Friday, June 25, 2010

Curious Logic, That

People have a habit of attempting to turn anything and everything that happens in the world into "evidence" of the truth of their preferred ideology, but even given that it's hard to see how right-wing Italian politician Roberto Calderoli can fault immigrants for the dismal World Cup performance of the Azzurri, given that, near as I can tell, the Italian roster has nary an ethnic non-Italian on it. The logic seems particularly strained given that the similarly underperforming French, whose roster includes players from the country's large Arab and black African immigrant populations in addition to white Frenchmen, have also caused a spate of national hand-wringing over the questions of immigration and cultural assimilation with their ignominious exit from the tournament. If a team composed of 100% born-and-bred Italians crashes out of the World Cup, it's the fault of immigrants because too many of them are playing in Italian youth leagues and the supply of talented young Italian players is as a result being choked off (never mind that playing against better competition growing up would presumably make developing native players better, not worse, but whatever). And if a multi-ethnic French team crashes out, it's the fault of immigrants because the players are "hooligans" who, in the words of French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, "only know the morals of the mafia". In other words, if a highly rated European side plays like crap, no matter what it's the fault of non-Europeans.

I find all these efforts to make the performance of a sports team into a cultural bellwether overblown and absurd. From my vantage point, the French disappointed for the same reasons many talented-but-disappointing sports teams do - they had poor team chemistry, and a flaky, overmatched coach who was widely disliked by his players. As for the Italians, after winning it all in 2006 they made the same mistake that many championship teams do, succumbing to nostalgia and trying to recreate lost glory by bringing back an aging, declining nucleus of players for another go-around rather than seeking to replenish their roster with younger talent. They were one of the oldest teams in the tournament and looked it against younger, livelier sides like Slovakia, whose 3-2 victory at their expense knocked the Italians out of the tournament. Presumably in 2014 both France and Italy will be back, the French with a new coach and the Italians with a younger, more dynamic group of players, and if they both progress deep into the tournament as they usually do this year's poor showings will be forgotten. No doubt at that point people like Alain Finkielkraut and Roberto Calderoli will find some other way to complain that immigrants are ruining their societies.

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