World Class Writers talking World Cup
With World Cup action going full throttle (I think MEXICO v. GERMANY took years off my life, not to mention ICELAND ICELAND ICELAND), I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on the amazing day spent at the Institute for Public Knowledge's "Beautiful Games? Putting the World Back in the World Cup" a few weeks ago, a truly brilliant way to start World Cup 2018. This day of panels, conversations, cocktails, and a rollicking dinner with some of the most brilliant thinkers and writers on soccer (and other things) laid the perfect foundation to absorb the complicated and wonderful and troubling and euphoric weeks ahead watching the world's largest sporting spectacle.
My session -- "The World without US" -- put me on a team with George Quraishi (The Athletic) and Franklin Foer (The Atlantic), with IPK director Eric Klinenberg moderating (and Andrew Helms thrown in as a last minute sub because of his thorough take on the absence of the U.S. in The Ringer). My own remarks focused on some of the characters of ONE GOAL, and whether the United States' failure to qualify for Russia 2018 had an impact on whether or not they would watch (spoiler: it won't/hasn't/never will), and who we actually are talking about when we talking about American soccer apathy. Other sessions included the mind-bogglingly brilliant and passionate Mona Eltahawy talking about Egypt and, of course, Mo Salah; insights from Laurent DuBois, whose new book The Language of the Game is both poetic and incisive (I know I should be promoting my own stuff, but really -- read his book.....too); and narratives from IPK's Joshua Jelly-Schapiro and Rowan Ricardo Phillips.
Cocktails in hand, the sessions concluded with a conversation between Men in Blazers' Rog Bennett and novelist John Green, whose passion for Liverpool might be unparalleled on this planet (and if you aren't following his soccer twitter feed, you're missing out.)
It was an afternoon that provided both deep understandings of the sport as well as remarkable displays of fandom in action. Every one there understood/understands the problems of Russia as host and the seemingly inherent corruptions of global sports federations writ large. There is much to despise and much to embrace about the world's game. But at the center is, as Mona Eltahawy succinctly offered, "the beauty of the game, and what keeps our hopes going."
Over a billion people will watch the final match of this World Cup. They will have spent weeks having their hearts broken and their spirits elevated, sometimes simultaneously. It will feel like life or death each and every time these teams take the pitch. And for one afternoon in Manhattan, a group of fans who happen to write and think about this stuff for a living got to wax poetic, ask questions, laugh (thank you Jon Wilson!), and stand in awe and respect of this game that the world loves.