, the government’s reluctance to invest in it, and the unspectacular style of the West German champions contributed to making it almost a “non-event”. In contrast, four years later in Argentina the World Cup sparked a lot of attention, yet not in the way the military rulers of that country had hoped for. Raanan Rein concludes that the international protest campaign, although failing in its demand for a boycott, succeeded in creating a transnational solidarity movement and in promoting public debate about human rights issues. In 1982, Argentina’s former colonial motherland Spain celebrated its World Cup as a symbol of the country’s political opening following the long decades of the Franco dictatorship. According to Ángel Bahamonde Magro, the event contributed to showcasing a new and modern Spain.

Multiculturalism and commercialization were to characterize the FIFA World Cups from 1990 until the most recent past. Nicola Porro and Francesca Conti emphasize the ruptures both at the global and national levels which 1990 brought about and which equally came to mark the competition, with ever increasing levels of commercialization and media coverage of the event. One of the most successful World Cups in terms of the number of spectators was without a doubt the one in the United States in 1994. Beyond this, Joshua Nadel shows that it was also an important vehicle for the integration of Hispanic immigrants and the acceptance of their culture. If 1990 and 1994 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of the World Cup, according to Albrecht Sonntag the French experience of 1998 meant yet another watershed. In Sonntag’s opinion, France ’98 was an important milestone both in organizational and logistical terms as well as in regard to fan involvement. In 2002 then, the global event left the Americas and Europe to conquer Asia and for the first time ever, it took place in more than one country. Korea and Japan were chosen as co-hosts, two countries that had to negotiate a difficult common past in putting on the event, as Christian Tagsold shows. Four years later, the World Cup came back to Germany provoking a wave of national enthusiasm and introducing the catchword “summer’s tale”. For Thomas Raithel, rather than a re-emergent nationalist threat, the celebratory mood of 2006 reflected a relaxed “partyotism” new to German society. Finally, Chris Bolsmann takes us to the most recent World Cup which led to the inclusion in the annals of FIFA of a further continent as a host of the tournament. The 2010 World Cup held in South Africa was hailed a success by FIFA, the press globally and local organisers and commentators. Despite the rhetoric and imagery of an African World Cup, this was a South African success story marked by inclusion and exclusion.

This book is one of the outcomes of the international conference “The Relevance and Impact of FIFA World Cups, 1930-2010” held at the Home of FIFA in Zurich in April 2013. While FIFA hosted the conference and also supported this publication, this does not mean that the scholars contributing to it were in any way restricted in their views on the World Cup. On the contrary, receiving broad media coverage, the conference raised many critical questions and led to an open discussion of a number of hotly disputed issues concerning today’s global football. We appreciate FIFA’s willingness to facilitate such a free exchange of opinions and its readiness to listen to critical remarks. Our thanks go especially to Jasmin Frei and Alexander Koch in FIFA’s Corporate Communications department who graciously supported us in organizing the event and FIFA Translations for helping us prepare the manuscript. In addition, we are very grateful to the contributors to the conference and the book, who were not completely identical. Finally, we wish to thank Karina Kriegesmann and Jakob Lehmann for their contribution to the organization of this endeavor and our editors Ursula Koemen and Florian Grundei at Wallstein Verlag for seeing the manuscript through to publication.

Berlin and Durham, November 2013


David Goldblatt

Another Kind of History

Globalization, Global History and the World Cup


David Sheepshanks, chairman of Ipswich Town once remarked, “Football is an emotional game, that’s what sets it aside from your average business”.1 What, after all, is a football club or an international football team? Locations, stadiums and crests can all change, directors, managers and players come and go. What breathes life into the sparse institutional shell of a team is the collective emotional investment of its fans and supporters. The people who have decided that, for whatever reason, the historical legacy of a side and its contemporary narratives of winning and losing really mean something. Yet at the same time football can be the most emotionally inarticulate of games. How many times have you heard a reporter, with practised seriousness, ask a breathless player,-“just how did it feel to score that goal” and for them to reply, “I’m lost for words”. One could trawl a whole library of footballers’ autobiographies without finding a glimpse of an authentic emotion, or an experience rendered in anything but the most disingenuous clichés.2

