The left is now ahead in the World Cup

11:30 am - June 26th 2010

by Sunder Katwala    

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Six out of eight group winners in the group stages shows that left-of-centre countries have hit form as the World Cup enters the knock-out stages, as we continue Next Left’s unique political guide to the world’s greatest sporting event.

While Brazil, Argentina and Spain were favourites to win their group, strong performances from Uruguay, Paraguay and the USA left the political right trailing, with only Holland and Germany topping groups.

There are nine left-of-centre nations in the last sixteen, as Japan’s victory to knock out Denmark proved enough for an overall majority, with Ghana and Portugal also qualifying from the group stages. (But Australia’s third game victory was not enough to put them through, with prime minister Kevin Rudd falling in a party putsch the same morning).

With the left’s South American heartlands in top form, there is even a chance of a centre-left landslide at the World Cup – if Brazil meet Uruguay (or indeed underdogs Ghana or Obama’s USA) in the semi-finals, and with Argentina and Spain current favourites to make the other semi-final.

The right, relying heavily on western Europe, has suffered the shock exit of Sarkozy’s France and Berlusconi’s Italy. England’s second place means that either David Cameron or Angela Merkel will see their country suffer a second round exit.

But there was some consolation for the European right in the World Champion’s shock defeat – since their Slovakian conquerors were swinging from the centre-left to the centre-right, as the game took place, with the governing Social Democrats unable to form a new administration despite finishing first in the elections a fortnight ago. Coalition talks were interrupted to watch the final minutes of the game.

Meanwhile, Berlusconi’s Cabinet minister Umberto Bossi of the Lega Nord had to apologise for saying Italy would “buy the game” and bribe their way into the knock-out round with Serie A contracts for Slovakian players, a “joke” that was rather disproved by events.

Who to cheer for in the Round of 16

Here is a political summary of the democratic left’s teams in the second round:

Uruguay to beat South Korea
USA or Ghana [both centre-left]

Brazil to beat Chile
Spain or Portugal [both centre-left]

Argentina to beat Mexico.
England or Germany
[both centre-right: our LibDems are supposed to be to the left of the FDP]

Paraguay or Japan [both centre-left]
Holland or Slovakia [both centre-right: Dutch Labour may join Dutch coalition]

First round summary

Here’s a round-up of the political complexion of the first round. The top two teams from each group qualify, with the third and fourth places teams eliminated.

Group A

Uruguay – democratic left
Mexico – democratic right
South Africa – democratic left
France – democratic right

Group B

Argentina – democratic left
South Korea – democratic right
Greece – democratic left
Nigeria – partially-democratic right

Group C

United States – democratic left
England – democratic right
Slovenia – democratic left
Algeria – semi-democratic

Group D

Germany – democratic right
Ghanademocratic left
Australia – democratic left
Serbiademocratic left

Group E

Holland – democratic right
Japan – democratic left
Denmark – democratic right
Cameroon – semi/undemocratic

Group F

Paraguaydemocratic left
Slovakia – change of government from left to right
New Zealand – democratic right
Italy – democratic right

Group G

Brazildemocratic left
Portugaldemocratic left
Ivory Coast – semi/non-democratic
North Korea – left dictatorship

Group H

Spain – democratic left
Chile – democratic right
Switzerland – democratic centre
Honduras – semi-democratic right

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Reader comments



New Zealand’s PM is very similar to David Cameron (except from a working-class background), and they did much better than anticipated

3. Shatterface

Maybe we can get Paul the psychic octopus to predict New Labour’s future.

4. Rhys Williams

Yes but some of the great football teams were from horrible dictatorships.
1970 Brazil
Early fifties Magical Magyars
1960’s Franco Real madrid

Personally I love the lefties in football at an individual level.
Socrates and Cloughie (although he lost the plot at the end)

5. Rhys Williams

NZ had only 3 shots at goal in the 3 games they played.
Perhaps they are going through the same cuts that we enduring.
They also , like Switzerland the most boring team in the World cup.

6. Sunder Katwala

We did try to do the World Cup history on Next Left at the time of the world cup draw, though I would need some advice on the political situation in Uruguay in both 1930 and 1950 to offer a definitive scorecard.


We also have a scoreflash just in …

Looking at European World Cup winners since the second world war, the result, is:

Centre-left 5
Prodi 06 (Italy), Wilson 66 (England), Schmidt 74 (Germany), Spadolini 82 (Italy), Jospin 98 (France).

Centre-right 2
Adenauer 54 (Germany), Kohl 90 (Germany)

Jacques Chirac claims an assist for France in 1998, but I am crediting it to Lionel Jospin as a Le Pen own goal.

These post-1950 pro-democracy World Cup results exclude the two Italian World Cups won under Mussolini’s fascist regime.

If somebody with a phD in South American politics, particularly a Uruguay specialist, wants to get in touch then a global result might yet be possible.

Brazil’s first three World Cups were won under what I think would best be called the populist centre in 1958, then the populist left in 1962 and an authoritarian dictatorship by 1970, before two more under democratic governments, both centrist, though alternatively perhaps leaning centre-right and the other centre-left.

Argentina won under a fascist junta in 1978 and a liberal president in 1986.

All of that may suggest that, when it comes to political footballs, there does seem to be everything to play for in South Africa.

7. Rhys Williams

“The socialism I believe in is everyone working for each other, everyone having a share of the rewards. It’s the way I see football, the way I see life” Bill Shankly

8. Sunder Katwala

At the start, the bookies odds would have anticipated the group winners score to have been either 4-4, or probably 5-3 to the right (Italy, England as favourites; France more marginally).

