Sunday, December 7, 2008

Globalization and Soccer

What is globalization?

Globalization is “the tendency of investment funds and businesses to move beyond domestic and national markets to other markets around the globe, thereby increasing the interconnectedness of different markets. Globalization has had the effect of markedly increasing not only international trade, but also cultural exchange” (

“Globalization (or globalisation) in its literal sense is the process of transformation of local or regional phenomena into global ones. This process is a combination of economic, technological, sociocultural and political forces. Globalization is often used to refer to economic globalization, that is, integration of national economies into the international economy through trade, foreign direct investment, capital flows, migration, and the spread of technology” (

Now that we know a little about what globalization is all about lets shift to soccer. You may be asking your self what soccer has to do with globalization. But this is exactly what Franklin Foer does in How Soccer Explains The World. Foer uses soccer to explain globalization. As a soccer fan he could see globalization on the pitch. “During the nineties, Basque teams, under the stewardship of Welsh coaches, stocked up on Dutch and Turkish players; Moldavian squads imported Nigerians” (pp 2-3). This had never before taken place, this sweeping away of national borders and identities for teams to get the best players. But as much as most teams were incorporating people from outside their country to play on their national teams there were some countries out there who were not.

One example of this comes from Serbia. “The Red Star Belgrade is the most beloved, most successful soccer team in Serbia” (pg 7). Like nearly all clubs in Europe and Latin America, it has a following of violent fans. However these fans are renowned for being the most violent. These fan gangs organize with the club officials, and their leaders receive stipends and accesses to office space at the team’s headquarters. One incident a few months before the author arrive in Belgrade the Red Star fan clubs burst into the teams training session and beat three of their own players. When asked by the press why they did it they replied that they could “no longer tolerate lack of commitment on the pitch” (pg 8).

On the authors arrival he set out to interview a handful of them. He meet with a man named Draza, a leader of a Red Star fan club that calls itself the Ultra Bad Boys. Six others joined them, including a man named Krle. “Krle serves as a senior advisor to the group, a mentor to the aspiring hooligans” (pg 9). He was an active member during the time of Foer’s interest in this team “when the fan clubs played a pivotal role in the revival of Serbian nationalism” (pg 9). Krle is not interested in speaking to an American, and stops taking to Foer at the mention of Arkan, a man they call commandant. As the interview continues the younger ones regale Foer with their tales of beating up opposing teams’ fans with metal bars and wooden bats. But they conceder themselves on the higher moral ground than their foes for they don’t use firearms and stop the beating when the personloses consciousness.

“During the thirty-five years the communist Marshal Tito ruled Yugoslavia, he had suppressed bad feelings over World War II, simply declaring the expression of such feeling illegal” (pg 15). The country had never come to terms with the fact that its two largest constituents had slaughtered one another. They used soccer as a means to express themselves legally. With the dissolving of communism the old wounds were reopened, both Serbs and Croats began to demand justice for the crimes the other committed. This enmity could be seen at the soccer stadium. “In matches between Serb and Croat teams, fans sang about their respective slaughters” (pg 16).

In 1990, the Red Star Belgrade traveled to Croatia for a match against the rival club Dinamo Zagreb. This was the first time in fifty years that Yugoslavia had seen its ethnic groups openly battle one another. At first the trouble seemed manageable, even typical of any European game. Then the Dinamo fans started throwing rocks as the Red Star fans used billboards as shields. Then the fences that separated them mysteriously disappeared and a brawl engulfed the entire stadium. It was evident that both sides came ready for a fight. Guarding the Red Star coach from the violence was a secret-police hit man called Zeljko Raznatovic, also known as Arkan.

In 1991, the team won the European Champions Cup. This team despite its history as a vehicle for Serb nationalism had included players from across the country of Yugoslavia. In spite of this multi-ethnic Yugoslavian achievement the destruction of this nation was being plotted in the Red Star’s headquarters. “The Red Star fans would become Milosevic’s shock troops, the most active agents of ethic cleansing, highly efficient practitioners of genocide” (pg 13).

Arkan was the leader of the paramilitary force, primarily composed of Red Star fans. Arkan called his army the Tigers; it immediately began to earn its notorious reputation. “Arkan waged some his bloodiest offensives near the Bosnian town of Sasina” (pg 23). He sent our his Tigers on patrols to detain Muslim men, evict their families, and loot their homes (pg 23). By the end of the war in Croatia and Bosnia, according to State Department estimates, with throat slitting, strangulation, and other forms of execution, Arkan’s Tigers had killed at least 2,000 men and women (pg 24). He was turned into a hero by the Serbs. In the end he was gunned down in the lobby of the Intercontinental Hotel, there are many theories as to why he was killed, but we may never know the exact reason why.

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