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“Human Rights” as Justification for Continued Western Imperialism with a Kinder Face: The Case of Euro 2024

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On 27 September 2018 Turkey lost their bid to host UEFA Euro 2024, Europe’s biggest football tournament. Germany, the hosts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, will be the host country, winning a bid where “realism” won out in the face of “romance”. In typical fashion, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shrugged the loss off by pointing out that Turkey evaded the costs. While I am sure Mr. Erdogan himself was a little disappointed—after all, EURO 2024 was going to be the tournament in which Turkey’s shiny new stadiums could be showcased after Istanbul lost the bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics—he was very right when he pointed out that “it is always in the same country”. Indeed, it always seems that Western countries end up hosting most major football tournaments, no doubt because—in many cases—they have the requisite infrastructure. Yet, what makes this case different, is that the entire debate surrounding the bid decision focused on one very particular facet of Western foreign policy: the case of “Human Rights”.

 

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Ms. Merkel Seems Unable to Recognize Her Own Nation’s Football Shirt (!). Image Courtesy Of: https://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/euro-2024-bid-germany-turkey-realism-romance-mesut-ozil-a8554776.html

 

I put the aforementioned term in “quotations” not because I find it frivolous, but rather because I remember the many injustices which have been committed in the name of furthering or protecting these “human rights”; the war in Iraq and interventions in Libya and Syria come most readily to mind in this context. The German public international broadcaster Deutsche Welle brought this issue to the fore in a 26 September 2018 article by Felix Tamsut entitled “Human rights in the spotlight for Euro 2024 host bid”. According to Deutsche Welle:

 

For the first time ever, UEFA has included clauses related to the human rights situation in the hosting country as part of its bidding process. In its announcement, UEFA said the bidding country has to “culturally embed human rights,” as well as “proactively address human rights risks.” The term “human rights” was mentioned 11 times in UEFA’s final evaluation report of both Germany and Turkey, which goes to show the importance of both countries’ record in the field. For comparison, the same report released ahead of Euro 2020 did not contain that term at all.

 

To any reader, this should itself stand out. How could it be that “human rights” comes to the fore when Turkey is involved? I would argue that this newfound interest in “human rights” is more a result of Western virtue signaling—in the name of a kinder form of imperialism—than it is a reflection of Turkey’s own human rights record. This is not to say that Turkey has not presented the world with a very real contradiction in terms—as an authoritarian neoliberal state—but, I believe, the “human rights” records of other recent hosts of football’s major tournaments have not been held to the same standard, leading this observer to believe that something else is behind this form of opinion shaping emanating from the global “West”. For a moment, lets look at the cases going back from the 2010 FIFA World Cup hosted by South Africa (Indeed, a cursory Google search of “Human rights Germany World Cup” or “Human rights France Euro 2016” reveals nothing, either a result of Google’s own censorship policies or—more realistically—a result of the fact that the issue of “human rights” was never brought up in the context of these “Western” bids).

 

FIFA World Cup 2010: Hosted by South Africa

A 4 June 2010 report by Amnesty International ahead of the 2010 World Cup entitled “Human Rights Concerns in South Africa During the World Cup” points out that:

 

There has been an increase in police harassment of informal traders (hawkers), homeless South Africans, and refugees and migrants who are living in shelters or high density inner city accommodation.

This harassment has included police raids, arbitrary arrests, ill-treatment and extortion, as well as destruction of informal housing.

The tearing down of informal housing has taken place without prior notice, provision of adequate alternative housing or compensation and in violation of domestic law prohibiting forced evictions.

Regulations created to comply with FIFA World Cup requirements in host cities are being used by police to expel homeless people and street traders from “controlled access sites” and exclusion zones around World Cup venues. Penalties for offences under the regulations include fines of up to Rand 10,000 {$1,300] or imprisonment of up to six months.

 

Of course, this emphasis on sheltering the world from the realities of poverty in South Africa—especially by destroying informal housing—is hardly unique to the South African case. Indeed, it is part and parcel of the trend for international sporting events to deflect attention from the reality of urban poverty in the non-Western world so as to present a utopian vision of society by sweeping the problems under the proverbial rug. Indeed, the Brazilian World Cup suffered from a similar tendency.

