The World Cup requires the nation state. Or does it?

Watching the World Cup, it is impossible to ignore the organizing logic: countries compete against other countries to be the winning nation for this cycle. On a global scale, this is a common logic in a number of sports, particularly those in the Olympics system. But, does it have to be this way?

Photo by Riccardo on Pexels.com

The nation state is a relatively new development in human history. The idea of a centralized bureaucracy and a political entity spanning many square miles or millions of people is not necessarily new; empires and city-states had this. The modern nation-state is different in numerous ways and was firmly established by the twentieth century. The fervor for the nation-state and the geopolitics that go with it help animate the World Cup.

What other logics could organize a global sports competition? Here are a few other options:

  1. Have club teams compete. There are versions of this already but limited global competition between clubs. This would run into issues regarding money, access to players, level of competition in different national leagues (though there do not have to be national leagues), and more.
  2. Borrowing from video games, have ultimate or fantasy teams. Perhaps fans could pick teams. Or, a global body of experts. Perhaps there could be a global draft.
  3. Have city states compete. Since nations can be so large, why not narrow the geographic scope to have more variation? Imagine Team London playing Team Tokyo or Team Cairo or Team Los Angeles.
  4. Let players be free agents globally and form their own teams. They could select friends, good competitors, players from their clubs or country, or utilize other logics.

In the end, does organizing a sport by country provide the best sport experience and outcome? Does the World Cup do more to reinforce the importance of nations than highlight sports or other values?

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