December 5, 2010
How Soccer Explains Conservatism
Conservatives should give more than a passing nod (or smirk) to the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. Many conservative Americans may not share in the disappointment of avid U.S. soccer fans, but this is a mistake. Derision of the game by high-profile conservatives notwithstanding, soccer is a ready-made vehicle for transporting conservative values throughout the world. There is no sport where the conservative principles of self-reliance, independence, and less government are more at play than in the game of soccer.
Many red-blooded, patriotic Americans remain faithful to American football. But as conservatives like to remind liberals, there isn't less pie when more individuals prosper -- the pie just gets bigger. The same will be true in American sports if these real football fans can see fit to allow soccer a respected place our culture.
Conservatives agree that government impedes progress and should be involved as little as possible in the economy and the conduct of peoples' lives. Soccer's few rules ensure exactly this environment. Coaches exert less influence on soccer players during matches than in many other team sports. These constructs place more responsibility in the hands of the players. The rules that allow for this self-determination are simple: no timeouts, few substitutions, and even the disapproval of using replay technology.
With no timeouts, there is little opportunity for players to get significant direction from the coach. The game moves too quickly to defer to decisions from the sidelines, so if something is going poorly on the field, the players are responsible for implementing strategies to adjust their game.
With only three substitutions allowed (and no departing player may return to the field), teams have to use what assets they have. There is no opportunity to have overly specialized players take over specific aspects of the game, and the fluid movement of players and positions mandates that each player be able to do the job of any other on the pitch. This power speaks directly to the core conservative principle of allowing people to choose their own destiny.
Finally, employing replay technology is as antithetical to the spirit of soccer as it is to conservative principles. Dealing with incorrect or even unfair calls is part of the game, just as it is in life. Referees who make game-changing poor calls are punished by the marketplace; their opportunities for future work are proportionate to the quality of their officiating.
As the principles of less government, self-reliance, and independence are inseparable, so too are many aspects of soccer. In order for less government to work, people must have motivation to contribute to society and provide for themselves -- and soccer's penalty system encourages such behavior. Critics complain that the yellow and red cards are too harsh and have suggested adopting a hockey-like penalty box instead. But yellow and red cards better control the combativeness of the game. The yellow card, with its accompanying threat of a red card, keeps players' aggression in check and forces them to police themselves. If a marked player continues with his recklessness and is sent off, the team must play less one man. Each player's self-interest is thus activated, as is his sense of duty to his teammates. These penalty rules incentivize the same behavior conservatives implore individuals to adopt.
The system of scoring goals is probably the most widely criticized aspect of soccer. But here, too, conservatives should welcome the incentives created by the goal scoring system. In addition to being more meaningful, one-point goals ensure fair and even competition -- a leveling of the playing field that conservatives can appreciate. Each goal is consequential, providing unadulterated reward for the goal-scorer. This system exemplifies the most stalwart of conservative values: hard work pays off.
Critics find soccer boring, usually referring to the extensive buildup to scoring opportunities and frequent draws. However, these aspects of the game perfectly coalesce with the conservative values of patience and perseverance. Soccer is sometimes a game of careful precision and dedicated effort which result in technically perfect passes and goals. This show of expertise may take time, but it teaches fans about seizing the day. The game is wide open for ingenuity, and those who take advantage of these opportunities become heroes. The resolve to complete a task is a staple of conservatism, and in soccer, such resolve is on display every minute. For games ending in ties, a conservative point of view again emerges -- conservatism revolves around the win-win, not the win-lose (or rich-poor) meme with which liberals constantly attack conservatives.
Those who play soccer have no need for affirmative action. No other sport can claim such a natural diversity of players. All the anti-discrimination laws in the world could not create the environment of acceptance found on the soccer field. Race, ethnicity, religion, and even age are inconsequential on a field where merit rules the day.
As the most popular sport in the world, soccer touches individuals in all walks of life. It has this power because it connects with the human condition. Shared ideals of independence and self-determination incentivize people to work in accordance with their own self-interest while still being conscious of the common good.
Soccer is a natural for conservatives. And once conservatives gain an appreciation for The Beautiful Game, prepare to hear a lot more of this: GOOOOOOAAAAAAAAALLL!!!
Author's note: Franklin Foer deserves credit for this title's inspiration.