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Love of Skill: Football, Efficacy and Partisan Politics

I don’t often have much of an interest in football; politics is more my area. One of the thoughts that crosses this divide, however, concerns skill. Football generates a range of strong emotional responses; a player going to ground can be greeted with any number of cheers and jeers. I imagine claims that something is or isn’t a foul, a dive or not a dive are things that true football fans are used to hearing, or perhaps shouting. 

I have a suspicion that whether we think something is or isn’t a foul or a dive, might often come down to who may have been fouled and who may have done the fouling, or what team they play for. We might say there is a grey area, whereby our perspective and reality need not necessarily align. In other words, I think there might be something partisan about the whole thing. 

Not wanting to spend too long subtly garnering sympathy for those officials who have to make such decisions, I have a question to raise. Where is the love of skill?  Bertrand Russell tells us that Niccolo Machiavelli had a ‘love of skill’. I don’t know what Machiavelli would have thought of football, but from what I know of him I suspect he wouldn’t have minded if a player fouled another or dove to the ground, as long as it was well done and achieved the desired outcome. 

Leaving aside his potentially amoral outlook, Machiavelli can pose us each an important question. Should a ‘love of skill’ trump a partisan outlook? It is not uncommon to hear it said that people’s political attitudes are shaped by that of their parents. Assuming there is any truth to this, we have an idea that there is something other than efficacy impacting how people vote and view politics broadly. But this is only a symptom of the condition. Identification with political movements might indicate a similar potential. After all, would we expect a self-proclaimed conservative to vote for a socialist, because they think they might be more successful or more skilful? 

Perhaps it’s inherent in politics that we don’t find those who we disagree with to be skilful, but this is the so-called year of democracy. And the world is facing serious difficulties and complex questions. Climate change, migration, energy supply, conflict (both international and civil). The question needs to be raised, do we have a ‘love of skill’ in politics? How much do we really look beyond our impression of political groups and figures to ask if they are up to the task or if they have shown the skill that the political world requires? 

Put another way, before heading to the polls this year, what is or has been, the key motivation behind your vote? Was it ‘skill’ or was there something else at play? We can have a much longer and in-depth discussion about this, about whether we can actually separate our ideas of who would be an effective politician from any wider partisan views that we might have. Or whether we should think about personality or scandal when picking those who might need to handle crises, negotiate treaties or coordinate military action.

If we took a poll of 100 people and asked them what they know of Richard Nixon, and what they thought of him as a political figure I would wager most would consider the Watergate scandal above the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Maybe Watergate showed a flawed political operator at work but if it did, what does the establishment of the EPA demonstrate and considering the challenges facing the world at this moment in time, which of these things should Richard Nixon be remembered for? Sure, this was at the recommendation of a council, and it was sent to Congress for approval so how much credit can we give the then President? Well, he established that council and he followed the recommendation. Time and history may have had their role to play here and there would likely have been a time when I knew about Watergate but not Nixon’s involvement with the EPA, as I am sure is the case for other people, but the point may stand.

I’m not an expert on the environment or the successes and failures of the EPA, but I am glad it is there. And I say that as somebody who could likely find disagreement elsewhere in what was Nixon’s political agenda. I have posed a lot of questions in this article, but I have one more to offer. Considering all that we are facing, individually and collectively, how much can we risk not considering ‘skill’? Or in other words, how much should our politics resemble partisan football bias?

Image: UK Prime Minister


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