Players are not alone in this. Much of the football writing of the twentieth century steered clear of this emotional terrain. There have been exceptions. The great Brazilians, Mário Filho and Nelson Rodriguez, brilliantly conjured up the fever and delirium of football in mid century Rio. More recently literary fan memoires, particularly from England, have explored the entwinement of personal and football narratives, the wild gyrations of sporting fortunes intersecting with the emotional turmoil of coming of age, social mobility and mental illness. But the wider social context in which these stories take place is, at best, accidently unveiled. Any history of football, certainly any history of the World Cup must in part, be an emotional history; but those emotions should not stand apart from the economic, political and cultural times in which they were forged. Where then might we go for some guidance and some inspiration? In what body of writing are both of these elements of the history of sport recognised? My choice would be America.

The United States has had a complex relationship with football and although at last the game appears to be acquiring a sustainable space in America’s sporting culture, it might seem obtuse to begin thinking about the World Cup from an American perspective. Yet, in one important respect, America has no peer; the engagement of its literary elites with sport. The capacity of American novelists and essayists to capture the complex amalgam of performance, emotion and memory and the deep structural forces of money and power that constitute the modern sporting spectacle is without parallel in global literature. What other literary canon can boast John Updike and Hunter S. Thompson on golf, Norman Mailer on boxing, David Foster Wallace on tennis, Mark Twain and Robert Coover on baseball and Barbara Ehrenreich on the crowd.3

Perhaps the most compelling and penetrating account of the sporting spectacular in contemporary American writing can be found in the opening chapter of Don DeLillo’s Underworld. This epic and multi-stranded story of Cold War America begins with a baseball game. The final play-off in the long struggle for the 1951 National League pennant, played between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants. It went right down to the wire, to the bottom of the ninth after a 157-game season. Yet it is now remembered as a single moment – The Shot Heard Round the World – when Giants’ 2nd baseman Bobby Thompson scored the winning home run. America had experienced a similar national focus, a collective obsession even, with a sporting event before; Joe di Maggio’s statistically extraordinary streak of hits-in-games had captivated the nation in 1941 as it geared up for the long war to come. But most consumed the news after the event, in print or on the grapevine. Now, for the first time, an epic American sporting moment could be followed live on nationwide television and radio.4

Dazzled by the moment, America’s media and its public were ready to accord to sport the same narrative power and cultural significance of the traditional arts and the new culture industries. As Red Smith wrote in the New York Herald Tribune.

Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention. Only the utterly impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever be plausible again.5

The shot may not actually have been registered in much of the new American imperium but it was broadcast on US forces radio, beamed to garrisons, outposts and sentinels on every continent and on every ocean. To Americans it confirmed their central place in the new global order, New York as the cultural capital of the world and baseball as the place where the nation could be imagined; a nation that did extraordinary things. In the closing moments of his piece, DeLillo makes Russ Hodges, the gravelly voiced commentator who called the game for the Giants, his mouthpiece for this notion. Russ and his producer Alex walk across the Polo Grounds. Alex looks up into the stands where Thompson hit his homer.

“Mark the spot. Like when Lee surrendered to Grant or some such thing.”

Russ thinks this is another kind of history. He thinks that they will carry something out of here that joins them all in a rare way, that binds them to a memory with protective power. People are climbing lampposts on Amsterdam Avenue, tooting car horns in Little Italy. Isn’t it possible that this midcentury moment enters the skin more lastingly than the vast shaping strategies of eminent leaders, generals steely in their sunglasses – the mapped visions that pierce our dreams?

Russ wants to believe that a thing like this keeps us safe in some undetermined way. This is the thing that will pulse in his brain come old age and double vision and dizzy spells – the surge sensation, the leap of people already standing, the bolt of noise and joy when the ball went in.

