Better teams win, not better countries

Life, in the echelons of political theory, was once ‘simple’. Tommy Friedman’s 1996 ‘Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention’, with its thesis that ‘no two countries that both have a McDonald’s fought a war against each other’, was one such favourite of Oped philosophers. Never mind, Ukraine and Russia, both with Big Macs on their menus, but earlier India and Pakistan, put paid to that pat(ties) theory. But another pop geopolitical theory was doing the rounds during this World Cup: that squads from repressively administered countries lose games to teams from countries with democratic regimes – Qatar losing to Ecuador, Iran to England. That is, until Saudi Arabia defeating Lionel Messi’s Argentina on Tuesday put a spanner in that cognition.

The fact is that the significantly better sides almost always win and not-so-good teams lose, no matter which ideology scores in the duration of stateplay. Argentina itself in 1978 under the military junta won the World Cup, that too beating freedom-loving Holland. North Korea beat Italy in 1966 to reach the quarters. Those hoping to find a trend if the US beat Iran next Tuesday will mistake better capabilities for better politics. As in politics, so in sports: the better side almost always wins regardless of whether its country is ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And Saudi Arabia, indeed, was the better side in Qatar on Tuesday.

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