Gavin – Yes, New Zealand’s draw with Italy was a historic achievement, and to end on 3 draws a surprise success in their first world cup since 1982. They are a right-of-centre country that has exceeded expectations (before going home) as have South Korea. Chile have done well, so have Holland and Germany. Against that Italy and France have had a shocker. Denmark and Nigeria will be disappointed too.

The over-achievers with left-of-centre governments have been Japan, Paraguay and the USA, perhaps Ghana, and less surprisingly Uruguay. Perhaps Greece and Serbia will be a little disappointed to have gone out in the opening round, though few will miss them, while South Africa have come out with a respectable exit.

Slovakia? Had a ‘Left’ government? Hahahahahahaha

10. Chaise Guevara

The US is left-wing now, is it?

11. Sunder Katwala

The initial selections are set out in the first post – and its based on domestic politics, so am happy for a Democrat-governed US to make it.

“Though Nick Clegg and the LibDems are junior Coalition partners in Britain’s centre-right government, anybody wanting to stick fully to the Next Left world cup plan would have to back that unlikely pairing of underdogs, Slovenia and the United States of America against England. Both countries saw the main centre-left parties defeat the governing right in the most recent Presidential and Parliamentary polls, though ex-diplomat Danilo Turk and the Slovenian Social Democrats got less international notice than Barack Obama’s US Democrats.

England have, of course, only won the World Cup under a Labour government. The best remembered US World Cup highlights – defeating England in 1950, and a creditable performance against Brazil as hosts in 1994 – came under Democratic Presidents Truman and Clinton, though the hapless Republican duo of Herbert Hoover (semi-finals, 1930) and George W Bush (quarter-finals, 2002) may have been unaware that the US progressed further in the soccerball tournament under their Presidencies”.

The USA is centre-left!? WTF?

They’re all fake-left. Only North Korea under the dear captain’s leadership.

Sorry but since WHEN has the USA been centre-left?

The US is left-wing now, is it?

I think Sunder answers that point. It’s meant to be relative not absolute.

16. LeonardHatred

In what parallel universe is the USA centre-left? This is crazy-talk, yo.

17. Matt Munro

The left of centre French implode after defeat and go home amid recrimintions and national calamity……………………..

18. Chaise Guevara

Sunder says it’s based on domestic policy. While I concede that it’s impossible to draw a line in the sand and say “this is the centre”, I still don’t see how it’s possible to call the UK right-wing and the US left-wing. The US only just got something resembling the NHS, for goodness’ sake, and while that was admittedly achieved under the current government, they remain broadly more right-wing than the UK in most ways, domestic or otherwise.

From thoroughly perusing (read ‘glancing at’) Next Left’s definitions, it seems to me that ‘left’ and ‘right’ are in fact being defined by national standards, so we’re considered to be ‘right’ because the Tories are in and the US is considered to be ‘left’ because the Democrats are in. Presumably Canada is right-wing, too. This is hardly a good basis for comparison.

That said, we’re discussing the correlation between political trends and sporting prowess, so heigh ho.

19. Sunder Katwala

Yes, its basically a bit of fun, and a way to catch up on Uruguayan and Slovenian politics.

But its one very simple criteria. Is that country’s government from the left/left-of-centre/centre-left or the right/right-of-centre/centre right of *that country’s* domestic political spectrum, in terms of the major electoral parties or alliances who compete for power.

So a Swedish centre-right government plays for the centre-right team, just as the relevant party would be part of various centre-right international alliances. Ditto a US Democrat one lining up as centre-left.

If that’s the rule, then at least applying it is actually pretty objective. (There are occasional issues in judging some coalitions, but it is usually pretty clear what the broad answer is. The Social Democrat-led last Slovak government is a good example, given that it had nasty coalition partners which even saw SMES suspended, for a time, from the Party of European Socialists. And there are bound to be a handful – but very few in practice – that don’t fit some type of left/right/centre characterisation as a fair and broadly used shorthand about the governments in question).

Anything else is impossible, in terms of gauging the point at which a Swedish/Danish/Dutch government should get called “right” or a British or US government “left”, etc.

20. Rhys Williams

The left of centre French implode after defeat and go home amid recrimintions and national calamity……………………..
Sarkosy , left of centre. Isn’t he a fiscal conservative.

Just to muddy the waters.
Isn’t this about individual against the communal
England indivualistic players lose to the communal Germans.
Or the third way Argentina, flair individuals with a communal spirit, if not a little homo erotic.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  2. Matthew Rees

    RT @libcon: The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  3. Political Animal

    RT @fionalaird @TimMontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup

  4. robwinder

    RT @libcon: The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  5. Andrew Barnes

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup says @LibCon

  6. Roger Thornhill

    RT @TimMontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup says @LibCon // Circuses

  7. Little Metamorphic O

    RT @libcon: The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  8. Moonbootica

    RT @libcon The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  9. M

    RT @politic_animal: RT @fionalaird @TimMontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup

  10. Grace Lyon

    RT @timmontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup says @LibCon

  11. James Anthony

    RT @nextleft: RT @TimMontgomerie: Nations with left-of-centre governments are doing best in #WorldCup says @LibCon

  12. Alda Telles

    The left is now ahead in the World Cup

  13. maximal is me

    This is very silly RT @libcon The left is now ahead in the World Cup #worldcup

  14. Nathan Trout

    I can't help but think some people are reading too much into the World Cup

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