Friday, June 25, 2010

The land of milk and honey and soccer

It's always interesting to see what other material can break through the dominant pro-Israel content at the blog of Commentary magazine. Usually it's Barack Obama's declining poll numbers. But today Jonathan Tobin revels in a supposed dilemma for American soccer fans, who, it is said, must choose between the trendiness of the sport and the nationalist tensions brought to the fore by international competition --

While I wish the American World Cup team well, as I would any endeavor in which my fellow citizens represent our country, the business of wrapping team sports in national flags is sheer humbug ... It is far better to leave this nonsense to the denizens of Old Europe, unstable South America, and the despotic Middle East, whose one democracy, Israel, is not allowed to compete against its neighbors in soccer but must instead play against the powerhouses of Europe to get into the World Cup, and thus has never been allowed to participate.

What's revealing about this is the cultural gulf between Israelis and the group who would claim to be their staunchest supporters. Now maybe in strategic matters they are, but on the simple matter of wearing the team colours and wanting them to do well in competition against other countries, Israel is just another country, being which is what one assumes the ultimate objective for Israel actually is.

To the practical matters: it's not true that Israel has never qualified for the World Cup. They played in Mexico 1970. Furthermore, is Israel hurt by having to play through European qualifiers to make the competition? It's not clear. If they weren't in UEFA, they would have to play out of an Asian group where the distances are huge and there are can be some very difficult matches against unfamiliar opponents.

Example: New Zealand clinched World Cup qualification in a playoff against Bahrain. By contrast, Israel is grouped with countries that are not very far away and whose players they know well from club football, since many of their best players ply their trade in Europe anyway.

And is there a penalty to being a small country in the European qualifiers? Well, other than the western usual suspects, the 3 countries coming out of the European groups were Slovenia, Slovakia, and Serbia, all of which have population in the same range as Israel.

In short, if you're looking for evidence of a giant prejudicial conspiracy against Israel, soccer isn't the place the look. Don't ruin it for everyone.

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