"Axel Witsel" is such a great name.

"Axel Witsel" is such a great name.

I love being in DC for the World Cup. It's probably because of all the international organizations that are based here, but my fellow citizens are approximately 1000x more excited about this event than people anywhere else I've ever lived.* And even though I'm not much of an athlete, or even much of a sports fan, I dig it; I think it's the global nature of the event, the fact that fans are sort of required to know about things that are happening in Croatia or Ghana, even if they're only related to soccer. And in a way, it feels more globalized even than the Olympics - maybe because there's only one sport, so the country-level fandoms are way more focused and intense (as opposed to the Olympics, where there are so many sports and affiliated politics that it's easy to lose track).

I'm also really interested in sports and global integration from another angle - the idea of one sports team as a unifier of diverse fans. Which brings me to the point of this post: a fascinating article by Sam Knight in Grantland that explores whether or not the diversity of the Belgian national team is leading to greater "Belgitude" - an attitude roughly analogous to national pride, with a dose of "I guess this country shouldn't split up after all" in the mix.  The idea is that, while many Belgians are permanently annoyed that they live in the kind of country that can go for multiple years without a government, the diversity of younger generations has led them to appreciate Belgium for what it is: a weird place, but not necessarily a bad one. For example:

...(T)he article also put forward the idea that the country’s newest citizens might be the first to truly accept Belgium on its own eccentric terms. Leman believes that theory has come true. “How to explain?” he said. “Our national discussions are internal discussions, and very domestic, and these guys coming from outside look at Belgium and they say, ‘Why destroy this country? With its nice system?’”**

As a person who has seen the Mighty Ducks movies,*** I know the trope of sports as common ground is a bit simplistic, but I also think there's something to it - maybe because it's simplistic, actually. Sports fandom is a little bit primal; as much as we might like to imagine that it comes from our head, I think it's probably based in the heart and the gut. Which means that even though there are a million political and economic differences that a sports team will never bridge, that instinctive aspect of being a fan lets us circumvent all of that and, for a moment, find common ground with someone else. It's not everything, but it's also not nothing.

And what's even more interesting about cases like the Belgian team is that, if this analysis holds up, they're actually taking the idea of sports-based unity to the next level by not only bringing people together, but by creating a new reality in order to do so. (Granted, that reality can best be summed up as "This isn't so bad," but again, you've got to start somewhere.) I'll be interested to see if it holds up, and to consider the implications of this narrative creation for the future - after all, as divided states go, Belgium is probably among the tamer examples.

Also, I am kind of obsessed with Stromae and his video about the Red Devils' official song, "Ta Fête" ("Your Party").

*With the possible exception of South Korea, but everyone there would have been cheering for one team.

**A sentiment that reminds me of Tina Fey's turn as Blerta, the Albanian addition to Girls. ("I have roof over head. For this, I thank God.")