Choosing a World Cup squad to support can be a complicated task, particularly for those, like yours truly, whose country didn’t qualify for the 32-team tournament (India is absent, and will remain so till time immemorial). One nation may play an exciting brand of football, but its leading star could be a contemptible cheat. Or perhaps its jersey is too conspicuously odd. Do you root for an underdog or hedge your bets with one of the contenders? I’ve even known fans who let distaste for a nation’s cuisine sour their support for its footballers.
The World Development Movement (WDM), a London-based anti-poverty NGO, thinks it can help the World Cup ambivalent. It has launched www.whoshouldicheerfor.com, an amusing but worthy ranking of the tournament’s participants on what it claims are “ethical” grounds. U.S. fans may want to look away — your country ranks 31 out of 32, just beating out Kim Jong Il’s North Korea.
But before rolling your eyes at anti-American bias, consider the criteria. A country loses points the greater its military spending, carbon emissions per capita and domestic wealth gap. And it can gain points for having a low rate of maternal mortality, a higher proportion of women in politics than others or making aid donations a large chunk of the national budget. Despite its apparent poverty, Ghana comes in first place, says the site, because it “spends very little on the military and has very low carbon emissions.” The U.S., on the other hand, is “the richest country with the highest carbon emissions and the largest military spending. It also scores poorly due to its high level of inequality and the low level of aid it gives.” A geeky feature on the site allows you to handicap upcoming matches with the development indicators of competing nations.
You can argue that such ponderous high-mindedness has little place in sports. But football, with its unrivaled global reach and fanatical following, often goes hand in hand with politics; some of the game’s more astute watchers have written fantastic books on the subject. So kudos to WDM for wading into the World Cup circus. If the big banks can do it — as we’ve commented on here and here — surely they can as well.