It is inevitable that politics and the world cup are inexorably linked in a way that is mostly joyous, at times odious, and on rare occasions tragic.
After all, the Olympic games may be described as the greatest show on earth, but there is no sport on the planet that generates as much global patriotic fervour as football: the ‘beautiful game’.
Not surprisingly, one of the greatest football books ever written – Football: Sun and Shadow – is by a political writer and activist, the Uruguayan, Eduardo Galeneo. Juxtaposing politics alongside football, Galeneo’s writing instantly becomes a poetic history/politics lesson with a back drop of the most famous football players and matches the world has ever seen.
Discussing the game’s importance to ordinary people around the world Galeneo explains, “many people find football the only area of identity in which they recognise themselves and in which they really believe – today collective dignity has a lot to do with the passage of a ball flying through the air.”
And so on Saturday June 12th when team England walk out to face the USA in their opening match a nation will hold its collective breath and hope that our sporting heroes will produce a winning performance that will raise the spirit and unify a people in a way that most politicians can only dream about.
I, like many will relish and indulge the drama that is the world cup, and the almost inevitable suffering of supporting England, but I’ll also be embracing some of its politics too.
First I’ll be urging minority communities in England to fly the St George flag. Let’s drape it from our windows, wedge it from our car doors, and if our children ask for an England shirt, buy them two, one white and also the iconic red shirt.
In the past to publicly display such patriotism wasn’t so easy, not because Africans, Asians, Caribbeans, Turkish and other minorities didn’t support England. We did. But rather, and for too long, the Far Right political groups have shrouded themselves with the St Georges flag, which has pushed our communities to see this particular flag as a symbol of bigotry. It’s time then for England supporters and others who subscribe to a fair, decent and multicultural society to wrestle back the flag and place it where it belongs: with all of us.
Of course neither politics nor football is ever that simple. So don’t be surprised if you see houses sporting two national flags. It’s not that we are hedging our bets, or failing Norman Tebbit’s cricket test – ‘you’re either with us or against us’ – it may just be that Nigeria or the Ivory Coast is our first choice.
The fact that we still support England is perhaps an even bigger political statement, one that says I may have roots in Africa, but I have a strong sense of belonging here in England too. So, come on Rooney and the boys, we can do it.
By Simon Woolley