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How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalizationby Franklin Foer
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. "This book has three parts. The first tries to explain the failure of globalization to erode ancient hatreds in the game's great rivalries ... The second part uses soccer to address economics: the consequences of migration, the persistence of corruption and the rise of powerful new oligarchs ... Finally, the book uses soccer to defend the virtues of old-fashioned nationalism — a way to blunt the return of tribalism" (pages 5-6). Do you feel that the book succeeded on all three levels? Why or why not?
2. How did the Red Star fans go from being "Milosevic's shock troops, the most active agents of ethnic cleansing, highly efficient practitioners of genocide" (page 13) to staging the "Red Star Revolution," helping to overthrow Milosevic in 2000?
3. "The Celtic-Rangers rivalry represents something more than the enmity of proximity. It is an unfinished fight over the Protestant Reformation" (page 36). Discuss the role that soccer plays in the British Isles and in their religions.
4. "Jackie Robinson's presence transformed the culture of baseball, slowly chipping away at clubhouse racism. Mo Johnston, strangely, had the opposite effect [in soccer]" (page 48). Why?
5. Create an argument for and against the globalization of soccer. What are the benefits? Who are the victims? What can be learned from the history of soccer in order to ensure its successful future? Or do you see the sport self-destructing altogether?
6. "An entire movement of Jews believed that soccer, and sport more generally, would liberate them from the violence and tyranny of anti-Semitism" (page 69). What did the Hakoah club contribute to the sport of soccer? Address the parallels between Jews and Native Americans as sports' mascots.
7. What person or group do you see as the American equivalent to the English hooligan? Why do you think the hooligan is seen as such a fascinating character?
8. Consider Pelé — "the perfectly postmodern image" (page 125) — and how his successes and failures mirrored those of the Brazilian soccer club.
9. What do the ways in which the Italian teams, Juventus and Milan, influence the referees reveal about the organizations and owners, and ultimately the two very different styles of oligarchies?
10. How has the team Barca, according to the author, proved the theory that "patriotism and cosmopolitanism should be perfectly compatible. You could love your country — even consider it a superior group — without desiring to dominate other groups or closing yourself off to foreign impulses" (page 199)?
11. Discuss the football revolution and how it "holds the key to the future of the Middle East" (page 222).
12. How has September 11th influenced the business and culture of soccer?
13. After reading this book, would you encourage your children to play soccer or discourage them from participating in the sport? Explain.
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