These days, it seems soccer has become the ultimate public relations tool – with the power to unite entire nations, draw attention from internal strife, and create a truly global brand.
Last month, I discussed how Bolivian President Evo Morales played a high profile soccer match at 19,500 feet above sea level to protest FIFA’s ban on high-altitude international soccer matches. His tactic brought global attention to the issue and united a politically divided Bolivia in the name of soccer.
Then on July 21, soccer celebrity David Beckham made his official debut in the MLS as a member of USA’s LA Galaxy. The Galaxy didn’t pay $250 million for Beckham’s playmaking ability – they paid for his international brand. Indeed, Beckham brings international fame, star appeal, and “Brand Beckham” to an underserved sport in the U.S. Bottom line: he’s already added 10,000 Galaxy season ticket holders and helped the team sell more than 250,000 team jerseys. And don’t forget the other half of Brand Beckham – Victoria “Posh” Beckham.
Now, to bring us up to speed, Iraq just recently beat a heavily favored Saudi Arabia 1-0 to win its first ever Asia Cup. As reported in the Seattle Times:
“Back home, patriotic music filled the airwaves. Children with their faces painted red, black and green, the colors of the Iraqi flag, pelted their neighbors with candies. Families made plans to slaughter sheep or chickens for feasts. Vendors sold out of a T-shirt that emphasized unity over sectarianism with the slogan, ‘I am Iraqi.’”
The event shows that soccer is more than a fun sport. It can unite even the most war-torn nation. Well, almost. In the aftermath, headlines quickly changed from “Soccer title brings rare gift: Iraq unity” to “Gunfire erupts after Iraq soccer win,” prompting a Reuters journalist to highlight a bold disparity:
“If 11 young men can instill national pride and a sense of unity by playing soccer, Iraqis are wondering why 275 politicians elected to steer Iraq to a brighter future cannot achieve the same result.”
Maybe the Iraqi national team should enter the political fray? Or better yet, sign Beckham as the new face of the Iraqi government. For just $250 million, we could ensure a long-term solution in Iraq. Needless to say, I’m sold.