The French theorist, Roland Barthes, maintains that wrestling is a spectacle akin to a theatrical act writing, “The virtue of all-in wrestling is that it is the spectacle of excess.”
While this essay has impressed many a thinker in terms of the parallels between Greek theatre, bullfights, and wresting, I began to think again of Barthes’ “spectacle of excess” watching this year’s World Cup Football matches. I thought back to all the Worldwide Wrestling Federation matches of my childhood, with my brother captivatingly engaged with each match as he would pretend to be one of the wrestlers on the floor in front of the television. I looked on with utter boredom as it was clear these matches were fake—from the feigned screams and the fake twisted arms, to the bouncy floor with implausible bodies being flung about. None of it looked real and wrestling proved to me completely uninteresting to me. Yet, it was the fakery of these matches that captivated my brother to include the initial interviews where each wrestler would trash talk his opponent.
Similarly, these past weeks as I watched many of the FIFA World Cup football matches, I find myself equally as unimpressed as I watch the theatre of fake injuries roll out with each match. And let’s be honest here—it isn’t just Neymar’s fake dives that are irritating to watch, or that fact that at times this theatre results in an opponent being removed or penalty kick in the 78th minute. What truly irks me about this theatre of faked agony is how these men who are afforded a massive amount of attention that most people don’t receive when they experience real injuries and health issues. I have no doubt that the economics of this game is behind the hyper-tolerance of these dives and extended looking at the sky for a god moments. If we break this sporting event down a bit we can see that economics is the primary driver of this event. Every four years, FIFA generates billions in revenue and the hosting country also mades a fair share. At the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, FIFA made $4.8billion in revenue which minus its $2.2billion in expenses, over four years FIFA turned a $2.6 billion profit. And this is FIFA’s profit without this organization having to contribute to the costs of staging the event—from the transportation infrastructure to stadiums. While FIFA earns heavily on its quadrennial events, it saves billions more as Brazil had to invest $13.3 billion in the tournament four years ago, with a promise to use most of the money to be spent on social projects around the host cities. Of course, this never happened despite all the promises that the World Cup would boost Brazil’s economy.
And as I continue in my televised spectatorship of this sport as we move toward’s Sunday’s final match, I keep wondering how these men make it through the day with their pulled muscle, sore hamstring, and pleading to a referee that you were trip. The medics and team doctor run up to the player who lies on the field and we see an aerosol can of some agent being sprayed, the player’s face is contorted, and meanwhile the world is charged of real-life health situations for which there is nobody who will rush forth with medical care, much less a modicum of concern.
Every day approximately 800 women die due to complications of pregnancy and child birth, with just under half of these deaths occurring in in Africa and 230 in Southern Asia. In the United States, a quarter of women from 25 to 34 years of age are completely uninsured all while states are fighting for women’s access to healthcare and some fighting against a woman’s right to have an abortion. In the UK one in ten females cannot afford sanity hygiene products for her menstruation and over two million women suffer from endometriosis, a condition which suffers from chronic underfunding of research, serious problems in misdiagnosis, and no effective treatment for the many women living with unbearable pain. For women seeking healthcare of conditions like endometriosis, it is quite common that they are not treated with dignity and respect. As my mind goes back to the field with these men flopping about as they hold onto their leg or their hand, hoping that the referee will take their “boo boo” seriously and afford their team some advantage, I can’t help but laugh at some of these men’s antics. While most all of these players are well-remunerated the rest of the year in the “day jobs,” playing for various teams around the world, I have to wonder what is their motivation in committing to such theatre. Is it the bonuses that many countries have offered their national teams should they reach a certain stage or all out win the tournament? Or is this just about winning by any means necessary? Either way, I hope that the players from the England team will consider donating their earnings to charities which work on real health issues for the female members of the population who are less likely to receive any medical care whatsoever. In a sports season where Serena Williams has pushed through to the semi-finals at Wimbledon just ten months after giving birth, “injured” men need to take a cue from Williams’s strength and professional rigour.