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Football Vs. The Hyperreality: FC Basel and FC Young Boys Bern in Switzerland

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On 2 December 2018 FC Basel faced FC Young Boys Bern in the Swiss Super League, and both sets of fans put on a good display. It was a great example of why football is good in the stadium; sport offers a space for human expression in the real world.

 

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Emotion in Reality. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.ultras-tifo.net/photo-news/5501-basel-young-boys-02-12-2018.html

 

Indeed, the tifo put on by FC Basel’s fans shows just how much importance they put on the match day experience in the space of the stadium. The fact that this needs to be emphasized is, sadly, a sign of the times. This is because the first time these two teams met, on 28 September 2018, the focus was on protest. In the September match, the ultras of Young Boys Bern protested the growth of “eSports” by raining tennis balls and Playstation controllers onto the pitch while unfurling a giant banner of a “pause” button in the stands. While some commentators, like Jack Kenmare of Sportbible.com, could not understand why the Young Boys Ultras were protesting the growth of eSports, other commentators did a little more homework.

 

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Tennis Balls and Playstation Controllers are Emblematic of Protest in the Postmodern Age. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-09-24-swiss-football-fans-throw-controllers-on-the-pitch-in-esports-protest

 

Indeed, Forbes.com’s Steve McCaskill’s piece focused on the difficulty of “mixing eSports and sports”. Mr. McCaskill points out that, in this instance, the Young Boys’ Ultras were protesting the increased commercialization of football—a classic case, indeed, of industrial football. Mr. McCaskill goes on to point out that

 

FC Basel supporters have been especially vocal in their opposition to the plans, making their discontent about the club’s eSports operations well known. They believe the club’s resources should be devoted to football rather than the ‘brand’ […]

‘Many clubs in Switzerland’s first division now have an eSports player, but their fans are not protesting as often as Basel fans,’ adds [Oliver] Zesiger [a Swiss football scout]. ‘I think there’s a certain dissatisfaction among Basel-fans with their club being marketed as a product, rather than a football club. This doesn’t necessarily include only the “against modern football” crowd. Basel fans don’t want to be called clients for example’ […]

 

Here we clearly see that the FC Basel fans are making a very real point. Why divert resources from the reality of football—as seen and experienced on the pitch and in the stadium—in favor of the hyperreality of football—neither experienced or, truly, even seen—on a screen? Indeed, this is a valid question (and not to mention one that would have sounded absurd just a decade ago). The entire notion of trading football as it has been traditionally experienced for over a century for a digitized simulacrum of the game itself is, of course, a losing proposition. After all, eSports are—ostensibly—only as good as the players on the pitch, since the ratings of FIFA’s players are based on real-life performance….thus the two are intimately connected….right?

Unfortunately, it seems as if the modern world has become all-too accustomed to finding digital “solutions” to the real world. After all, Google seems to believe that if something is offensive, the solution is censorship (It is also something I have written about). I even know from my own experience with this very blog that—sometimes—traffic is actively diverted when the topics discussed diverge from the dominant narrative of progressive thought. This in and of itself is something worth thinking about. Regardless of if we are talking about sports, interpersonal relationships (online dating and Tinder, for instance), or even basic communication (social media), at what point does our reliance on technology start to mean trading reality for a hyperreality? While the social engineers might think that the hyperreality is preferable—since it eliminates the chances for irrational and emotional human behavior deviating from the expected “norms” generated by algorithms—the truth is that this will, inevitably, lead to an “iron cage of rationality” far more pervasive than any that Sociologist Max Weber could have conceived of.

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Euro 2016’s Poor Quality Puma Kits: “I Hope Puma Doesn’t Produce Condoms”

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These humorous words belong to Swiss star Xherdan Shaqiri complaining about Puma’s Switzerland kit; an unprecedented four shirts were ripped during the Swiss side’s draw with France. Puma claim that the error stems from a batch of material where “yarns had been damaged during the production process, leading to a weakening in the final garment.” Later, it came out that the damaged shirts had actually been made for Puma in Turkey by the Istanbul based company Milteks. The company’s president Kemal Bilgingüllüoğlu said it was possible that the shirts were exposed to extreme heat when the name and number sets were applied by heat press. Mr. Bilgingüllüoğlu said he had no knowledge of where the name and number sets were applied. Seeing as how nine of the twenty-four teams participating in Euro 2016 had their shirts made by Milteks, such an error is alarming and raises other questions about industrial production in Turkey.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.cumhuriyet.com.tr/haber/futbol/554521/Puma__Yirtilan_formalar_Turkiye_de_uretildi_.html

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Image Courtesy Of: http://edition.cnn.com/2016/06/20/football/shaquiri-switzerland-football-shirts-puma-condoms/

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is keen to promote Turkey as a rising power in the world, as well as a sound destination for foreign investment. Even though some commentators question whether Turkey’s rise may be coming to an end, the country is still a destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Despite such figures, however, inflation remains dangerously high and industrial output is down. These trends–coupled with growing instability in the region—should be of concern to Turkish politicians.

I have written about the extreme capitalism enveloping Turkey, characterized by large construction projects throughout the country. But construction alone cannot provide long-term economic development; production must also increase. Unfortunately, Turkey does not produce large-scale industrial goods for export. And now, as Euro 2016 has shown, the country cannot even produce a polyester football shirt. A simple football shirt may not seem like an economic bell-weather in most cases, but in this instance it does provide an interesting example through which to begin thinking about the future of the Turkish economy.

Yugoslavia World Cup 2014: What If Yugoslavia Had Stayed Together?