 

FIFA World Cup 2014: Hosted by Brazil

On 4 April 2014, Amnesty International published a report entitled “Brazil: Human Rights Under Threat Ahead of the World Cup”, showcasing the words of Atila Roque, the director of Amnesty International Brazil:

 

The excessive use of force by Brazilian police in response to the widespread protests last year resulted in many people injured. Rather than training the police in how to deal with peaceful mass protests, the government’s response has been to criminalize protesters giving the security services carte blanche to arrest and detain people at will. New laws have been proposed that threaten the right to freedom of expression. This is not just about the World Cup but will have long-term consequences for any future peaceful protests.

 

Indeed, the Guardian (surprisingly) was one of the Western news outlets to report on the widespread “social cleansing” of Rio de Janeiro’s “favelas”. According to the 2013 story, “At least 19,000 families have been moved to make way for roads, renovated stadiums, an athletes’ village, an ambitious redevelopment of the port area and other projects that have been launched or accelerated to prepare the city for the world’s two biggest sporting events [the Olympics and FIFA World Cup]”. Predictably, of course, the government justified the forced eviction of the country’s poorest citizens as “necessary to modernize the city”.

 

FIFA World Cup 2018 Hosted by Russia

 Even before the summer of 2018, Human Rights Watch published a piece on 21 March 2018 readying viewers for the “World Cup of Shame” to be hosted by Russia, noting that there is no better way for countries to “exercise soft power than hosting the top tournament of the world’s most popular sport”. Indeed, after the tournament, the same news outlet claimed that “the human costs” of Russia’s “bloody World Cup” were high, citing the death of at least 21 workers involved in stadium construction and the country’s ongoing discrimination of its LGBT citizens. Yet even Russia’s “human rights” abuses are nothing when compared to Qatars.

 

FIFA World CUP 2022 Hosted by Qatar

Amnesty International’s piece “Qatar World Cup of Shame” details the plight of Qatar’s migrant workers who have been imported to help construct the country’s new stadiums, detailing the (often) forced nature of their labor and appalling working conditions. The graphic below provides some important context of the argument against Qatar 2020.

 

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Its a Numbers Game. Image courtesy of https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/2016/03/qatar-world-cup-of-shame/

 

This is how we now arrive at the Euro 2024 bid, where Turkey—despite boasting a strong football infrastructure, as well as offering beautiful tourist sights and a vibrant culture full of hospitable locals—loses its bid to Germany on the basis of “human rights”. If such things truly mattered for hosting international football tournaments, then South Africa and Brazil would not have been able to cleanse urban areas of their unwanted urban poor while Russia and Qatar would not have been able to build their infrastructure through poorly regulated labor contracts which—in the case of the latter—border on slavery. Yet, all four of these countries were able to abuse human rights while successfully sanitizing urban areas to better fit the consumerist ethos of modern sports.

 

And this is where we get to the real reason that Turkey was not chosen to host UEFA Euro 2024. It is not about human rights, nor is it about Turkey’s perceived ability (or inability) to host a major tournament; Turkey would make a fine host. But instead, it is about consumption. Since the Turkish Lira has lost 40 percent against the U.S. Dollar in the past year, many economists fear that the country’s economy is heading into recession. If this happens it will mean that Turkish consumers will not be able to consume as much as they would in a stronger economy; thus—for the sports marketers who (behind the scenes) ultimately decide the location of international sporting events—Turkey is not the best choice of venue. Make no mistake, the rhetoric behind the “human rights” argument is just a veneer of Western virtue signaling which does not stand up to empirical scrutiny when the cases of Qatar, Russia, Brazil, and South Africa are considered. Of course, it is also worth noting that the aforementioned four cases also were chosen at a time when globalism was ascendant; with this disastrous global ideology seemingly on the back foot it seems that Europe is circling the wagons to ensure that—at least—the European Championships stay in the heart of Europe as we end the first quarter of the twenty-first century. Of course, the ethno-centric nature of UEFA’s decision to award Germany the bid will also be obscured by the “human rights” discourse, pointing to yet another way that virtue signaling serves to discourage the search for alternative explanations which both stray from the dominant media narrative, but which also might be closer to the truth.

