All about the United Kingdom’s national, regional and local press

Taking their eyes off the ball

With the World Cup less than a month away, some of the heavyweight press have been looking beyond the 12 shiny new (or refurbished) stadia to the wider implications of international sport’s biggest tournament.

David Goldblatt, writing for The Observer, looks at ambivalent Brazilian attitudes towards this year’s tournament, where pride and patriotic support for the Seleção are mingled with alienation and antipathy towards the lavish public spending on a prestige project that does little or nothing to alleviate the economic and social injustices that still bedevil Brazilian society—despite more than a decade of popularly elected, social democratic government.

Goldblatt points out that the demonstrators of 2013 were for the most part not the very poorest:

A few organised bodies from the favelas who were actively opposing housing relocation were present, and some youths from the peripheries took part in some demonstrations, but the crowds were overwhelmingly made up of the urban middle classes – a category that stretches from downtown junior office workers to university professors.

As a class they had swelled under [Brazilian President] Lula and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, especially as enrolment in higher education had expanded, but their living standards had only inched forward. They were paying, in their own words, “European taxes to get Mozambican services”.

Meanwhile, Iain Martin in The Daily Telegraph has taken a slightly tongue-in-cheek look at England’s prospects and how they might affect the results of the referendum on Scottish independence this September.

The former editor of The Scotsman, he’s perhaps unusual among his compatriots for supporting England against anyone but Scotland—the inverse of the ABE supporters who eagerly follow England’s progress in international sport, but with the twist that defeat is cause for celebration. However, on this occasion he joins them in hoping England lose:

England winning would rescue Alex Salmond, who is, despite all his grinning and bluster, behind in the independence campaign. A World Cup win – with the London-based sporting media going nuts demanding a dukedom for Stephen Gerrard and banging on about football coming home, the boys of 1966 and all that – would be guaranteed to infuriate the Scots and swing it for the Nationalists.

The danger he fears is that, in the light of lacklustre recent performances, low English expectations and opponents’ complacency could lead to the nightmare Unionist scenario of a shock England win and the breakup of the Union.

This wouldn’t be the first time that England’s performance on the pitch has been said to affect Britain’s political landscape. In 1970 England’s defeat to West Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals on 14 June was followed by the defeat of Harold Wilson’s Labour government in the General Election four days later. Then again, Wilson had to some extent called down nemesis on his head by cheekily remarking after England’s victory in July 1966, “Have you ever noticed how we only win the World Cup under a Labour government?”

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