how prejudices are still present in football discourse – Palatinate

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By Luke Power

Regarding England’s friendly match against the Ivory Coast, the idea arose that England were encountering an unfamiliar footballing culture. It was, after all, England’s first game against non-European opposition since they faced the United States in November 2018, when Fabian Delph, Harry Winks and Dele Alli were a midfielder. Ground of the Three Lions.

Prior to the match, Gareth Southgate claimed that “there are definite attributes, traits and styles that have cultural differences” across continents. After the first whistle it took just four minutes for the snaps to kick in, with Alan Smith hinting England would find it useful to test themselves against an “African style”.

The question therefore tickles the tongue: what, exactly, is this style? Do managers from Africa’s 54 FIFA-affiliated nations meet every year in a plush hotel in Nairobi for a symposium to agree on tactics? Is Aliou Cissé proposing, to thunderous applause, a homogenized set-piece strategy, or does Rigobert Song advocate a universalized approach to the use of half-spaces?

The answer is no’. Unless an expert comes forward and clarifies what the style looks like, explains how the Ivory Coast could embody it and points out how it is markedly different from football played elsewhere, it seems nothing better than a lazy and anachronistic rhetoric.

The idea of ​​’African’ styles and traits running in this team’s blood is even more ridiculous when you consider that only four of the starting players in the Ivory Coast against England have ever played club football. professional on the continent. Only the goalkeeper, Badra Ali Sangaré, has played there since 2015. Some players, like Nicholas Pépé and Sébastien Haller, have never even lived in Africa.

Not only does reliance on stereotyping undermine our appreciation of football and its individuals, it has concerning implications for how people view other cultures.

This article is not an attack on Southgate or Smith; they seem like nice guys, didn’t mean any malice in their words, and didn’t expect to be looked at under that microscope. Their comments are typical of football discussions and adhere to a heartwarming idea. People like to think that different nations and regions are imbued with quite distinctive footballing DNA. Supposedly, the Brazilian players, their feet enlivened by the scorching seaside sand, possess a samba-inspired flair that the Scandinavian players could never match; The Argentinian teams all share the passion and ferocity of Maradona and Simeone; Geordie fans “love their football” far more than Birmingham, Bromley or Biggleswade fans.

Such thoughts are not always wrong and are often based on the legacy of great players, teams and trends in football history. They become frustrating, however, when applied mindlessly and with sweeping brushstrokes, the talents and tactical intricacies of players and teams are swept away in a flat vacuum for the sake of convenience.

Stereotypes in football discourse can be harmful. In 2020 RunRepeat published their analysis of racial bias in commentary across all leagues in the 2019/20 season. They had found that more than 63% of reviews were for darker-skinned players, while just under 63% of praise was for lighter-skinned players. They had also found that darker-skinned players were several times more likely to be talked about and praised in terms of power and pace, while lighter-skinned players were much more likely to be talked about and praised. in terms of factors such as intelligence, quality, and work ethic.

Based on a history of college studies, the results are too marked and consistent to point to mere coincidence. An article in The conversation argues that racialized stereotypes in football commentary can be traced to social Darwinism, raising alarming questions about the biases that still exist in thought and discourse today. Not only does reliance on stereotyping undermine our appreciation of football and its individuals, but it has concerning implications for how people perceive other cultures.

Talk with PalatinateFIFA Masters Program candidate Aaryaman Banerji agrees. “The myth that there is some form of homogenous ‘African style of football’ is rooted in racial stereotypes and crude assumptions,” Banerji said. Palatinate. “The pervasive idea that African football teams depend on physical attributes such as strength, speed and endurance can be seen as an extension of larger, archaic views of African society and its people.”

Banerji, who has researched and written about football in various African countries, continues: “While followers of the African game tune in, the continent is actually home to a divergent and pluralistic football culture, with a range of high level tactical strategies. ideologies consistent with those of other continents.

“There is little to compare, for example, between the fluidity of the sharp counter-attacks of current CAN champions Senegal – led by their star coach Aliou Cissé – and the legendary cynicism of the Democratic Republic of the Congo of Héctor Cúper, nor with the often brazen attack initiative of recent Cameroonian teams.It is the same thing at club level.

We must leave our expectations at the door, lest we fail to appreciate the unexpected.

A dubious impression of African football was evident in the coverage of the recent Africa Cup of Nations. Very often it has been framed in the context of the “weird”; a cursory analysis of headlines and headlines in the youth media reveals an AFCON “out of control” and a tournament of “utter chaos”, while the profusion of memes ridiculed every mishap. Although there were fun moments like in any football tournament, it was treated too much like a carnival, like a goofy, uncontrolled spectacle, and that angle was over-appreciated by the masses.

Ian Wright was also right (lived up to his last name) to denounce the disrespect of the tournament as an embarrassing sub-plot of the European football calendar. An outlet asked Sebastien Haller if he would rather stay in the Netherlands than take part in the tournament. In stark contrast, the 2022/23 season is being restructured to host the Qatar World Cup, with nations crawling at the feet of a tournament marred by corruption and abuse, ardent for hopeless glory.

While these portrayals are certainly influenced by a wider culture, it is suspected that there are ghosts within the sport itself that subconsciously rationalize stereotypical coverage. We could go back to the impressions of the Cameroonian team of the 1990 World Cup, which opened the tournament by accumulating 28 fouls and two red cards in a 1-0 victory against Argentina.

Undoubtedly, these figures are extreme – for comparison, Watford have, on average, the most fouls per game with 12.31 in the Premier League this season. By the time Cameroon faced England in the quarter-finals, they had gained a reputation as “wild players”, The temperature reported. Decades later, perhaps the imprint of this memory lingers; only three years ago, a writer for The Guardian likened Cameroon players’ tactics and fouls against England to “nursery” behavior in a shockingly mocking article.

If we are to move towards a fairer and more insightful portrayal of individuals and teams in sports coverage, it behooves journalists and consumers to rewrite their impressions using current evidence rather than falling back on mythology or cliché. Acknowledging the flaws is key – I know as a Liverpool fan I have been too easily frustrated with the Africa Cup of Nations schedule in the past, implicitly buying into the arrogance of European football.

We have to tear up the blueprint given to us and constantly reassess what we think we know. That’s how you spot originality. We must leave our expectations at the door, lest we fail to appreciate the unexpected.

Photo: Ben Sutherland via Flickr

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