June 11, 2006
If baseball is our "National Pastime," then soccer (i.e., "football") is clearly the International Pastime. English hooligans do their best to advertise the decline of Western Civilization. In the Outlook section of the Washington Post last Sunday, political science blogger Daniel Drezner explored the hypothesis that the World Cup promotes world peace, as U2 singer Bono has claimed. It is an old debate. Drezner cited a 1973 article by anthropologist Richard Sipes, who concluded that athletic competition has a slightly greater tendency to incite latent aggression than to sublimate aggression. Drezner mentioned the soccer match played between German and British soldiers during the Christmas truce of 1914, but there is no reason to think that soccer was what caused that truce. Another case was the 1969 "Soccer War" between Honduras and El Salvador, but the soccer match that was alleged to have precipitated hostilities was not the underlying cause of tensions. Drezner concludes, rightly, that soccer brings out the best and the worst features of nationalistic sentiment.
I have always thought that baseball brings out more friendly rivalry than bitter enmity, but there are obvious exceptions -- Red Sox vs. Yankees being at the top of the list.