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Football Shirts and Nationalism

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As an avid collector of football shirts, the headline “How a soccer jersey sparked the latest Germany-Turkey spat” of a 15 May 2018 article by Siobhan O’Grady in The Washington Post immediately caught my eye. As a dual citizen of a Western country (the United States) and Turkey, I felt the tensions that the footballers in question—both Mesut Ozil and Ilkay Gundogan—must have been feeling themselves. Especially because I study the intersection of football and nationalism in Turkey, I know that this event is about much more than just football shirts and Turkey’s fraught relationship with Germany; in fact, this small event is indicative of both the failures of globalism, as well as the crisis of modern—and “Western”—liberalism.

On the surface, the decision by Manchester City’s German-Turkish footballer Ilkay Gundogan to present a jersey to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with the inscription “With great respect for my president” seems to be a minor issue. In years past it may have been but a footnote in the day’s news. Yet, in this age—when it seems as if most people are all too willing to be “offended”—something as innocuous as the gifting of a football shirt has become grounds for outrage. Indeed, as French Sociologist Michel Foucault said, “modern society is perverse”.

 

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From Left Mr. Gundogan, Mesut Ozil, Mr. Erdogan, and Cenk Tosun. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/15/how-a-soccer-jersey-sparked-the-latest-germany-turkey-spat/?utm_term=.c36280ce21f4

 

And it is this event which so clearly demonstrates just how perverse modern society has become. Should Mr. Gundogan have called Mr. Erdogan “my president” while playing for Germany’s national football team? The president of the German football association (DFB), Reinhard Grindel, did not seem to think so, and politicians from both the right (Beatrix von Storch of the Alternative for Germany Party) and left (Cem Ozdemir, a former leader of the Green Party and himself of Turkish descent) seemed to agree. As a representative of the German national football team, Mr. Gundogan would have done well to recognize that it is the German—and not Turkish—football system which built him into the world star that he is today; as such, he should have recognized that his president is German (and that his country) is Germany. Had Mr. Gundogan wanted to embrace his Turkish side wholeheartedly, he could have rejected Germany (and all of the privilege that comes with playing for one of the best national sides in world football) and chosen to play for Turkey, similar to Manchester United’s talismanic Ryan Giggs who rejected England in favor of his native Wales despite the corresponding lack of international prestige that went with choosing the Red Dragons. In Giggs’ words:

 

It still bugs me when people ask if I wished I’d played for England. It’s the question that’s bugged more than any other over the last 10 years. I’m Welsh, end of story. My parents are Welsh, my grandparents are Welsh. The mix-up came from the fact that I played for England schoolboys. That’s what confuses people. But I’d rather go through my career without qualifying for a major championship rather than play for a country in which I wasn’t born in or one that had nothing to do with my parents. That’s just stupid.

 

Had Mr. Gundogan been as straightforward as Mr. Giggs—and perhaps sacrificed fame and fortune for family ties—it is likely that there would have been very little backlash as a result of his actions.

Yet, in the globalized world, it is not so simple; indeed Mr. Gundogan—as discussed above—owes much of his sporting pedigree to the German system. During my childhood I myself often toyed with the question of which country I would represent in international football (thankfully, I was never a good enough footballer to actually have to make this decision) and I am aware that this is a difficult choice for anyone to make. Having not grown up in the (extreme) globalized age, however, I was able to make my own judgements and have been able to wholeheartedly embrace both of my nations. In the modern world, however, the push for “diversity” and “multi-culturalism” has attempted to create a meaningless mélange of cultures; far from making people “multi-cultural” or even “bi-cultural” it has instead made people confused, and Mr. Gundogan’s case is a perfect example of this confusion.

Judging by this case, Mr. Gundogan still identifies with his Turkish background. This may be due in no small part to the fact that—as the 15 May 2018 article notes— “many German Turks say they still face discrimination because of their ethnicity and religion”. Indeed, the German state might not have been as successful in assimilating its sizable Turkish immigrant population as it would like to believe. And this is the main point. There is nothing shameful in Mr. Gundogan’s inscription to the Turkish President itself, and it is not helpful to applaud—or disparage—Mr. Gundogan’s choice without being cognizant of the fact that many factors outside of his control likely went into his decision to call Mr. Erdogan “my president”. As an individual citizen, Mr. Gundogan has every right to express his admiration for any political figure that he desires. This is because footballers are not robots; they are human beings with very real human emotions. Despite the rationalizing tendencies of the modern world (in Weberian terms), emotion still plays a major role.

