14:25 GMT09 May 2021
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    Why Were There So Few Asian Countries in the World Cup?

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    Unfortunately, the World Cup is now over, and we can be grateful that sport is still capable of bringing the world together. However, one question that is rarely asked is why were so few Asian countries involved?

    Professor Stephen Wagg from the Leeds Beckett University, where he teaches courses on the history and politics of sport and on the mass media joins the program.

    Discussion centers around two main themes — firstly why some Asian, and developing countries in general do not take part in the World Cup or never progress very far in qualifying matches, and secondly, on the reasons why the financial elites do not allow things to change.

    Some developing countries, however, have decided to invest in football. Professor Wagg says: "China wishes to demonstrate that she is a big power on the international stage, and the staging and entry into international competitions is a means to that end. I've no doubt that we'll see China bidding to stage a World Cup before very long."

    But it would be a mistake that every developing nation wishes to emulate China. Professor Wagg comments: "We are assuming that a developing nation has to have an elite football team in order to show that it is fully developed. But that's really hotly contested in parts of the world, notably in Brazil, which for many years has been regarded as the world's premier football nation. But if you look at the local politics there you can see that there has been a lot of opposition to the amount of government money which was invested into the tournaments. They recently held both the World Cup and the Olympics, but they did so despite enormous opposition from groups within Brazil who want money spent on other things — houses, schools, hospitals, jobs….In my lifetime, football has been converted from something that is a good thing for people to do into something that is a good thing for people to watch, and I'm not sure that is a wholly good thing."

    It looks as though, Professor Wagg says, that the World Cup will continue to be a western —orientated sport: "Yes, we are probably looking at a continuation of a sort of western centric pattern to world cup victories, which is simply a reflection, I think, of the distribution of football wealth. The richest and most powerful football leagues are in Europe and have been there since the First World War. But it's also a question of what these countries want. If you ask the people of Myanmar who have been living under a brutal military dictatorship for some time, and are also ravaged by massive inter-communal strife what do you want — peace and prosperity or a successful football team I think they will probably go for peace and prosperity, I would…"

    In India, interestingly, Professor Wagg says that opinion is divided. "There is a lobby that says that India should take the same route as China and Russia have, that they should try and stage international tournaments. They had the Commonwealth games, and they made a bit of a mess of it, so it is not clear if India will put resources into developing football. The elite in India has settled for dominating world cricket, which is what they do, bureaucratically, as well as having the best team…"

    In one sense, however, many countries are already represented in the World Cup even if they have no teams represented in the final stages of each championship. "In the case of football, realistically, it's quite difficult to separate countries except at the World Cup. If you look at the top brands, the Premier League Clubs, they are floated on top of an ocean of Middle Eastern petro-dollars, they are not uniquely or exclusively English or French or whatever. Far from it, and likewise they draw in their football talent from far and wide. Arsenal for example, have scarcely had an English player in recent years…" In this context, Professor Wagg talks about the industrialization of football; that many of the top European football leagues have set up academies in Africa, and young talent is cultivated, not for local teams but for teams far away in other countries. He links this to the continuing influence of colonization in many developing countries.

    If the World Cup was to become a truly global phenomenon it would demand firstly that the so called developing countries want to take part, and that the structure of the organization of the World Cup will have to change, as the cost of participation at a high enough level is prohibitive. Professor Wagg says that football is so in the grip of the financial elite "that it is difficult to see them loosening their hold in the foreseeable future. The prospect of the smaller peripheral Asian nations breaching this elite are slim, and I think the chances that many of their citizens would actually want to, in preference to other social and political objectives are also questionable."

    Following on from this conversation, there seems, for the foreseeable future at least, to be little chance that all Asian countries will ever be part of the World Cup, because not all countries wish to become a part of it, and it is simply too expensive for many countries to prepare a world class football team.

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    Football, World Cup 2018, India, Australia, China, Japan, Asia, South Korea
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