The Egypt Friendly and Why Politics Matter in Sports
The United States is scheduled to play an international friendly next week in Egypt against the host country, and as many of you are well aware, the political situation is unsettled, to put is lightly. By the February 9 friendly there may not be a government in Egypt, or even a new one, but the situation is incredibly fluid. So far, USSF officials have not canceled the match and have said they will play on February 9, but are monitoring the situation and are in communication with the State Department regarding travel advisories and other details. (The status is still up in the air as of Monday)
But this post is not a political discourse on Egypt, but on politics in general. If you are like me, sports can be an excellent escape from the real world. When you are at the stadium, you don’t have to worry about the stock market or which political party is in power. What goes on inside a stadium is an isolated incident in the world: two teams facing off to determine who will win. The losing team will not lose their lives or face serious penalties, with the most serious consequence of a loss or bad draw being temporarily out of a job. For fans, the result of a loss or bad draw is disappointment or anger, but their lives overall will not normally be negatively changed. In other words, soccer and other sports do not matter in the grand scheme of things, it is just a game.
And that is why we love sports: no matter how many times a team breaks our heart, we can leave the stadium or arena and re-enter the real world. Even watching a game on TV allows us a temporary removal from reality. But sometimes reality invades our sports bubble and we must be aware of the greater world around us.
Egypt is an example of this idea. This week Bob Bradley will announce his call-ups for the match, and we will debate who he should call up, who he should start, etc. And some of the players will play well, and some will not. But how much should we hold against the players if they play poorly or suffer an ugly loss. Imagine the situation they walk into: a stadium full of opposing fans who are themselves anxious about their lives or who may be interested in making a political point. It is near impossible to play well in a “friendly” under those circumstances.
This principle applies to other aspects of American soccer as well. On this site and others we have had lively debates about the merits of relegation and promotion between MLS and lower divisions, whatever those look like. In the sphere of sports, this is a great debate to have and one where both sides can make excellent points. However as the United States leaves an economic recession, relegation and promotion cannot be immediately applied. At a time when sports teams are battling for fewer entertainment dollars, it is important to financially establish leagues to allow for successful promotion and relegation principles.
Another MLS example is the D.C. United stadium situation. It is a travesty that this championship franchise does not have its own stadium, and it seems like the club has fallen on its face by not securing stadium space. And they do share some of the blame. But in D.C. the new mayor has opposed using public financing for a stadium, like the city did for the baseball team. The real estate and construction industry has also been mired in the recession, so anywhere a new stadium would be built would not have the new construction around it that new stadiums often need to attract casual fans and business. Again politics and the financial world have influenced the sports world.
So should politics and international relations invade our sports world and refocus the way we view sports? Not necessarily; the greatest value sports brings to life is that it allows an escape from life. Sports takes two to four hours of our life and removes our cares about work, family, finances, and everything else and allows us to just focus on two teams on the field (or rink or court) and an outcome that most likely will not change the world permanently. Every once in a while, though, we have to allow for the things that really matter to have a role in the things that don’t.