[Marxism] Zizou’s issues: football’s aesthetics vs . global ethics

steve sharra sharrast at msu.edu
Mon Jul 10 23:34:16 MDT 2006

Who would have predicted that on the morning after the grand finale of 
Germany 2006, and in the days to follow, much of the world would be 
debating a headbutt and its probably or allegedly racist provocation? The 
issue has divided people's opinions, with some believing that the 
reputation of the game solidly rests on the upholding of a virtue called 
"sportsmanship," in which a player should not react to a provocation, 
however insulting. Others contend that as long as it fails to address the 
problem of racism head-on (pun coincidental), football as a game does not 
deserve the attribute of being a beautiful game. Regardless what side of 
the debate you are on, the incident makes one thing clear: football is more 
than about athletic aesthetics and kinesthetics. It is also about global 
ethics and responsibilities in addressing problems of racial injustice and 
historical inequality. These problems are evident and in need of attention, 
even if it turned out that Matterazzi's comment to Zinedine Zidane, 
popularly known as Zizou to his fans, was benign, if not amiable.

Those who see the game as being more about sportsmanship and athletic 
aesthetics than about global ethics insist that the best reaction to a 
provocation on the field is referring the matter to the referee, rather 
than responding to the provocation. The issue of not responding to 
provocations has been a defining problem for individuals and groups dealing 
with problems of social justice for many centuries. It may be said to share 
philosophical turf with ideas such as non-violence and the biblical ethic 
of turning the other cheek. Some movements based on these precepts have 
been successful, but others have merely worked to the advantage of the 
powerful and privileged, leaving the concerns of powerless and 
underprivileged groups unattended.

 From the perspective of sportsmanship and athletic aesthetics, Zidane 
should have kept his calm and reported the matter to the referee. But this 
perspective ignores the question of whether the referee would have believed 
Zidane, having not been within earshot of the incident. Would the world 
have believed Zidane? A non-response from Zidane would have in fact meant 
that the only sound to be heard the morning after would be the deafening 
cacophony of Italy's triumph. Would a complaint about racism, in a world in 
which racism has sometimes been blamed on the victim, have any chance of 
being heard in such a triumphalist din?

Another point being made is that a non-response reaction to a provocation 
on the field would have been more appropriate considering that the behavior 
of sports stars on and off the field has a huge impact on young people 
worldwide. This is also a good point to make, but it subordinates the 
problem of racism as being less important than the need to provide young 
people with impeccable role models. Subordinating the problem of racism to 
the backyard of perfect, spotless role models strikes me as not only 
immoral, but also unrealistic and misleading. Do we really expect young 
people to be that uncritical? Even if we accept that many young people are 
indeed uncritical and buy wholesale into the myth of the perfect sports 
star or celebrity, is that the kind of worldview we want to encourage in 
our young people? For how long are we going to sweep under the carpet the 
problem of racism and injustice in world football?

The problem of racism should not be seen as superficial and merely having 
to do with the temperament of players on the field only. It should be seen 
as a more profound problem, affecting the hopes and aspirations of billions 
of underprivileged people around the world. It should be seen as 
representative of the other intractable issues that have so far not been 
given prominent attention, including the fact that this was another 
all-Europe affair in which Eurocentrism as both an ideology and reality was 
on display yet again, as far as the hosting of the tournament, the slots 
per confederation, and FIFA's selection of the best 23 players of the 
tournament. While the diverse ethnic and racial makeup of the French team 
was one indication of how racism can begin to be overcome in the very heart 
of Europe itself, that observation is, for the moment, being buried under 
superfluous condemnations of an act that may have been the culmination of 
years of pent up rage, as alluded to by those more familiar with Zidane's 
experiences growing up and the larger problem of racial integration in 
French society. This is not a perspective that can be easily understood by 
some ensconced in the racialized privilege and class comfort of material 

Rather than seeing Zidane's headbutt as an ugly act tainting the reputation 
of a so-called beautiful game, it should be the pervasive racism of 
European domination of world football that is truly ugly. The beauty of the 
game should not be seen in terms of aesthetic and kinesthetic displays on 
the field only. It should also be seen in the actions FIFA takes to make 
the game live up to that attribute by being an instrument of active world 
peace and global social justice. With South Africa 2010 on the horizon, one 
hopes we are heading in that direction.

Midwiving the Afrikan Rebirth  

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