THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: GOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL!

THREE STORIES IN THE KEY OF: GOOOOOOOOLLLLLLL!

Half of humanity tunes in to the World Cup every four years, making it the single most watched event on the planet. True, most people probably see it as an escape from the tumult and tensions of global politics. But we at Signal are incorrigible nerds who just can’t help it… So here are three big political stories that, while watching the World Cup, we JUST CAN’T UNSEE.


Anti-establishment upstarts: Brexit. Trump. Duterte. Five Star. Mahathir (sort of), insert your example here, but knocking the establishment off its perch is all the rage in global politics these days and, at least so far, this World Cup is no exception. For one thing, perennial powerhouses Italy (which has won four cups) and the Netherlands (a reliably strong team which has been to the finals the most times without winning) inexplicably failed even to qualify.

Now, in the early days of play, we’ve already seen some startling upsets: Mexico beat defending champs Germany, causing an actual earthquake back home, and tiny Iceland, playing in its first world cup ever under the direction of a part-time dentist, managed a tie against mighty Argentina (cue jokesabout how Argentina has big trouble with tiny islands). Throw in Portugal wrestling Spain to a draw, and the Swiss doing the same to tournament favorites Brazil, and disruption is in the air.

Still, a lot of World Cups have kicked off with some upsets — but in the end, a small group comes out on top: in fact, since 1950, just one final match has been played without Brazil, Germany, Argentina, or Italy in it. And who could forget English football god Gary Lineker’s famous definition of football as “a simple game, in which 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and in the end, the Germans win.” Will that idea hold, or is another expert opinion about to get sent off?

Spy games: The World Cup is a contest among nations and all nations spy on each other, full stop. Some are just better at it than others.

A few weeks ago, a random Swedish fellow showed up at the South Korean team’s training facility in Austria, pretending to be a “tourist.” They kicked him out. So he drove up a nearby mountain overlooking the pitch and paid a local couple to let him set up shop in their house with a telescope and a camera. His mission: record and report on Korea’s tactics in order to help the Swedes win in their upcoming World Cup match.

Of course, the only thing that trumps good intelligence is better counterintelligence — so to confuse the Swedish tourist/mountaintop-peeper, the South Korean coach switched his players’ numbers from practice to practice because, he said, “it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians, and that’s why we did that.”

Sweden defeated South Korea 1–0 on Monday.

The (hi)stories in the rosters: World Cup players must be citizens of the countries that field them, and yet dozens of them weren’t actually born under the flags they play for. The story of the moment there, of course, is that the debate about immigration and naturalization is setting fire to politics in the US and Europe almost daily (see Germany above).

But there’s also a broader historical sweep written into these rosters:

The legacy of French colonialism in the dozens of French-born players who have gone to play for Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia, where they have family ties.

The anguish of the former-Yugoslavia in the 1990s, reflected in the number of ethnic Serbian, Croatian, and Kosovar players on Switzerland’s roster.

The story of how a booming post-war West German economy would ultimately transform German society by admitting hundreds of thousands of low-wage Turkish “guest workers” in the 1960s, among them the grandparents of Germany’s (and Arsenal’s) star midfielder Mesut Özil.

World history written in the rosters of the World Cup. What other stories do you see here?

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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