This is the people’s history and it has flesh and breath that quicken to the force of this … game of ours. And fans … today will be able to tell their grandchildren – they’ll be the gassy old men leaning into the next century and trying to convince anyone who will listen, pressing in with medicine breath, that they were here when it happened.6

Baseball and New York references aside, we could be in Montevideo in 1930 as a tiny buzzing bi-plane flies behind the exquisite art nouveau tower of the Estadio Centenario, its wake ripples the Uruguayan flag and sets off another round of waving and cheering from the thousands who have gathered on the pitch. Tiny Uruguay, an invention of nineteenth century power politics, less than two million souls, has finally, indisputably arrived. We could be in Berne in 1954, as West Germany, against all known-form, beat the original Golden Generation, the unbeatable Hungarians. This fragile state, this fragment of a nation, had crawled its way from the moral and practical ground zero of 1945 and stood on the threshold of statehood and the return of its sovereignty. Gathered by their radios they hear commentator Herbert Zimmerman on the final whistle “It’s Over! Over! Over!”, and in some strange but real way the humiliations and the hardships seemed to recede a little. Der Spiegel consecrated the game the following day as the founding cultural moment of the Federal Republic: “After 2000 years of taking the wrong path Germans have now discovered the true destiny of their national existence”.

Those midcentury moments have surely and lastingly entered the skin of national cultures. And although the vast shaping strategies of economic and political power have left their mark, it is the collective emotional experience and cultural interpretation of those games that give them historical weight and meaning. And what is true of the viewing public outside the ground is doubly true for those inside. If you have ever had the misfortune to watch a game played in empty stadium, perhaps after some punishment has been issued for fan misbehaviour, you will know that there is nothing quite as lonely and maudlin. That is not to say the crowd is always good or right. Often it is not, occasionally it is appalling. Nor is the crowd possessed of some privileged moral position. But until the broadcasters can perfect a digitally enhanced crowd, there is no spectacle without us; without a public that is prepared to invest emotional energy in the playing of a game there is no glamour and no glory. It is this that makes the sporting spectacle, however much the media–sponsorship complex try and control it, the people’s history. Historians and football administrators alike forget this at their peril.


An emotional and demotic understanding of the World Cup might be a necessary condition of writing its history but it is surely not sufficient. Every facet of the World Cup – the teams that played and those that didn’t; how the game itself was played and the architecture of the stadiums it was played in; the ceremonial and symbolic dimensions of the tournament and the informal and spontaneous carnival that forms around it – all have been shaped by economic, military and cultural forces, operating at the intersection of global, national and local politics. This presents a formidable and complex intellectual agenda, but a richly rewarding one. Such is the global reach and cultural significance of football that the history of the World Cup provides a powerful lens for examining the course of globalization and global history over the last century. At the same time the history of the tournament allows us to see the dynamic of politics in individual nations and the construction of their national identities; all have been encoded in the ways in which the tournament has been staged, played, reported, celebrated and cursed.

To see the relationship between the World Cup and globalization more clearly, we must divide our narrative into four eras: first, the pre-history of the tournament particularly football’s relationship with the Olympic games; second, the short inter-war era of the World Cup between 1930 and 1938 played alongside a fragmenting global order; third, the World Cups of the long post-war boom and the slow regulated globalisation that accompanied the Cold War; and finally, since 1982, the World Cups of the most recent era of globalization, characterised by new geographies of global power and the unprecedented scale, size and significance of global financial and media networks.