Many scholars of nationalism recognize the deep emotive bond created by national identities. And despite the emphasis on means-end rationality in our societies and the growing importance of capital interests in modern football, nationalism remains a major force in our world. There is no “global village”, despite what post-modern globalists may believe. If national bonds and cultural identities were as unimportant as the proponents of globalization claim, then it is likely that Germany might have been more successful in integrating its Turkish community. By the same token, it is also likely that the German FA would not have expressed their concerns with Mr. Gundogan’s actions in such overtly nationalist terms. For instance, the president of the DFB, Mr. Grindel, said that “football and the DFB stand for values that Mr. Erdogan does not sufficiently respect”. Similarly, the coach of the German national team, Joachim Low, said that “when you play for Germany you represent German values”. Were it not for Germany’s distaste for Mr. Erdogan, it is unlikely that the jersey would have been an issue; indeed, it is the two-faced nature of modern liberalism which has caused this event to become overblown: according to modern liberals, multiculturalism is good to a degree…but when it begins to threaten the nation’s values, it becomes a problem. Yet these are two irreconcilable positions.

Just as Edward Said noted that “orientalism” said more about the West than it did about the East, so too does this small event tell us more about Western “liberalism” in Germany than it does about Turkey and its supposed Eastern “despotism”. We see that the utopian visions of “multiculturalism” and “pluralism” in the West are—in reality—very difficult to achieve in practice. Despite the continuing attacks on nationalism throughout the world, the emotive connection that individuals feel towards their national identities, cultures, and values are shown both by Mr. Gundogan’s actions, as well as by the DFB’s response to those actions. By bringing in the concept of values, the DFB is making a judgement on Mr. Gundogan’s moral character which may be unwarranted; Mr. Gundogan could have been merely expressing his affinity for the Turkish nation rather than for a leader specifically. Yet this alternative interpretation is not provided by the main(lame)stream media which prefers to spread messages of division.

 

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Mr. Gundogan, Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place in the Midst of a Geopolitical Struggle. Image Courtesy of: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2018/05/15/how-a-soccer-jersey-sparked-the-latest-germany-turkey-spat/?utm_term=.c36280ce21f4

 

In short, ignoring the emotive aspects of national identity may be doing the world more harm than good by encouraging divisions and the creation of a dangerous double standard. The world would do well to recognize that, as scholars like Anthony D. Smith and Walker Connor have noted, nationalism will not be going away any time soon.

 

24 Hours in Munich BONUS: Bayern Munich 2014-15 Home Shirt AND Germany World Cup 2014 Home Shirt

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I have one night in Munich to live it up. What happens in Munich stays in Munich, like Vegas. I’m riding an emotional high as I arrive to spend the night for my layover between my flight from Izmir and my flight on to Boston, sipping a Smirnoff Ice outside the Flughafen branch of the Bayern Munich shop. I soon realize that the only similarities between Munich and Vegas exist on the small “strip” leading from the Hauptbanhof to my hotel. Strillerstrasse is lined with Turkish kebab shops, casinos, strips clubs, and . . . women in Niqabs. A group meanders past a “Girls Girls Girls” advertisement, the neon from the sign reflecting off of their modest black garb. In Munich, in this spot where Vegas and Mecca have come together, it makes me feel like—just maybe—this world will come together too before it tears itself apart.

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I’m thinking it’s like a bad joke as I head up the dark stairs of the Hotel Daheim to my third floor room, the floorboards creaking with each step. As I throw my bags onto the surprisingly clean bed I reason that it’s just for one night, just a place to park my things, and myself, and I head out to explore (but not before closing the window, which opens to a fire escape accessible to all the other rooms).

With the mix of Persian, Arabic, and Turkish voices around me on the streets it feels like Istanbul…or so I lull myself into thinking, before seeing the Atlantic City club advertising Table Dancing specials for tonight. I laugh at the ridiculousness of it all and head towards Marianplatz and Munich’s picturesque center.

On the way I find a four-story sporting goods store where I partake in the solemn act that all tourists upon visiting Munich must experience: purchasing a Bayern Munich football shirt. Last year’s design has been discounted to 39 Euros from 80; an amazing deal considering that this year’s shirt isn’t much to write home about and costs 85 Euro—insult to injury! I also add Germany’s 2014 World Cup shirt to my collection for 25 Euros. When asked which match I want printed on the shirt I immediately give a knee-jerk reaction: The final against Argentina. Then I wake up. That’s cliché. “Do you have the USA match?” I ask, remembering the game I watched in St. Petersburg, Russia, when Joachim Low had his team take it easy on his countryman Jurgen Klinsmann. We are, after all, living in an international world and life is international.