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What if the South had won the American Civil War? What if Archduke Ferdinand had never been shot in Sarajevo? What if Pearl Harbor was not bombed and the United States hadn’t entered World War Two? What if the Soviet Union had won the Cold War? Alternate histories are an interesting game to play in the study of international history. One could go on forever on these subjects, creating scenarios in one’s mind over scotch in the local pub. Here is one more, a scenario very pertinent to modern history: What if Yugoslavia had not fallen apart in the 1990s?

As a football fan it is hard not to bring this particular alternate history to mind (The Guardian mentioned it 7 years ago), especially during the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Half a world away and twenty years removed from the violence in the Balkans, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina proudly represent independent nations on the green fields of Brazil. Both teams had monumental tasks in their first matches but can hold their heads high—Croatia fell victim to some questionable refereeing in their first match against hosts Brazil, while Bosnia put up a good fight before ultimately coming up short against an Argentina backed by Messi’s brilliance.

But the Balkan flavor of the 2014 World Cup does not end with the big names of Luka Modric and Edin Dzeko. They are merely where it begins. Take the unforgettable finish to yesterday’s meeting between Ecuador and Switzerland as an example.

 

 

Ecuador went up early through a headed goal by Enner Valencia and Switzerland were left looking lost through the first forty-five minutes, facing a 1-0 deficit at half-time. Switzerland needed a spark, and it came from the region many have termed the “powder-keg of Europe”—the Balkans. Just two minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute Admir Mehmedi capitalized on some poor Ecuadorian defending to level proceedings at 1-1. Mehmedi himself is an ethnic Albanian, born in Gostivar, Macedonia (in the northwest corner of the country, near the Kosovo border) in 1991, before moving to Switzerland at the age of two.

Then came the best finish to any of the matches so far. Ecuador looked to have a chance in the third minute of stoppage time when Valon Behrami dove in to block the shot, before gaining control of the ball. Behrami then orchestrated the counter attack, taking the ball across the half way line and setting up the play that eventually gave another second half substitute, Haris Seferovic, the chance to net the winner for Switzerland and settle the final score at 2-1.

Valon Behrami is an ethnic Albanian, born in what was then Titova Mitrovica (now just Mitrovica, a city has seen sporadic ethnic clashes between Serbs and Kosovars since Kosovo’s declaration of independence in 2008 and subsequent sovereignty in 2012) in present-day Kosovo before moving to Switzerland at age five. Meanwhile, the goal scorer Seferovic was born in Switzerland in 1992 to Bosnian parents who emigrated in the 1980s. What is especially remarkable is that of Switzerland’s World Cup squad of 23 players, an astounding 8 have some Balkan connection:

 

Granit Xhaka: The Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder was born in Basel in 1992 to Albanian parents.

Valon Behrami: As discussed above, the Napoli midfielder was born in present-day Kosovo in 1985 before emigrating to Switzerland in 1990.

Blerim Dzemaili: The 28 year old Napoli midfielder was born in Tetovo, current day FYR Macedonia to an Albanian family before emigrating to Zurich at age 4.

Xherdan Shaquiri: Bayern Munich’s star winger was born in Gnjilane, Yugoslavia (now present-day Kosovo) in 1991 before emigrating to Switzerland a year later.

Haris Seferovic: As discussed above, the Real Sociedad striker was born to Bosnian Parents in Sursee, Switzerland in 1992.

Mario Gavranovic: The twenty four year old FC Zurich forward was born in Lugano to Bosnian Croat parents who emigrated from Gradacac (now Bosnia-Herzegovina) in 1988.

Josip Drmic: The young Bayer Leverkusen striker was born in Lachen Switzerland in 1992 to a Croatian family.

Admir Mehmedi: As discussed above, the Freiburg striker was born in Gostivar, Macedonia in 1991 to an Albanian family before emigrating to Switzerland in 1993.

 

Sports Illustrated wrote an enjoyable article on the Bosnian team in the run up to the World Cup and I would argue that the story of Switzerland’s Balkan contingent is equally enthralling. Certainly it begs the question: what if Yugoslavia had not fallen apart and lost such athletic talent? Obviously sport has a nature vs. nurture element to it—would these footballers have been able to work their way up through the less developed youth systems in an intact Yugoslavia? How much of their progress was aided by having access to modern training facilities in Switzerland? Would they have chosen to represent a Yugoslavian team over the team of their adopted homeland (if their families had even emigrated in the first place)? And what about all the other variables that life throws at us, so far out of any individual’s control?

I argue that they would have had a fighting chance—after all, Yugoslavia was a respectable team before the dark days of the 1990s. They were semi-finalists in the World Cup twice and Quarterfinalists once, in 1990. And who can forget that strange twist of history—because of the wars Yugoslavia was disqualified from the 1992 European Championships after qualifying and was replaced by Denmark . . . the team that went on to win the tournament.

Twenty years on the reverberations of the conflict spread beyond just the teams qualified for this World Cup. The current captain of the Serbian national football team (which did not qualify) is Chelsea right back Branislav Ivanovic, one of the best defenders in the world today. Tiny Montenegro, a country of just over 650,000 and the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut, boast two Premier League players on their squad and gave England a run for their money during qualification for the 2014 World Cup after narrowly missing out on a spot in the 2012 European Championships in a playoff to the Czech Republic. And I won’t even count Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic—the mercurial striker who is currently one of the world’s best—since his Bosniak father (and Croatian mother) emigrated from the former Yugoslavia in the 1970s, long before the collapse. But, if an intact Yugoslavia had fielded a team in 2001 when Zlatan first made his debut for Sweden, might he have opted for the country of his parent’s birth? We will never know, but it’s worth a thought.

This year’s favorites may be Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Holland, and Spain to name a few but—if only for a moment—imagine the possibilities in this World Cup if modern history had taken a different turn.