The World Cup teaches us more about life than you might think

Both on and off the field, traditional power bases are making way for new ones


A friend of mine who’s a primary school teacher tells me that the World Cup is an excellent teaching aid. What better way for her young pupils to learn about geography?

She says that they all know about the major cities of Brazil, or where the Ivory Coast is, or what’s the population of Costa Rica. And mathematics, too. The league system of the first round groups is a valuable and practical method of teaching multiplication and, in the case of England anyway, subtraction.

In the question of geo-politics and history, too, the World Cup presents some interesting test case. Why is it, Miss, that English people don’t like Argentina? And why does everyone want Germany to get beaten?

For the rest of us, this World Cup - in terms of footballing quality and excitement, the best in my lifetime - offers up more complex issues, relating to morality, and a sense that the global order of things is changing.

Much has already said about Luis Suarez, but the gory irony of a governing body which has been accused of selling its most precious asset to the highest bidder, and apparently values its commercial interests above its integrity, standing in judgement on an individual’s incomprehensible and reckless actions must not be lost in the rush to condemn Suarez.

What he did was so stupid as to defy rational thought. But it was an instinctive, and, as it turned out, pretty harmless act: its perpetration - unlike the alleged crookery that FIFA has undertaken down the years - does not weaken the fabric of the sport one jot.

Suarez, possibly even repentant and reformed, will return in four months’ time to a game that will be ever more shameless in its commercial pursuits, and will find potential employers ever more desperate to claim the services of a player whose footballing ability is such that it powerfully transcends his moral turpitude.

Notwithstanding scandal and injustice, this past fortnight has been a very powerful advertisement for the world’s game. Who could have thought that we’d be transfixed until midnight by games involving Costa Rica and Greece, or Algeria and South Korea? Who could possibly have forecast that the world’s traditional footballing powers would find their hegemony challenged by nations with a fraction of their resources, and with little or no record of success on the global stage?

But, in this respect, isn’t this tournament just a lens which helps us understand what’s going on in the real world? Traditional power bases are crumbling, and the tectonic plates of the world’s economy are shifting.

Algeria may be able to go toe-to-toe with an industrial giant like Germany only on the football field. But they played with no fear, which comes in part from a sense of greater economic confidence.

Foreign investors are looking at relatively stable countries like Algeria - or Nigeria, or Chile, or Ghana - with a core workforce of young, mobile, technologically adept, engaged people as very attractive places to do business.

In the primary schools of the future, the World Cup will be used to teach more than geography and mathematics. It may be used as the illustration for how the world itself is changing.

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