Beyond the potential Angela Sutton cites for using football as a lens to better understand South Africa (and its history), the World Cup also offers educators an opportunity to teach history through the match-ups found between the 32 teams. The championship game pits the Netherlands and Spain-two countries with a long and intertwined history. Likewise, previous games were also fraught with interesting sub-plots: Portugal and its former colony of Brazil, England and the United States, France and Mexico (think Cinco de Mayo), Spain and its former colonies of Honduras and Chile…and that’s just the first round games!
If we were to re-visit past World Cup classics, like Argentina-England in 1986, we can quickly use the tensions behind the games to better understand the political history involved, as well as the sporting history countries often share. In this case, England introduced football to Argentina in the 1880s and the two nations shared an often contentious sporting relationship leading up to the Falkland/Malvinas War of 1982 and the now-classic Quarterfinal match-up four years later.
The story is fascinating, and strong enough that it forms a part of my own historical research. For students, the World Cup offers an opportunity to make history come alive in the classroom and provide authentic and real engagement with the curriculum. Even if South Africa, or the continent at large, is not part of your curriculum, the international diversity of the participating teams provides educators with plenty of fodder. Lastly, the World Cup is also an excellent bridge to modern issues such as globalization, tribalization, national identity, regional differences, gender in marketing, and religious tensions. Thanks to Angela for this timely blog posting.