The Olympics movement was born in the final stretch of the long nineteenth century, an era which had created a new industrial and capitalist global economy and new global communications networks albeit in a world fractured by competing imperialisms. In this context the IOC and FIFA can be seen as two of the many international bodies – like the Red Cross or the Nobel Foundation – that emerged in the years before the First World War and were undergirded by a sense of universal mission constituted a nascent global civil society. In the case of the Olympic movement, this was combined with an amalgam of the new elite sporting cultures emerging in Europe and America, as well as the shared classicism of the West – the veneration and reinterpretation of Hellenic civilisation for nineteenth century purposes. Equally as important the games were sustained in their early days by their association with the World’s Fairs and the great imperial exhibitions, which had become central nodes in the increasingly complex global web of economic and cultural interaction. They showcased the new technologies, artistic styles and commercial products of the era not just to a local audience but to an international public and between 1900 and 1908 they let the Olympic Games in on the act. Football, unlike the other Olympic sports, was already highly professionalised in its British heartlands and lacked a champion within the IOC. Consequently it was an unofficial sport until 1908 and a purely amateur European affair till Antwerp in 1920.

The standing of the sport was transformed in 1924 by the arrival of the Uruguayans at the Paris games. The final was a 60,000 seat sell out; ten thousand Parisians milled outside without a ticket as Uruguay beat Switzerland 3-0. Gabriel Hunot, later editor of L’Équipe, was both rhapsodic and tart. “They created beautiful football …Before these fine athletes, who are to the English professionals like Arab thoroughbreds next to farm horses, the Swiss were disconcerted.”7 They repeated the feat in 1928 beating Argentina in an epic two game encounter, the second match proving so popular that nearly a quarter of the male adult population of the Netherlands applied for tickets. Recognising both the extraordinary drawing power of international football, and the threat that the Olympic tournament posed to its own control of the game, FIFA finally acted and established its own global tournament. The 1930 hosting rights were awarded to the only serious contender Uruguay.

Thus the World Cup was born of a different global moment to the Olympics. In the two years following the 1928 Amsterdam games the fragile prosperity and peace of the 1920s was swept away. The Wall Street crash sent out great waves of economic instability across the world. The key global economic networks of the Gold standard and free trade began to break and nations increasingly retreated into autarchic economic policies. Democratic and liberal forces, already defeated in Italy, were steadily displaced in Spain and Portugal, Japan, Germany and across Central Europe and the Balkans. The League of Nations proved utterly ineffective in regulating the global political order as German military force ruled in Austria, Italian arms eventually prevailed in Ethiopia and Japan brutally extended its Chinese empire. The shadow of the next global war lay across the entire decade.

The World Cups of the 1930s reflected this fragmented world. FIFA itself was a minor player in the organisation of the games; beyond awarding the hosting rights it had neither staff, nor money nor the authority to decisively shape the tournament. The home nations of the United Kingdom remained outside of FIFA and imperiously aloof, playing at none of the tournaments and only sending a delegation to France in 1938. Dependent still on ocean-going liners, only four European sides made it to Uruguay, and just Brazil and Argentina from South America made the return journey to Europe. Africa, Asia and Oceania remained off the map of international football, but for the Egyptians in 1934 and a European colonial team from what was then the Dutch East Indies. In the absence of television and radio with a global reach, media coverage of the tournaments was limited and local. The real and increasingly bitter political conflicts of the time made their way on to the field of play. Austria vs. Italy in the 1934 World Cup pitched the Wunderteam of Red Vienna against the tribunes of Mussolini’s Italy. The game between the France of the democratic Front Populaire and the Italians in 1938 was even more politically explicit as the Azzurri, on this occasion alone, swapped their blue shirts for black shirts.

While the inter-war World Cups share these characteristics, they also differ markedly in their political agendas; indeed they set down some of the distinct political forms that World Cups have since assumed. Uruguay 1930 was a national celebration, a marker and an announcement of a period of momentous and successful social change. Timed to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Uruguay’s independent constitution, the tournament was a global advert and domestic celebration of the country’s economic prosperity, functioning democracy and nascent welfare state; a combination given material from by the restrained sinuous modernism of the Estadio Centenario – the continent’s first concrete double-decker stadium. Italy 1934 was the first World Cup to be held under an authoritarian polity and used to buttress a regime’s domestic and international legitimacy. Mussolini and the Fascist party, anticipating many of the innovations of the Berlin 1936 Olympics, set about creating a staged and politicised sporting spectacular. New fascist architecture, sculpture and stadia were built; the foreign press were invited, subsidised and nurtured; Mussolini framed the entire event as a martial trial of nations and their masculinities. France 1938, organised by the leftist Popular Front government, was considered a deliberate riposte, an example of what a democracy could still do in a continent beset by dictators, a quieter exercise in soft power, but power nonetheless.

