Mondoweiss: wrong on a lot of things, but especially wrong on soccer

I have passing familiarity with Mondoweiss: The War of Ideas in the Middle East, a blog that once described mine as “angry.” I’m not sure that’s the term I would have used, but that’s his opinion and this here’s the internet so that’s that. You get your own opinion on the internet.

But what you do not get is your own facts — and that’s precisely the hat trick Mondoweiss tried to pull while explaining why he, as an American, does not support Team USA.

Now, I have no problem with the author’s lack of support for the boys in red, white, and blue — even active dislike is a step up from the indifference with which the team is greeted by the overwhelming majority of Americans. But I do have a problem with a few of the “facts” he cites to justify his position. To wit, reason #1:

We have too much. We dominate the world’s culture and finances, our language is all over the FIFA promotion of the contest. Why should we get this too?

Maybe in the United States. But if “our language” is all over FIFA, why isn’t the organization called IFAF (International Federation of Association Football)? That’s right, FIFA itself is French: Fédération Internationale de Football Association. Y’all complain we call the sport soccer — just consider yourselves lucky we don’t call this game Freedom Balls. Which reminds me, if our language were all over FIFA promotion, the World Cup would be a soccer tournament — not futbol. Nice try.

Now, reason #2:

It’s not even our game. Our best athletes go into other sports– which produce a lot more concussions. Let countries that put their hearts into this game savor its great rewards.

I had no problem with the general sentiment here — until you dragged concussions into this. You know, I could have sworn I just read about this in Mother Jones: “Scientific studies have shown that rates of concussions and head injury in soccer are comparable to football, ice hockey, lacrosse, and rugby . . . It’s not the ball that soccer players should be worried about—it’s everything else. Player-to-player, player-to-ground, and player-to-goalpost collisions are soccer’s biggest dangers.” Sorry, buddy. Just because the game is “beautiful” doesn’t mean the players should be running around bare-headed.

Here’s #3:

The World Cup is the world’s stage, and the joy of the World Cup is watching third world or marginalized nations achieve dignity in the eyes of humanity. African teams are the ultimate underdogs. I pull for any African team to go through, and Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast all have a shot. And the great Iranian team has gained an international following.

This is fine so far as it goes. Like Weiss, I would be happy to see Nigeria or Ivory Coast prevail (though personally, I have a harder time sympathizing with Ghana as underdog, considering that it knocked off team USA twice in a row). But I could have sworn he just said (see reason #2) he was interested in allowing “countries that put their hearts into this game savor its great rewards.” That sentence must have meant “any country that is not the United States” because he certainly couldn’t have been referring to, say, Iran, where according to the New York Times:

Tehran’s cinemas have been told by the police that they are not allowed to show World Cup matches to a mixed audience of men and women, “out of respect for Islamic morals.” A plan to show Iran’s games on some of the large electronic billboards across the city was canceled, and on Wednesday, restaurant and coffee shop owners said they had been told by the Ministry of Islamic Guidance and Culture to refrain from decorating their establishments with the national flag or the colors of other countries . . . Until Monday, the day of the team’s first game, nobody is expecting much enthusiasm. “We bought a large television set for our customers to watch the matches,” said Hadis Bagheri, who runs a modest coffee shop. “But people are just not interested. Instead of talking about the World Cup they are hiding their faces behind mobile devices.”

Sounds like America — so good to see our people have so much in common after all. Now, it would be nice if Weiss could just pick a story and stick with it.

Finally, #4:

I write about the Middle East and try and fight racism against Arabs. This World Cup has seen a number of wonderful goals scored by athletes of Arab background, Karim Benzema of France, and Marouane Fellaini of Belgium, Sofiane Feghouli of Algeria.

This fourth item is less about disputing his facts in this instance and more about how Weiss sees the world in general. Fighting racism against Arabs is not a problem for me. It’s a wonderful thing to do. Fight racism everywhere, in any form, under any circumstances you can. But linking the good fight to rooting for one side over another can — depending on the subject and the context — be fatal to any pretense of objectivity. Keep that in mind next time Mondoweiss decides to write about Israel and Palestine (tomorrow). On second thought, maybe he should just stick to soccer.


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