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Shirts in hand I head to Marianplatz, which, under construction, has lost some of its grandeur. I continue on to the river instead, past an amazingly attractive Mini Cooper Polizei cruiser. And who says the Germans don’t get on with the British? Oh…wait…Mini is owned by BMW.

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Yes, I’m thinking the world could slowly be melding into one homogenous entity…before the strangely beautiful yet wholly mechanical “DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO-DEE-DOO” siren of an ambulance cuts through Munich’s serenity and I, watching the view over the Isar with the siren’s soundtrack in my mind, feel as if I’ve stepped into a Lego town. No, the world still has its differences. Here, drinking a mug of Munich’s famous beer in public and watching the sunbathers catch the last rays of a summer day, I could only be in “Europe”. The Europe of American backpacker’s dreams, the Europe of month long summer vacations designed to break the monotony of Suburban America.

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The next day, aboard my homeward-bound Lufthansa flight, I’m reading the papers and am again convinced that world is not completely homogenized by way of globalization…yet. According to my free copy of USA Today—two steps above or below a tabloid, depending on your point of view—9 CEOs in America are paid 800 times more than their workers. The dark side of the story is telling: “the average CEO is paid 216 times more than workers now,” compared to the “20 times more [they were paid] on average in the 1950s, according to a 2013 analysis by Bloomberg BusinessWeek.” Roger Cohen’s piece in the International New York Times (the successor to the famous International Herald Tribune that defined my childhood) “Incurable American Excess”, also rang true for me:

“To return from Europe to the United States, as I did recently, is to be struck by the crumbling infrastructure, the paucity of public spaces, the conspicuous waste (of food and energy above all), the dirtiness of cities and the acuteness of their poverty. It is also to be overwhelmed by the volume and vital clamor of American life, the challenging interaction, the bracing intermingling of Americans of all stripes, the strident individualism. Europe is more organized, America more alive. Europe purrs; even its hardship seems somehow muted. America revs. The differences can feel violent.”

“What We Learned from German Prisons” by Nicholas Turner and Jeremy Travis taught me that “While the United States currently incarcerates 2.2 million people, Germany — whose population is one-fourth the size of ours [the United States] — locks up only about 63,500, which translates to an incarceration rate that is one-tenth of ours [the United States].” The ability to be able to compare the United States and Germany first-hand allowed me to uniquely view the points that these journalists were making. But make no mistake; it is our differences—in the United States and in Europe—that make us stronger. Globalization need not make all cultures the same, indeed such rampant homogenization is not the solution for a more utopian society. After all, Germany is not the United States and bad people—unfortunately—do exist, no matter how much we attempt to homogenize and sanitize our views of society.

We learned this once again on August 22, 2015 when a group of three American soldiers vacationing in Europe foiled an attempted terrorist attack on a train in France. My hats off to the three brave young men who took matters into their own hands…and an extra shout out to Alek Skarlatos, who appears in an FC Bayern Munchen shirt—the same shirt I found on my one day jaunt around Munich. Perhaps the more things change the more they stay the same. All we can do, as individuals curious about the world around us, is get out and see the differences before they’re gone. After all, you never know what homogenizing force—constructive or destructive—will come along next.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/23/world/europe/americans-recount-gunmans-attack-on-train-to-france.html

Germany 1994 World Cup Home Shirt

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Since Germany won the World Cup I thought I’d post a picture of my own Germany shirt in celebration. I got this shirt many years ago (back in the 1990s) in Turkey and it is still as striking to me as the day I bought it. In the run up to the tournament I named this shirt the best design from World Cups past and I proudly sported it throughout the competition (when Germany was playing, of course). The classic Adidas “basket-weave” pattern was a beloved template in the mid 1990s and I personally don’t think it has lost any of its luster. Heres to Germany, 2014 World Cup Champions!

 

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Top Five World Cup 2014 Shirts and Top Five Classic World Cup Shirts

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Although I am not a huge World Cup fan since the tournament has become the definition of industrial football and mainly a cynical money making machine in recent years, I still can’t ignore the shirts. With the games in full swing I thought I would do what some sites have been doing and rank the top five shirts from World Cup 2014, along with the top five from the past World Cups that I have watched. As with everything on this blog all opinions are my own, so don’t be offended if your favorite shirt—or team—does not make an appearance. Personally, it is always hard to rank the newer shirts because the old ones hold a special place in my heart but here goes nothing.