In the three decades after the end of the Second World War, the global networks incinerated by the economic and military firestorm of the thirties and forties were forged anew. At the core of the post-war global order was the Pax Americana, built around American military hegemony and the institutions of the newly formed United Nations. Together they provided sufficient stability for an American-led network of regulated global finance and trade to develop. No longer, even in the imagination, the dominant global power, the home nations of the UK rejoined FIFA. Their poor showing in the first four World Cups of the post-war era were a poignant footnote to the wider and deeper process of post-imperial decline. The normalization of the Cold War and the partial incorporation of the Communist Bloc into international institutions saw a Soviet team take part in its first World Cup – though the absence of the United States and the low esteem in which it then held football meant that the World Cup never acquired the kind of Cold War edge that was present at many of the Olympic Games of the era. The rapid decolonization of European Empires between the late 1950s and mid 1970s opened the way for the first post-colonial nations to make an appearance at the tournament – Morocco, Zaire, Tunisia, North and South Korea.

Television made its debut in 1954 but its decisive impact on the World Cup was yet to come. The 1954 and 1958 Cups were broadcast only to Europe. As late as 1962, black and white film of games was still being flown from Chile across the Atlantic; television ownership remained rare outside of North America and the richest parts of Western Europe. Radio and press coverage grew but what turned the World Cup from merely a football tournament to a global spectacular was the arrival of live global satellite transmission, colour TV and the global spread of TV ownership and national broadcasting networks. The special place of the Mexico 1970 final in the history of the World Cup was sealed as much by the shimmering blue and yellow shirts of the teams as it was by Brazil’s glorious victory over Italy.

Again, within a common global framework, we find distinct types of World Cup in this era. Brazil 1950 was consciously understood as the sporting proof and celebration of the wave of urbanization and economic development that began under the authoritarian populism of Getúlio Vargas in the 1930s. For much of this period, the Olympics served as the primary global acknowledgement of successful industrialisation and modernisation (Mexico City 1968, Seoul 1988) or reintegration into the international community after a long period of exile (Rome 1960, Tokyo 1964, Munich 1972), but this too would change as the World Cup grew in size and global status. Testament to the growing significance of the tournament, Mexico 1970 and West Germany 1974, both of which followed hard on the heels of an Olympic Games, were used to press home similar political messages. Given that both host’s Olympics had been tarnished by violence – domestic repression in Mexico’s case, international terrorism in Munich’s – their World Cups may well have provided a more positive cultural legacy.

The violence that accompanied the 1968 Mexico City games and the presence of anti Pinochet protesters in the stands in West Germany in 1974, remind us that the authoritarian, state-directed World Cup, typified by Italy 1934, had not gone away. Mexico was still a highly authoritarian one-party state in 1970 and Argentina who hosted the 1978 World Cup was ruled by the military Junta that had taken power in 1976. Against a backdrop of ruthless repression of domestic opponents, the Argentinean Junta commandeered nearly a quarter of the state’s budget to pay themselves and for the tournaments infrastructure, not to mention extensive support for the Peruvian regime whose team conveniently lost so heavily in the second group stages. There was a lot hanging on this. General Videla spoke to the Argentinean squad before the tournament began, “Like a commander says to his troops before battle, you will be winners”.

