Thursday, July 21, 2011

How the Copa América Explains Foreign Policy

By Robert Valencia
Defeated: Argentine forward Lionel Messi incredibly missed yet another goal
during the Copa America quarterfinals against Uruguay.

This weekend, while Americans followed the women’s soccer team at the World Cup finals against Japan, Latin Americans were glued to their TV sets watching which teams made it to the Copa América semifinals. And much to everybody’s surprise (or detriment), South American powerhouses Argentina and Brazil, alongside Chile and Colombia, were ousted by lesser popular teams such as Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela, and Peru, respectively.

Soon after the quadruple whammy, the eliminated teams’ fans went on to say that the coach and the board of directors be fired because of the “poor” results they delivered throughout the tournament. Nevertheless, what many of them don’t realize is that the playing field, soccer-wise, was indeed leveled, and countries that don’t have a long history of fútbol like Venezuela have greatly made strides in the last couple of decades.   

This mindset very much resembles what we have seen in foreign policy during the post-Cold War era. The idea that another country’s gain—particularly that of the emerging markets—in economic, technological, and educational grounds represent a loss to the developed world. In the November 2010 edition of Foreign Affairs, experts pointed out that international competition has grown dramatically since the world has “flattened,” that is, globalization has paved the way to the digitalization of information and labor outsourcing into the world’s most competitive economies.

Just like the U.S. and other developed countries benefits from foreign products and the influx of high-educated immigrants, soccer as a whole also gains from bringing foreign coaches while outsourcing their nationals to play in more prominent leagues such as the ones in Europe and South America to brush up their skills. Save Uruguay and Venezuela, Peru and Paraguay rely upon foreign-born coaches who bring all of their expertise from previous tournaments.

Other books that touch upon the relationship between soccer and globalization underscore the nationalism and tribalism that result after each game or tournament, thus deterring unity among countries. Look no further: Paraguayans and Venezuelans ended up in a brawl after the penalty shootouts, and many Internet users from both countries flooded social media networks with rants and raves against one another. After such actions, United Nations-like government bodies like Conmebol—the South American federation that oversees soccer in the region—and FIFA are exploring possibilities to sanction those involved in the melee 

Finally, Uruguay and Paraguay will vie for the big prize whereas the consolation award will go to either Peru or Venezuela this coming weekend. And this Copa America made something very clear: there are no Cinderella soccer teams any more (or to put it in economic terms, no “haves” and “have nots”) in South America. President Barack Obama said that, on the realms of globalization, “the nation that out-educates us today is going to out-compete us tomorrow.” Certainly, Venezuela, Peru, Paraguay, and Uruguay showed that educating (or in this case, training) from the ground up has borne fruit, surprising the behemoths of soccer and making the competition, well, a little fairer and interesting.

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