Monthly Archives: June 2010

Gideon Rachman

Still brooding about England’s defeat, I went to Cape Town last night to watch Spain play Portugal. I find that at this stage in the competition, a sort of fellow feeling settles in amongst the followers of defeated nations. On the plane down, I sat next to some Chileans who were still licking their wounds, after their team’s 3-0 defeat by Brazil the previous night. They told me that England had been unlucky; I told them that Chile had been unlucky. Near the ground, a bunch of fans in Mexican shirts noticed my England scarf – and we jointly cursed the referees in this competition, and agreed that both our teams had been victims of incompetence or worse. Then queuing to get into the ground I got chatting to a Japanese fan, who had just seen his team go out on penalties to Paraguay. I told him how impressed I had been by Honda, the Japanese forward. “He’s called Honda, but he plays like a Ferrari,” replied the fan, who was over from Tokyo for the week. 

Gideon Rachman FT column: Hail to the new world (cup) order

My latest column is on the World Cup.

As a commentator on international politics, it is naturally tempting to draw some trite geopolitical lesson from the World Cup. There are those who believe that the unexpected early elimination of France and Italy at this year’s tournament is a parable of the decline of Europe. A commentator in El País, a Spanish paper, claims that England’s loss to Germany over the weekend reflects Thatcherism’s demoralising effects on the English proletariat. (And there was I thinking that it had something to do with lumbering centre-backs and a disallowed goal.)

Gideon Rachman

Sitting in the stands last night, waiting for the Argentina-Mexico game to start, I texted a South African friend about England’s loss to Germany earlier in the day. “We were robbed”, I wrote. Her reply reminded me that “In SA, that phrase is ambiguous”.

Actually, one of the things that most visitors to this World Cup agree about is that South Africa feels a lot less scary than they expected. I have been here four days now, and I haven’t been murdered once. 

Gideon Rachman

The Afghan war effort is in chaos; the Australian prime minister has resigned and the G20 are meeting in Toronto. But the global event that I have decided to concentrate on is the World Cup. I have just arrived in Durban and later this afternoon, I will be attending the Lusophone derby: Brazil v Portugal.

One of the things I love about the World Cup is the way that it takes a country over. Even the air hostesses on my flight down from Johannesburg were wearing football kit (a marked improvement on the fussy uniforms that BA put their cabin crew in). Out on the Durban waterfront almost everybody is wearing either a Brazil or a Portugal shirt.  The miles of golden sand are playing host to lots of Copacabana-style games of beach football (the Durban beaches knock spots off the Copacabana). Everybody is in a good mood. At one stage, a street hawker began to shout at me rather loudly, in what I ïnitially took to be an aggressive manner. But then I made out his words: “My brother, your flies are undone.” I bought a Brazil cap off him, as a reward for his tip. 

Gillard, McChrystal and the G20

In this week’s podcast we look at the appointment of Australia’s first female prime minister, Julia Gillard. We ask, what went wrong with Kevin Rudd’s leadership and what can we expect from his successor? 

Gideon Rachman

The FT story that China is poised to overtake the US as the world’s largest manufacturing nation has been widely picked up in the States – and I’m not surprised. This is just one of a number of milestones that China is rushing past. Over the last 12 months, China has become the world’s largest exporter – displacing Germany. It also became the largest emitter of greenhouse gases and the world’s largest market for vehicles, displacing America in both cases. And China has had the world’s largest foreign reserves for some time.

These numbers are cumulatively significant, since they show that the emergence of China as a genuine superpower is not a story set in the future. It’s happening here and now. 

Gideon Rachman

I know this is a highly delicate subject, but I can’t help wondering whether there isn’t a racial under-current to the row about France’s rebellious football team. Most of the French team are black – including Nicolas Anelka, the player who was sent home and Patrice Evra, the captain, who clashed with his fitness trainer and then took part in the boycott of training. Most of the politicians and journalists who are denouncing the team for betraying the nation are white.

When the French team was successful – above all, when it won the World Cup in 1998 – mainstream opinion delighted in the multi-racial character of the team and took it as a symbol of a newly-unified French society. When Jean-Marie Le Pen, the head of the French National Front, criticised the team for having too many non-white players, he was roundly and rightly denounced. Zinedine Zidane, the star of the French team and the son of Alegerian immigrants, remained a national hero, even after he was sent off in the World Cup final of 2006.

And yet racial politics have continued to haunt the French football team. In 2001, there was a public outcry when the French national anthem was greeted with cat-calls at a home game against Algeria – young Frenchmen of North African origin were blamed. Then when Nicolas Sarkozy notoriously referred to rioters in housing estates as “scum”, he was criticised by Lilian Thuram, one of the heroes of the 1998 winning team. 

Gideon Rachman FT column: Europe is having a midlife crisis

 My latest column is on Europe suffering from a deep malaise.

For the past few months, the words “Europe” and “crisis” have been inseparable companions. First, there was the threat of sovereign debt crises across the European Union. Now there is the spectacle of the most famous footballing nations in Europe floundering at the World Cup: Italy unable to beat New Zealand, England held by Algeria, France humiliated by Mexico.

Gideon Rachman

Just after England’s abject 0-0 draw with Algeria in Friday night, my friend Stephen turned to me and said – “The whole world is laughing at us.” That’s the thing about the World Cup. I invariably fall into the trap of seeing the England team as representing me personally – and so their rare triumphs and frequent disasters can never be shrugged off. Searching desperately for consolation, as England head for the exits, I can only note that we are not the only big European country to be struggling: France are all but eliminated; Germany lost to Serbia; Spain, inexplicably, lost to Switzerland.

But, let us not dwell solely on the negative. Here are my World Cup highlights for the first week:

1) Best game: USA 2- Slovenia 2: A fanatstic comeback by the Americans from 2-0 down. This US team has a college-boy charm; they work hard and they are good sports. They barely protested when they were inexplicably denied a perfectly legitimate winning goal that would have made this one of the all-time great comebacks. The second best game was Denmark 2- Cameroon 1, last night. Fantastic attacking football – I was just a bit sad that Cameroon didn’t get the result they deserved. 

Gideon Rachman