WORLD CUP: POLITICS ON THE PITCH

Last week, we looked at a few ways in which the World Cup reflected broader themes in global politics. During an intensive review of the action this week, Alex Kliment, Signal’s unofficial tournament correspondent, spotted two new examples of politics on the pitch:


Balkan Bad Blood

Switzerland’s stirring last minute victory over Serbia last week dripped with Balkan political intrigue. Three of the Swiss team’s biggest stars have roots in Kosovo, the ethnically-Albanian province that won independence from Serbia after a brutal war in the 1990s. Serb nationalists consider Kosovo to be historically part of their country, so when two ethnic-Albanian Swiss players celebrated their goals by flashing a nationalist hand signal (pictured above) that mimics the distinctive Albanian double-headed eagle, things got hot fast.

FIFA rules prohibit on-field political displays. After an investigation, the players escaped with a fine, but the politics didn’t stop there. After the game, Serbia’s coach said the German referee — who failed to award a penalty after an egregious foul against Serbian striker Aleksandar Mitrovic — should be sent “to the Hague” to be tried “like they did to us.” The Hague, of course, is home to the international tribunal that prosecuted dozens of people for crimes committed during the Yugoslav civil wars, many of them ethnic Serbs.

The Bavarians Again

Meanwhile, in an eerie reflection of the broader uncertainty that plagues Germany’s coalition government, the German national squad also reportedly suffers from a rift between a faction of “Bavarians” (in this case Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels, and Manuel Neuer who all play for Bayern Munich) and the so-called “bling bling gang” which includes Mesut Özil, Jerome Boateng, and Sami Khedira. Supposedly, there is a long running disagreement between the blingers, who are all of immigrant origins, and the Bavarians about whether it was right to leave Leroy Sane, a German footballer of Senegalese ancestry, off the squad. The alleged friction comes as the conservative Bavarian CSU is split with Chancellor Merkel over letting in non-ethnic Germans into the country.

Finally, yes, German midfielder Toni Kroos’s game-winning strike in the final seconds of extra time against the Swedes was one of the most beautiful goalsyou’ll ever see (go on, watch it again, you know you want to). But it may have been a political, and not just a sporting, accomplishment: by sparing Germany the national humiliation of crashing out of the tournament in the first round, Kroos might just have offered a little relief to the embattled Merkel. The squad’s post-match rapport certainly left the team’s fans in a more cheerful mood.

It was inevitable that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would make India's elections a referendum on Narendra Modi, and now that the vast majority of 600 million votes cast have been counted, it's clear he made the right call.

More Show less

Among the 23 men and women now seeking the Democratic Party's nomination to take on Donald Trump in next year's election, the frontrunner, at least for now, has spent half a century in politics. Former Vice President Joe Biden, first elected to the US Senate in 1972, is the very epitome of the American political establishment.

Yet, the dominant political trend in many democracies today is public rejection of traditional candidates and parties of the center-right and center-left in favor of new movements, voices, and messages. Consider the evidence from some recent elections:

More Show less

It's Friday, and Signal readers deserve at least one entirely upbeat news story.

José Obdulio Gaviria, a Colombian senator for the rightwing Democratic Center party, is an outspoken opponent of government attempts to make peace with the FARC rebel group after 50 years of conflict.

On his way into a meeting earlier this week, Gaviria collapsed. It was later reported that he had fainted as a result of low blood pressure probably caused by complications following recent open heart surgery.

A political rival, Senator Julian Gallo, quickly came to his rescue and revived him using resuscitation skills he learned as—irony alert—a FARC guerrilla. CPR applied by Gallo helped Gaviria regain consciousness, before another senator, who is also professional doctor, took over. Gaviria was taken to hospital and appears to have recovered.

Because some things will always be more important than politics.