Albert Camus famously said that everything he knew about morality and obligation he learnt from football. Our politicians could use football to teach an important lesson about morality and obligation, by making sure 2014 is England's last ever World Cup. The politicians could explain that it is necessary for rich nations such as England to stop participating in the World Cup because we have a moral obligation to address the destruction being wrought by two centuries of frenzied fossil fuel use. Research has shown that what the public need in order to swing behind effective climate policy is strong leadership from politicians. If political elites start sending clear and unambiguous signals about the seriousness of climate change, for example by ending global sports events, then the public the world over will very quickly recognise just how critical the situation is.
I guess the idea of asking a few men to stop playing their game in order to help humanity face up to its greatest ever challenge must sound pretty insane. Withdrawing from World Cup football tournaments is for many people a horror beyond imagining, whatever the reason. No matter that World Cup football tournaments only began in 1930. Nor that the World Cup, in any reckoning, is an aberration, a freakish outgrowth of the carbon intensive 20th century and capitalist economics. It is of course true that the World Cup will make some people a lot of money. It has been estimated that visitors to Brazil during the World Cup will add over $3 billion to the Brazilian economy. But the richest 1% of Brazilian households enjoy 13% of the country's wealth, the same as the bottom 50%. So we can guess who will be getting the lion's share of that $3billion. The people protesting on the streets of Brazil are no fools.
The problem with the World Cup extends beyond the carbon emissions generated. It is also about the political message these events articulate, a vision of the ideal citizen which runs counter to exactly the sought of people we need to become in order to respond to climate change. The World Cup unites us in our shared ability to consume junk food whilst passively sitting on the side-lines, watching rich people engage in activities which do nothing to improve the lives of the vast majority of existing and future generations. During the World Cup we will also be reminded of what special humans the competing athletes are, because of their commitment, dedication, hard work, self- motivation, and single minded purpose. The qualities of the perfect corporate drone. No need to think, question, or imagine alternatives. Just Do It.
An end to these mega events would not actually harm anyone, and people would develop alternatives. More localised sporting events would involve greater numbers of people as participants, rather than spectators. A stronger local sense of identity would be bolstered. If it is beyond the will of our leaders to send a clear signal about climate change by doing something as simple as abandoning these vanity projects, then we are all in big trouble. The refusal to even consider such a possibility reminds us of just how unfit for purpose our current political infrastructure is. We cannot rely on business as usual. The politicians aren't going to save us, and we can't trust the media to give an honest account of the social changes needed. But at least we have each other. And perhaps we could go down to the fields, with a football and jumpers for goalposts, and remind ourselves of the real joy that football can bring, having a kick about with our mates.