 

World Cup 2014:

Number 5: Japan (Adidas)

Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (1) Japan 2014 World Cup Home Kit (2)

Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 4 Japan 2014 World CUp Away Kit 5

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/06/exclusive-japan-13-14-2013-2014-2014.html

 

The “electricity” colored away shirt obviously needs no explanation, but the blue home shirt has a few details that make it, in my opinion, one of the best shirts of the 2014 World Cup. The rising sun motif around the badge is special, giving a sort of Japanese authenticity to the shirt. On the back, however, is a pink stripe that gives this jersey a unique detail that—when seen in person—really gets your attention. Adidas did a nice job with the socks as well, carrying that color through the kit instead of leaving it as a one-off detail on the shirt. It also harkens back to the red used in Japan’s 1995-96 kit, manufactured by Asics.

 

Numbers 4 and 4.5: Cameroon Home (Puma)

Cameroon 2014 World Cup Home Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/10/unique-cameroon-2014-home-and-away-kits.html

Ghana Away (Puma)

Ghana 2014 World Cup Away Kit 1

Images Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/ghana-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

 

This is really a tie, and I chose to include both because each team’s other jersey (Cameroon Away and Ghana Home) are too light colored to see any of the details which make the darker colored shirts so special. Apparently the design on the Cameroon shirt is taken from cave paintings, with “Les Lions Indomptables” written across each line. This comes from the team’s nickname, “The Indomitable Lions”.

Ghana’s away shirt is a similar design, this one with Ghana’s nickname “The Black Stars”. The sleeve details are also good looking—while not being as eye-catching as the Kente design on the home shirt, the dark red is just too nice of a color to be ignored. I might still prefer Ghana’s 2012-13 kit (the fade is something I enjoy in shirts) but this year’s is still a unique piece produced for Ghana, and that is worth something in itself.

 

Number 3: Belgium (Burrda Sports)

Belgium 2014 World Cup Home Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Away Kit Belgium 2014 World Cup Third Kit

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2014/02/burrda-belgium-2014-world-cup-kits-jerseys.html

 

This is the only shirt in this World Cup manufactured by the Swiss/Qatari company Burrda Sports—perhaps they’re getting ready for 2022? All three of these shirts carry elements of the Belgian flag, with the black away version the best looking in my opinion with the red and yellow sash across the chest. Belgium are being picked by many as a dark horse; while the outcome of their World Cup campaign may be uncertain one thing is certain—they’ll look good, win or lose.

 

Number 2: Germany (Adidas)

Germany 2014 Home kit Adilite 1 Germany 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/05/germany-1314-2013-2014-world-cup-home.html

 

Germany’s white home shirt has a “V” design around the neck, which doesn’t represent too much of a change from their jerseys in previous years. The away shirt, however, represents a completely new move for “Die Nationalmannschaft”. Even if the red and black hoops and collar buttons make this shirt reminiscent of a rugby shirt I still found it extremely attractive when I saw it in person. In 2006 Germany moved to the black and red color scheme for their away shirts before moving to black for the 2010 World Cup. I think this represents the best Germany away shirt since they moved away from their classic emerald green kits (the Irish-looking green of Euro 2012 doesn’t count for me).

 

Number 1: Russia (Adidas)

 

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footyheadlines.com/2013/11/russia-2014-world-cup-home-kit-leaked.html

Russia 2014 World Cup Away Kit (1)

For me, Russia’s away shirt is without a doubt the best jersey in the 2014 World Cup, and I don’t think I’m alone in that sentiment. Just below the collar is a view of the earth from space which then fades into white. Of course, this is in memory of the Soviet space program and Yuri Gagarin—the first human being in space. This shirt, of course, has a political connotation as well considering recent developments in Russia. As Putin looks to re-assert Russia’s strength in the modern era, this shirt advertising the greatness of Russia’s past on the world stage makes a bold nationalist statement. It will be interesting to see if this shirt starts a trend of countries visually representing their histories on football shirts—football shirt nationalism by using elements of The Modern Janus Theory (made famous by Tom Nairn).

