Sun | May 24, 2020

Sport: It's not just a game

Published:Friday | August 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A view of the pitch during the World Cup semi-final match between Brazil and Germany at the Mineirao Stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Tuesday, July 8. - AP
Walter Molano, Guest Columnist

Walter Molano, Guest Columnist

Some people dismissed it as "just a game." However, with billions of dollars spent on stadiums, several other billion spent on marketing and probably more in lost activity, the World Cup appeared to be more than 'just a match'.

Other than commercial or military confrontation, it was a chance for nations to compete in a peaceful manner. The sport is truly a beautiful game that allows endurance and skill to decide the outcome, without much influence from equipment and technology.

This was a lesson that was learned by England after it spent millions transporting scores of technicians to Brazil, including turf experts and perspiration trainers, only to be eliminated early on.

The tournament was also an echo of a distant past when teams represented the cultures and idiosyncrasies of remote cities and regions. The old days when the tenement traits of New York and Chicago took on the measured rural paces of Kansas and Minnesota, have been replaced by a kaleidoscope of nationalities that have little to do with the constituencies they represent. The same happened to college sports, when future presidents were the quarterbacks for Ivy League teams.

Cultural strengths

The World Cup highlights the cultural strengths and flaws that make up the patchwork of modern society. It underscored how the scrappy tenacity of small countries, such as Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica, allowed them to punch well above their weight.

All three countries are among the most stable societies in Latin America, and they have overcome adversity countless of times. This is where the econometricians at Goldman and the other investment banks got it all wrong, when they were predicting the results of the showdown. They were using the small size of these countries as a detriment, instead of using it as a qualitative asset that allowed them to persevere.

Of course, this was probably the same batch of econometricians who managed to convert millions of worthless subprime loans into trillions of dollars of investment-grade asset-backed securities. Numbers have no importance, unless you give them meaning.

The games also gave a deep insight into the psychological layers that prescribe countries and societies. Despite the fact that we live in a globalised planet and that most of the players lived outside of the countries they represented, they demonstrated aspects that were oddly stereotypical. For example,

the prevalence of meat as a Uruguayan staple was indisputable. Colombia's passionate tendencies also burned brightly.

The side lacked the marquee line-up of the other teams, but the players moulded their energy and youth to push further ahead than anyone imagined. Yet, it also showed the society's propensity for violence when frustrated. Brazil's manic subtext was also on display.

It was incredible to see the monolith of bravado shattered into pure terror in a matter of seconds. There is no middle ground in Brazil. It is either heaven or hell. Likewise, Argentina's inner arrogance was in plain view. After seeing its team advance to the final round and bravely hold off the most competent side on the planet, they were abandoned in utter disgust after they were narrowly defeated.

Later, the fans recovered some of their poise and recognised the team's valiant efforts, but it made me thank my lucky stars that Argentina missed out on the BRIC bonanza. Otherwise, they would have been unbearable.

Last of all, the World Cup gave us a glimpse of what lies ahead. The key to human progress is not brute force or star players. It is innovation, skill and preparation. Cooperation and discipline allowed Germany and Holland to succeed, despite lacking the sheer strength of many of their rivals.

This is why it is too soon to write Europe off. Its ability to study, analyse and innovate will keep it in the vanguard of the global economy. It may lack the brawn and muscle of many of its competitors, but it always finds ways to stay at the top of the game.

Nevertheless, Spain showed what happens if Europe fails to stay on the cutting edge and rests on its laurels. The global community will have it for lunch.

In the end, the tournament may have been just a contest. Many of the outcomes were the result of luck, freak accidents and bad calls.

Therefore, it may be wrong to read too much into the results. It was also a tournament of humans.

By the end, the players were exhausted. You could see it in the haggard faces, short strides and feeble attempts to drive the ball into the net. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful display of modern society. Thank God, it only comes every four years. Otherwise, we would never get anything done.

Dr Walter T. Molano is a managing partner and the head of research at BCP Securities