By contrast to this kind of bombast the post-war era began with the three “small” World Cups. The Second World War had left Europe’s leading economic and football powers in ruins which provided the opportunity for neutral Switzerland and Sweden to host the Cup. In 1962 Chile got the sympathy vote after the president of its football federation, Carlos Dittborn, pleaded, “You must give us the World Cup, for we have nothing else”. The ramshackle quaintness of those World Cups will not be seen again. No future tournament could feature a game like the one in Norrköping in 1958 at which the crowd was held back from the touchline by a rope, hung on wooden posts; or a final like Santiago in 1962, at which the crowd invaded the pitch to celebrate the Champions. What endures of these World Cups is not the host’s experience, but the stage they provided for the narrative and sporting triumphs of others – West Germany in 1954 and the dazzling new Brazil of Pelé and Garrincha in 1958 and 1962.

This was the norm, for England 1966 was the only World Cup between 1934 and 1974 won by its hosts. Paradoxically, for a culture that has always tried to insist that sport and politics have no connection with each other, it is the World Cup story that has settled most deeply in the national psyche. When Bobby Moore wiped his muddy palm on his shorts before shaking hands with the Queen and receiving the Jules Rimet trophy the English, after twenty years of post-war imperial decline, felt themselves back where they belonged: victorious internationally, at peace at home. The social fabric woven from good manners and common courtesy, politeness but deference to rank and status too, remained firm. The collapse of both these illusions and the failure of England to play in a World Cup final let alone win one since then, makes the past ever more golden as the present becomes ever more unpalatable.

There are many moments from which we can begin to date and chart the new wave of globalization that has swept over us: the collapse of the Bretton Woods institutions and the oil price hikes of the early 1970s; the rise of Anglo-Saxon neo-liberals and their programme of financial and industrial deregulation in the 1980s; the emergence of the first global and digital communication technologies in the 1990s. In the history of the World Cup, Spain 1982 is the moment of decisive change. Argentina 1978 belonged to the Junta, but Spain 82 was João Havelange’s.

It was eight years since the Brazilian had beaten Sir Stanley Rous in the election for the FIFA presidency in a campaign that promised a decisive shift in power and presence from Europe to the new football nations of the developing world. In 1982, the newly expanded 24-team tournament with extra places for Africa, Asia and the Americas, delivered. To make it possible, Havelange made three key changes. First, he turned FIFA from a cottage industry into a twentieth-century international NGO, with staff, facilities and income to match. Second, he began the process of commercialisation. Indeed Havelange’s FIFA set the template for the sponsorship of all future global sporting spectaculars. For the first time, FIFA offered tailored, exclusive and protected sponsorship packages to multinational corporations at the 1982 World Cup and aggressively sold the television rights to the tournament realising something near their real commercial value rather than the scrapings they had previously received; together these innovations would secure an ever growing global audience for the World Cup and an ever increasing income for FIFA. Finally, he introduced a new style of leadership and a political culture, learnt in the hard schools of Brazilian boom and dictatorship. This replaced Rous’ gentlemanly amateurism and civic service with truly imperial ambition, a razor sharp understanding of power and a preference for secrecy.

In the years since Spain 82, the World Cup has assumed its contemporary form. With 32 teams the tournament now lasts almost a month, requiring double the number of stadiums used to hold the cups of the 60s and 70s and contributing to the steadily escalating cost of hosting. The pitch invasion that followed Argentina’s victory at Mexico 1986 was the last of the old as the staging, design and choreography of every World Cup game has become more systematised, regulated and designed for television consumption. Opening and closing ceremonies have been added and fan parks have appeared, for the increasing number of travelling supporters, giving a dash of both ritual and carnival to the event; though the omnipresence of sponsors logos, stands and products can make fan parks dispiriting spaces too. The space for the crowd itself has been squeezed by the rising number of journalists covering the World Cup and the large share of tickets accorded to both sponsors and expensive hospitality packages.

