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Football’s empty pleasure

As the European championship begins, Mario Vargas Llosa aims a gentle kick at those who spin fancy theories to explain the passion for football

A couple of years ago, I heard the Brazilian anthropologist Roberto da Matta give a brilliant lecture in which he explained that the popularity of football expresses an innate desire for legality, equality and freedom.

His argument was clever and amusing. According to him, the public sees football as a sort of model society-one governed by clear and simple laws which everyone understands and observes and which, if violated, bring immediate punishment to the guilty party. A football field is an egalitarian space which excludes all favouritism and privilege. Here, on this grass marked out by white lines, a person…

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