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Botched anthems, rampant nationalism at World Cup

A snafu during the first week of the World Cup highlighted the importance of the design and presentation of national symbols.

(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
(AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

The choreographed ceremonial parts of our games often leave memorable snafus. Olympic rings fail to light, doves may take fateful flight patterns, and then there are issues of much deeper emotion or offense in which ceremonies involving the presentation of nationalism hit a glitch.

In the World Cup’s first week, the game between France and Honduras started without either team singing its national anthem. After the players streamed onto the pitch and assumed their anthem line-up stance, it became clear that the game would have to start without this ritual.

While the press has lamented not hearing the French team and fans belt out “La Marseillaise,” the anthem’s omission does provide a break from controversy surrounding the French team’s participation in singing its national anthem. Year after year, observing which French players choose to sing the national anthem and which players choose not to sing it fuels media and public debate of just who should count as French.

(AP Photo/David Vincent)
(AP Photo/David Vincent)

While this year, the opportunity for this debate was delayed for the French, the tensions and expectations that a national team show patriotism and national pride when representing the nation makes this anthem debate a common and recurring one across nations.

Not playing anthems for either team is certainly a better mistake than mismatching a national team with its anthem or flag. In the 2012 London Olympics, the organizing committee blundered seriously when the North Korean women’s soccer team was greeted by the South Korean flag to “fly” digitally on the Jumbotron overhead during their anthem ceremony.

Aside from blunders, FIFA has implemented a new policy to regulate the time allowed for anthem play. In parallel to soccer’s regulation 90 minutes of play, FIFA decided upon a regulation 90 seconds for the anthem. Whether the move was intended to favor broadcast stakeholders or not, the regulation has not panned out as intended.

(AP Photo/Andre Penner,file)
(AP Photo/Andre Penner,file)

Brazil doesn’t care about anthem rules or ceremonial cues.  At the World Cup, when the allotted 90 seconds of in-stadium music ends at any given match, momentum up-shifts and players and fans have erupted in the bellicose bellowing of the Brazilian national anthem. A new nationally spirited emotion has grabbed this anthem ceremony and made it something newly energized from below, from the players and people.

When you organize a branded community whose primary brand is nationality, the potential for amplified reactions — both positive and negative — demand care in crafting nationality rules of eligibility, emblems, ceremonies, parades, flags and anthems.

From opening ceremonies to team uniforms and consumer fan gear, the design and presentation of team symbols of a nation are tightly woven fabrics of identity and collective imagination. The costs of getting it wrong matters significantly for state, social and industry stakeholders.

Related: Adidas, Nike and Puma brand nations with World Cup jerseys


Rook Campbell is a Visiting Professor of Communication and Political Science at the University of Southern California. Follow her on Twitter: @cabinet48

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