Rising costs have certainly not deterred prospective hosts. Three European nations have held the World Cup for a second time and all used it as an opportunity for global rebranding. Italia 90 showcased the emergent post-industrial nation of high fashion, high tech and high concept architecture and for those who chose to look, its hidden circuits of corruption, and political clique. France 1998 looked at first to be a confirmation of the nation’s étatiseme, the sporting expression of François Mitterrand’s grands projets, though that was soon eclipsed by the democratic and popular dynamic of its super-diverse, multi-ethnic winning team. Germany 2006 told us that a decade and half after unification, it was time to loosen up and thanks to the brio and verve of its young team, that nation duly responded, public space in Germany that summer was carnivalseque and uncharacteristically open; public expressions of German identity were perhaps at their most visible and benign in living memory.

While domestic political agendas were the key notes of these European world cups, FIFA’s sporting, political and commercial agendas came to the fore outside of Europe. Both USA 1994 and Korea/Japan 2002 were conscious initiatives to showcase football in regions of the world where the game had previously been either a minority sport or a semi-professional backwater. In both cases this was achieved. The attendance figures at USA 1994 remains the World Cup’s highest and MLS established soon after has finally created a sustainable professional football league in the US. Korea/Japan was a televisual triumph, but the political conflict that accompanied the preparations showed how little the emotional and historical hurts of the Japanese colonial era had healed however much we all like football. Moreover, the enormous expenditure of both nations for new stadiums, that have yet to be filled by domestic football, demonstrated the problems of giganticism and white elephant infrastructure that the Olympic movement faced, were now on football’s agenda.

Since Germany 2006, the story of the World Cup has taken a different turn. First and foremost, the choice of hosts reflects the rise of the resource-rich and status-hungry global South with the tournament already held in South Africa and heading for Brazil, Russia and Qatar. That said a number of the largest and most powerful states in the global South have been absent from the World Cup altogether – like India, Indonesia and Pakistan or only rarely present as their own domestic football cultures have been ravaged by war like Iraq or corruption like China. Second, the level of global saturation coverage achieved by the tournament itself has now been accompanied by a much higher degree of scrutiny of the entire process of hosting the World Cup. The massive Mexican earthquake that preceded the 1986 tournament made barely a ripple in anyone’s preparations while South Africa endured a firestorm of criticism from the moment it won the right to host the 2010 Cup. On the one hand this was disappointing for much of the criticism aimed at South Africa was narrow-minded, ignorant and alarmist; a point underscored by the warmth of the South African public and the organisational successes of Africa’s first World Cup. On the other hand, it is a trend to be welcomed.

Public scrutiny of the 2010 tournament revealed both corruption and the use of violence during the construction of the stadium in Nelspruit and highlighted the worrying growth of the kick-back culture in South Africa. The press and social activists were key to maintaining pressure on both FIFA and the South African government to come good on their promise to leave a tangible legacy for the country’s impoverished grassroots football scene. The fact that there has been so little legacy in South Africa, the fact that so many of the new stadiums remain underused and loss-making, the fact that the South African FA proved itself amongst the most dysfunctional and unreformable institutions in the country, suggests that rather than too much scrutiny there was actually too little.

There is more of this to come. The events of June 2013, when Brazil experienced its greatest outburst of social protest for a generation alongside the staging of the Confederations Cup, dramatised the profound discontent of Brazilian society and focused it on the problems of corruption and mismanagement associated with staging three World Cups, and the 2016 Rio Olympics. It is the price of success, the consequence of creating and hosting one of the truly popular cosmopolitan festivals of a truly global era. But with success, status and prestige come obligations. When one makes the claim to, in some sense, represent or speak for humanity; when one yokes football – rightly I believe – to visions of global equality and social development, then the political game has changed. It is an agenda that is morally incompatible with the politics of secrecy, rule by clique, untransparent voting and opaque financial procedures. It should not lend its legitimacy and cultural power to authoritarian and wasteful programmes of public works, forced relocations and the creation of closed and privatised urban spaces. It is, therefore, an agenda that will come into conflict with the interests of powerful commercial and political actors. The history of the next three tournaments will, in great part, be a story of how well FIFA and its World Cup hosts adapt to these new demands.