 

 

Classic World Cups:

Number 5: Nigeria World Cup 1994 (Adidas)

Nigeria Home and Away Kits World Cup 1994

Image Courtesy of: http://kirefootballkits.blogspot.com.tr/2011/10/nigeria-kits-world-cup-1994.html

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Dancin’ the night away–in pajamas?!

Image Courtesy of: http://www.footballfoundout.com/top-five-worst-world-cup-shirts-ever/

I have no idea what this design is but it is definitely unique. Perhaps this was the beginning of the trend of providing special designs for African teams that we see now, since I have never seen this design used in any other team’s shirt. The white version looks a little pyjama-esque (hence its ranking as the ugliest World Cup shirt in history on one of the above lists) but, for my money, its still an unforgettable shirt. And that is what I look for.

 

Number 4: Croatia World Cup 1998 (Lotto)

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.croatiaweek.com/tag/brazil/page/3/

 

This shirt really needs no introduction as it is a piece of history, one of many legendary designs worn by Croatia since 1996. What makes this shirt special is the fact that just half the shirt is checkered. No one will forget Croatia’s historic run to third place while wearing this shirt, fueled by legends Davor Suker, Robert Prosinecki, and Zvonimir Boban (whose kick, some say, started a war). I’m counting on Bosnia-Herzegovina to make a similar run in this World Cup, even if their shirts aren’t quite as special.

 

Number 3: Mexico World Cup 1998 (Aba Sport)

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Luis Hernandez makes another World Cup disappointent look good

Image Courtesy Of: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1936489-mexicos-best-and-worst-world-cup-jerseys/page/4

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.oldfootballshirts.com/en/teams/m/mexico/old-mexico-football-shirt-s3660.html

 

A few lists, including the one at the link above, have cited this shirt as one of the best World Cup shirts of all time and for good reason. This shirt is in Mexico’s classic shade of green with an interesting detail unique to Mexico: printed into the fabric is a design of the Aztec calendar. While this year’s Mexico design by Adidas is among the better designs on display this summer, I still think that nothing can come close to the France ’98 kit.

 

Number 2: USA World Cup 1994 (Adidas):

US national team defender Alexi Lalas jumps in the Roy Wegerle

Alexei Lalas jumps for joy at World Cup ’94, Roy Wegerle isn’t sure what to make of his kits

Images Courtesy Of: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_spot/2014/05/19/u_s_soccer_denim_kit_the_horrifying_true_story_of_the_ugliest_jerseys_in.html

 

This shirt has been derided by so many that it feels funny posting it as the number two best shirt—please see articles at Mashable.com and Slate.com for more on this shirt (albeit from a negative angle). Personally, I do not see why this shirt has so many critics–as you can see above, Alexi Lalas seems more than enthused to be wearing the shirt (!) even if Roy Wegerle gives us a more bemused expression.

The point of a football shirt, in my opinion, is to represent a country in a unique and instantly recognizable way. For me, that is exactly what the United State’s 1994 kit did. The denim look was certainly unprecedented, and it is true that it bore no relation to anything Adidas had—or has since—produced. But it was unique. In fact, it was uniquely American. As a kid watching the 1994 World Cup in I didn’t even notice the denim factor—I just thought it was a blue background with white stars, a representation of the national flag, which is fine. And for those critics of this shirt, I’d like to point out that if a USA shirt need be criticized the USA away shirt for the 2014 World Cup (a shirt I myself own) looks more French than it does American.

I would like to think that like a fine wine, football shirts also get better as the years go by. That sentiment is confirmed for me by the number one shirt on this list . . .

 

Number 1: Germany World Cup 1998 (Adidas)

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Image Courtesy of: http://37.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lwcb1unOX11r6mwuno1_1280.jpg

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Klinsmann et al make bracing for impact look good . . . or at least half-way decent

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2010/article-1282545/John-Motson-Ten-greatest-World-Cup-games.html

And now we come to the shirt that—I think—is hands down the best shirt in World Cup history. If Helen of Troy’s face is the one that launched a thousand ships, then this is—undoubtedly—the design that launched a thousand kits. After Germany made this Adidas “basket weave” pattern famous the design became a staple for Adidas kits around the world between 1995 and 1996. The reason this kit in particular is so stunning is that the bold colors of the German flag really jump off the shirt’s white background and right into the viewer’s eyes. Adidas really did their country justice with this well designed shirt, a shirt that hasn’t lost any of its luster twenty years on.