sports in its proper perspective

Last week, Spain defeated Holland to earn their first-ever World Cup Championship. It was a proud moment for a nation that has been futbol-crazy for over a century. And an intriguing chapter to a sporting history that has been divisive, and oftentimes violent.

For decades Spanish football has been dominated by two of Europe’s most famed clubs: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. Their heated rivalry traces its roots back to the Spanish Civil War. Real Madrid was the favored team of Spanish dictator Ferdinand Franco, while Barcelona was championed by Catalonia’s left-wing intellectuals.

FC Barcelona has long provided the sports world with an example of a franchise that somehow manages to balance its core values with success on the field, and in doing so, keeps sports in its proper perspective. The club is run as a worker’s collective, with fans voting for team presidents. Barcelona prides itself as a “defender of freedom and democratic rights,” as former team president Joan Laporta puts it, “facing up to others in a time of governments without tolerance.” And they are currently in the middle of a five-year sponsorship deal with UNICEF, where Barcelona pays for the right to wear the UNICEF logo on their jerseys. A privilege that costs them $2 million a year. 

For sports fans who have grown weary of the abuse they regularly take from team owners more concerned with the bottom line than their team’s place in the standings (check out Dave Zirin’s newest offering Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love), FC Barcelona remains one of the few untarnished club operations in existence.

The Spanish National Team that won the World Cup this summer featured a squad whose starting lineup included half-a-dozen players who play for Barcelona, and were trained as youth in their academy, including Finals hero Andres Iniesta and Barcelona’s captain, Carles Puyol. Of course, Real Madrid’s (and Spain’s captain) goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who made several tournament-saving stops, played a large part in Spain’s championship, as well.

What will the World Cup success of Spain’s national team do to its historic, cultural feud, as played out (pun intended) on the pitches of soccer stadiums in Barcelona and Madrid, and viewed round the world? We will see this upcoming season.

In the meantime, here’s a link to “Spanish Soccer War,” the article I wrote for In These Times this past spring, on the unique sporting nature of FC Barcelona.

From my website:

Or the In These Times site:


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