From Football to…Interpretation?

For the past month I’ve been watching the Football (or Soccer, if you’re American) World Cup. Is there anything in this that might help us think about heritage and interpretation? Here are my (utterly unscientific) thoughts – and apologies to those who just don’t do world football:



Enjoyment is a key term in heritage and interpretation discourse. For those of us who like world football the World Cup brings tons of enjoyment. It is the holy grail of sporting events. It’s visible everywhere, it gets people talking who may not otherwise have things in common, and it throws everybody into the same pot. I think it’s this sense of a shared occasion that makes the World Cup so enjoyable. What could we do with this in terms of heritage? Certainly, as European policy points out, there are numerous shared occasions in the histories of our nations. Perhaps there is an opportunity here to think less nationally, and more globally about exhibitions and events? Do we need not only a pan-Wales interpretation strategy, but actually a pan-Britain, pan-European, pan-the whole world strategy?


Mutual understanding

This is straight out of the heritage policy cookbook: what heritage should achieve is mutual understanding. This is closely linked to empathy, something you see a lot in the World Cup. Players and fans alike just know what the other team is feeling both when they win and when they lose. People console and celebrate each other across national divides, as the flood of images show beautifully. It comes back to sharing in one thing – a game – and relating to what the other side is going through. This, it seems to me, should be an easy feat to accomplish in interpretation, not only when people voluntarily travel to other countrys to seek out the other side of a story there, as I’ve found people to do in my research, but also at one single site. It’s part of the ‘balanced story’, tapping into that sense of ‘we’re all the same’.


Inspire Curiosity

This is a traditional interpretive outcome, and certainly for me personally, and many of the people I’ve spoken to, this has happened during this World Cup. For example, I’ve learnt more about national anthems and their histories than I ever knew before – and that includes my own country’s! There was one single moment that inspired me to do so: that spine-tingling moment of the very first game of the tournament when a whole stadium of Brazilian fans sang their anthem’s second verse alongside their team without music. I daresay most interpreters would shudder to create a moment like this – using a national anthem no less! – but this was unbeatable for its emotive power. It was clear what it meant to the fans and their team, and I wanted to know more about that, and their country. This curiosity was sparked by pure emotion and joy in someone else’s identity.



Especially in Germany, inspiring identity emerges repeatedly in policy. Oddly enough, my research over there suggests that interpreters have a real worry about doing this, though. For many academics, too, identity and any identity-inspiring heritage practice is almost a dirty word– they mostly frame it as the base need of an insecure mass that is thus manipulated by (evil?) powers. Needless to say, I don’t see identity like that. And during the World Cup, there was plenty of identity work going on. Ironically, it was most obvious to me when I visited Germany: during the World Cup there were plenty of flags around, something that prior to the ‘Sommermärchen’ of 2006 was unheard of. This is a positive, inclusive identity, that sits happily next to the identity-work of Brazilians, the Dutch, the French. My research suggests to me that it is such positive identity-work that interpretation should enable. The evil lies in trying to suppress it.


As I wrote above, all of these thoughts are simply my observations and not based on any research. I’m sure within sports literature, and some identity research as well, someone has taken some of these aspects apart, and if you know of any articles, please fire them my way. It certainly seems a worthwhile endeavour to look more closely at what is going on here, and what heritage and interpretation may learn from this.


Have a happy World Cup Final!

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