Viewed in the long-term the history of the World Cup offers us an intriguing path through the complex narratives of the twentieth century’s shifting waves of globalisation. The stories of the hosts and the winners provide some of the clearest examples of how national polities work and how national identities are imagined. However, the World Cup has many smaller, intersecting stories to tell. We must not ignore them. The complex patterns of contemporary global migration and citizenship are increasingly reflected in the multi-ethnic composition of European and Gulf state national sides. The huge rise in global tourism is reflected in the increasingly large contingents of foreign fans, able and willing to make the journey. The overwhelming presence of American fans, the largest foreign presence at South Africa 2010, was testament to the game’s growing hold on part of the American public. The enduring sporting and political rivalries of world football continue to offer intriguing subplots – for example, England vs. Argentina, Germany vs. Holland, England vs. Germany. Post-colonial moments abound like France vs. Senegal in 2002 or Portugal vs. Angola in 2006.

The Men’s World Cup no longer stands alone. The Women’s World Cup, now over two decades old, is rising in stature and gathering an audience; it provides a powerful counterpoint to the overwhelmingly masculine world of global football. The popularity and distinct fan cultures of the 2011 tournament in Germany make it clear we can no longer tell a World Cup history as if there were only a single gender on the pitch. Similarly the creation of the Street Football World Cup that now accompanies the main event has given us a small portal through which to view the vast fields of youth soccer and social programmes

More than a mere reflection, the World Cup continues to impact upon the world outside the media spectacular. In 1998 Ronaldo’s dizzy fit on the day of the final, which seemed to render him comatose for the game, not only lost Brazil the match but triggered a series of investigations, accusations and commissions into the decrepit state of the nation’s domestic football. In 2002 Turkey’s third place was not only celebrated as a national holiday, the players rewarded with presidential gifts of gold, but taken as proof of the success of Turkey’s helter-skelter industrialisation. And then there are just moments, tiny but brilliant portraitures of a single speck of time. Amongst my own favourites: Diana Ross’ penalty kick at the USA 1994 opening ceremony; in 2002 the look on Michael Owen’s face as he fooled the Argentineans into gifting him a penalty, a delicious reversal of the national stereotypes of mendacity and cunning. Cambiasso’s goal in 2006 that resulted from Argentina’s 26-pass move; a performance of three-dimensional Euclidian genius. In 2010, the long collective gasp of relief in the Soweto fan park as South Africa beat France and found honour in defeat. Amongst my least favourite, walking through a crowd of hopeful boys, praying for a ticket, before facing the pitifully empty stands and ghost-like executive boxes at Port Elizabeth for Greece vs. South Korea.

Rarest and most precious of all, are moments of true cosmopolitanism, when the frameworks of national identities, stereotypes and rivalries inherent in international football, are momentarily transcended; when the football is just so good that it doesn’t matter who it is; when the story is better than victory or defeat; when the promise of a universal humanity is made emotionally tangible.

If, as in every historian’s fantasy, I was offered a time machine and told I could choose a single moment in World Cup history to visit, I would choose the final of the 1958 World Cup. I fear we will never see it’s like again. There are no time machines, but we have both analytical rigour and our emotional imaginations to guide us. It is somewhere between the two that these moments can be captured and understood.


29th June 1958

Brazil 5 Sweden 2

Rasunda Stadion, Stockholm8

They showed football as a different conception; they killed the white skidding ball as if it were a lump of cotton wool … Didi, floating about mysteriously in midfield, was always the master link, the dynamo setting his attack in motion; and besides Didi with Vavá and Pelé a piercing double central thrust, they had one man above all the others, to turn pumpkins into coaches and mice into men – Garrincha.

Geoffrey Green, The Times.

From 1-0 down after four minutes, Brazil are now 4-1 up and inscribing the field with intricate patterns of interplay so clear and bright that every contrast, every difference appears sharp and vivid. Surely the gap between these teams, these peoples, is unbridgeable?