Why Do Authors Think the World’s Problems Can Be Solved with Football?

I will say this for Mohamed el-Bisatie’s Drumbeat, which I give a not-entirely-enthusiastic review in World Literature Today: Thank goodness el-Bisatie has the sense not to think the world’s problems can be solved by playing football.

Drumbeat is not el-Bisatie’s finest work, although it has an interesting premise: an “Emirate” is emptied of Emiratis when their team qualifies for the Cup. (What do the laborers do in their absence? You’ll have to read the book to find out….) El-Bisatie fortunately does not imagine that this brings any resolution to the world’s problems.

However, a proliferation of authors seem to think that soccer/football may be the answer to world conflicts. Shelina Zahra Janmohamed writes a somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece in The National to that effect, and Israeli author Itay Meirson seems to have penned an entire book imagining that Palestinians and Israelis settle their differences on the football pitch. (Thanks to Bibi for the tip.) Whoever loses the “90-minute war” has to leave: The Israelis to Eastern Oregon and the Palestinians to Saudi Arabia.

I haven’t read The 90 Minute War—apparently it’s being considered for English translation—but it seems like, um, a somewhat facile approach to human lives and tremendous suffering. (The author apparently was inspired by an argument over a football pitch between Palestinians and Israelis, which was settled by a quick game. He writes glibly: “Happily, we won.”)

Why do the Palestinians go to Saudi Arabia? Not that I think eastern Oregon is so very great, but why don’t the Israelis head off to northernmost Russia?

Authors are not responsible for this, of course, but Lebanon’s largely out-of-shape politicians also recently played football together as a way of “promoting unity.” I only hope this mania of Football Explains Everything will end with the Cup.

“The Soccer Project,” a documentary that takes viewers to conflicts around the world, seems like it might have possibilities. But here’s some more proof that football doesn’t solve everything.

Bibi also reminded me of the football war, which in turn reminded me of this year’s football skirmishes between Egypt and Algeria, which reminded me that football is probably more likely to spawn conflicts than to solve them.

One more football-can-create-world-peace work of art: Franklin Lewis writes that an 1991 Israeli film called Cup Final, by Eran Riklis, goes like this: “An Israeli soldier who has tickets for the World Cup is going on vacation to see the soccer matches when he is taken captive by a small group of PLO fighters, who try to take him to Beirut for a prisoner exchange. The desire to find places to watch the World Cup matches along the way creates the opportunity for hostage and captors to bond over the love of football.”

But, fortunately, writers aren’t always blinded by their rose-colored, football-shaped glasses: From the Saudi Gazette, writers on the boycott, sanctions and divestment (BDS) movement.


  1. since i was mentioned twice, i just want to say something about football in general, and not the book (that i have heard about, but haven’t read).

    i don’t believe football creates problems. it triggers emotions, but generally, no unresolved situations in the country or between countries — no problem; after all, the irish didn’t exactly go around looting french property and throw stones at the french embassy when they were cheated out of the world cup. it was a mistake, it happens, you pick yourself up and start training for the next cycle. you know the drill.

    football doesn’t explain everything — more likely it doesn’t explain anything — but politicians would be wise to listen to the reactions it provokes.

    as a life-long fan i have seen ups and downs surrounding it — downs being the problems with hooligans and nationalist groups that have been plaguing (european) football for more than two decades. but for every problem there are ten examples of fairplay, and for every nationalist thug there are ten spectators who come out of the stadium with new respect for the opponent.

    i think the likes of “the soccer project” (thanks for the link) are therefore worth supporting, just as west-eastern divan orchestra, theatre festivals and translations are worth supporting.

  2. I’ve not read the 90 Minute War, but from the description it doesn’t really sound facile at all. The game never starts, and the author says it’s mostly about discussing why Israeli society got to the crisis point that it’s at. It seems more like soccer is used there as a frame for self-critique, and not as an escapist way to suggest that we’re all just people.

    Also, I don’t know what source you’re looking at, but from the link you provide the author just describes the group they found on the (real-life) field as “unfamiliar,” not Palestinian.

    It’s silly to argue over a book neither of us can read, but it seems from what I’ve read about that book that it doesn’t call into the category of a book that simplifies the situation and suggests that soccer can create peace.

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