notes on sporting <em>pire: hybrid form

We have suggested already that Sporting Empire is an aspect of broader Empire, the seductive new vision of global political economy crafted by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, which is constituted by a polycentric and fluid mesh of power featuring nation-state actors in shifting alliances with supranational organizations, transnational corporations, and certain humanitarian non-governmental organizations. No one actor can unilaterally seize power in a globalized world, according to Hardt and Negri, and thus a fluid network of inter-actor relationships emerges to modulate the global political order.

Shifting our analysis of the assemblage from Empire proper to those more particular elements that comprise sporting imperialism allows us to highlight some of the specific governing bodies and corporate organizations that constitute its meshwork of political economy, as well as highlight the competitive interplay between them that is such an important component of Hardt and Negri's analysis. Sporting Empire may thus be understood as those agents of capital and state who, acting both in and out of alignment with each other, collectively move the imperial sporting meshwork along a particular topology through time.

The Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) is one such governing body that exerts a substantial influence in the movement of the meshwork, rivaling the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in terms of global sporting power. FIFA and the IOC are constituted by the greatest number of member organizations, directly or indirectly represent the greatest number of athletes worldwide, and host the two biggest sporting events in terms of audience and spectacle, the World Cup and the Olympic Games.

(As an aside, the spectacle and corruption that constitute both FIFA/World Cup and IOC/Olympic Games suggest immediately that neither a single-sport nor a multi-sport approach presents itself as inherently superior in any movement towards a sporting multitude.)

The World Cup is the biggest tournament of the most important sport on a global basis in terms of participation and audience. Years are spent in qualifying rounds before the field is whittled to a final group of teams, representing thirty-two nation-states, that will compete for the title of world's best. Based on the ritual importance of the tournament itself, the television audience it accrues, and the corporate sponsorship that follows, the economic significance of making the tournament's final cut of teams seems substantial. Indeed, for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa each team will be guaranteed $1 million for appearing in the tournament, with overall prize monies totaling $420 million. This is in addition to the economic stimulus that media, advertising and consumable industries would receive in the country of each competing team, based on the extremely popular (and populist) satellite-distributed television broadcast feeds.

So one can imagine the national angst and sense of injustice borne by the supporters of the Republic of Ireland when a handball-abetted pass by France's Thierry Henry to William Gallas for the deciding goal — spotted by the television cameras of sporting spectacle, but not by the match officials themselves — knocked the Irish side from qualifying for the World Cup. They would not make the final thirty-two teams and its opportunity to reach the pinnacle of football capitalism. They wanted justice from FIFA.

A statement from the governing body read: "The Football Association of Ireland today confirmed that it attended an hour and a half meeting, at its request, with Mr Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA on Friday in Zurich. A lot was discussed at the meeting and at one stage the FAI asked if Ireland could be accommodated into the World Cup 2010."

This comment hints more of feudalism than capitalism, the lords of football lands in the FIFA realm being granted audience to plead with the King, does it not?

Courtesy of Getty Images and ESPN.

(prostrate before the king, perhaps, but this is not a post about fisting)

Deleuze suggested as much was possible in 'Postscript on the Societies of Control' (which Hardt and Negri argued further in Empire) — that such hybrids of political economy could create the fluid waves upon which contemporary bodies and subjectivities form and are formed. "The socio-technological study of the mechanisms of control, grasped at their inception, would have to be categorical and to describe what is already in the process of substitution for the disciplinary sites of enclosure, whose crisis is everywhere proclaimed. It may be that older methods, borrowed from the former societies of sovereignty, will return to the fore, but with the necessary modifications" (emphasis added). The sovereignty of FIFA and other governing bodies of sporting imperialism seems manifest as hybrids of earlier forms. This hybrid identity further suggests a fluidity between the terms of relation, which sporting imperialism appears to leverage towards modulating its own form in the service of control. As Deleuze continues: "What counts is that we are at the beginning of something."

(from chapter one in "body+politics: towards a sporting multitude," a work-in-progress doctoral dissertation for the european graduate school of media and communications)


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