“The ball is round, the game lasts 90 minutes, everything else is pure theory” (Sepp Herberger, West Germany coach)
One of my favourite new television shows is HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. An unassuming Brit, who came to fame filling in for Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, John Oliver delivers incredulity with barely concealed outrage. Last Week Tonight airs on a Sunday night, recapping the week that was through in-depth segments that critically analyse news stories with humour, insight and simplicity.
A segment on climate change denial was brilliant in its use of the stage and visual demonstration. Similarly, Oliver this week took a close look at the World Cup 2014 and FIFA, the world’s football governing body. On the episode, Oliver analogises football and FIFA as “organised religion” in its power to not only shock adherents and lay people with its scandals and abuses, but inspire and excite through its passion of the cross and volley. I share Oliver’s horror at FIFA and love of the game. Indeed, it can replace the “car crash” idiom for describing something that is terrible, but from which you cannot but stare. That is, a FIFA organised World Cup.
As the opening ceremony and match between hosts Brazil and Croatia is less than 12 hours away, lets have a look at how the 32 teams rank against the UNDP’s Human Development Index (2013).
Very high human development
3. United States
12. South Korea
26. UK (England)
High human development
62. Costa Rica
81. Bosnia and Herzegovia
Medium Human Development
Low Human development
168. Cote d’Ivoire
The Wall Street Journal published an interesting ‘World Cup of Everything Else‘, where Ghana clearly wins, topping all nations in education expenditure as a percentage of GDP (8.1%). Not to be outdone, Costa Rica has the most women in government with 39% of seats in national parliaments held by women. Tom Murphy, of A View From The Cave, is also launching an interactive global development world cup that will compare countries across a range of development indicators (TBC).
There are a few key takeaways from this simple ranking above:
1) There is a high correlation between participation in the world cup and high human development;
2) The four African representative nations also rank the lowest in human development;
3) Brazil, the host, ranks #85 and the problems surrounding its hosting are well-documented. However, 6 of the past 8 World Cup champions have won one of their titles while playing at home, the exceptions being Brazil and Spain;
4) The most lop-sided match up will be Japan (#10) vs. Cote d’Ivoire (#168). Their respective FIFA rankings are #46 and #23.
According to the World Development Movement, if social justice is your passion, then you should be cheering for Costa Rica. The organisation has launched a website, Who Should I Cheer For?, which ranks all 32 teams based on their efforts to eradicate poverty and social injustice. The indicators used range from CO2 emissions per person and women in government to military spending and financial transparency.
I’ll be cheering for Australia and Ghana respectively, with Belgium as my sleeper. If you have no interest in football, I suggest you develop one, particularly for working in global development. It is the world game. FIFA has more member nations than the United Nations. You will find yourself walking past a group of children in [insert country] while working for [insert organisation], who are kicking [insert object] around and trying to slot it between an old shoe and a rock. You will want to join in. You may even be invited. You better be ready.
If you are looking for a venue at which to watch your country play, and happen to live in Milwaukee, I can’t stress enough that you visit this bar and report back to us.
If you want to participate in my ESPN bracket and predict the winners of all finals and the overall winner, please head to ESPN. The password to join the group is ‘cueball’.