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The World at Large: A storm in a World Cup.

Right now, Germany is hotting up for the World Cup soccer championships. This is one of the world’s greatest sporting events, and is held — like the Olympics — every four years in a different country. This time around, Germany is hosting the spectacle.

Soccer, of course, is best defined as a game that England plays better than anyone else and Germany always wins, which results in a conflict of interests for me (a Brit living in Germany and married to a German). Luckily, the British tabloid press solve that problem for me by behaving so outrageously that it makes me want to feed my passport into the nearest paper shredder and wear lederhosen. Nobody told the Sun, for example, that World War II is officially over.

News flash: Hitler is a soccer ball

For example, one of my favourite German cartoonists, Tomicek, a police officer in his day job, was asked to draw a friendly mascot for the German Police to use for the duration of the World Cup, and came up with this little fellow. It’s smiling soccer ball wearing a standard German police officer’s hat. Whether this will stop soccer hooliganism is unclear (“Hey, the police have a really cool mascot — OK lads, the riot’s off”), but it looks perfectly charming and innocent. Except that for the Sun, of course, it looks like Hitler. This isn’t the first time the Sun has got into this kind of trouble. However, Germans can take comfort in the fact that the Sun hates the French far more than it does the Germans.

Want a beer?

But I digress. The World Cup is a wonderful showcase of international harmony, bringing together representatives from all corners of the world to test their strength, agility and ingenuity on the field and celebrate the unity of the human race.

Actually, no. What it is in fact is one almighty all-out big business war. The soccer is now just a side-show.

For example, bearing in mind that you are in Germany, with perhaps the greatest variety of beer anywhere in the world, what kind of beer do you suppose you might be offered at the stadium? The answer is: Budweiser. And not even real Budweiser — from the Czech town of Budvar — but the American copy, which, according to one website I looked at, is “a bit like drinking paint-thinner”. (I don’t drink beer, so I have to take other people’s word for it, but most people I know consider American Budweiser to be an instrument of torture.) The really wacky thing about this is that in the States, soccer is a tame sport played by schoolgirls, one that few Americans take seriously.

Budweiser, you see, has bought exclusivity. Not only can you not get any other beer except Budweiser in the stadiums, you won’t see any adverts for any other beer anywhere near the stadiums. Indeed, you risk being thrown out if you happen to be wearing a T-shirt that says “Beck’s”. If you want a decent beer, you’ll have to go thirsty until the end of the match, and then try to find a pub that isn’t overflowing with soccer fans all in the same predicament.

Canned players

The same thing is true of countless other products. Pepsi? No, sorry, it’s Coca-Cola or nothing. In fact, it’s possibly even true that Coca-Cola selected the German team: they reportedly chose which 16 professional German players are to appear on promotional Coca-Cola cans, and it just so happens that these 16 players are in the squad. The official version of the story is some people at Coca-Cola selected 16 players they thought would be most likely to be in the squad, and their guess happened to be correct. Some people, not surprisingly, wonder why Coca-Cola didn’t first ask to see the shortlist. It would have made far more sense.

The whole thing kicks off at 6pm on 9th June in Munich, with Germany playing Costa Rica. Personally, I won’t be there. I will probably be at home, carefully boycotting Coca-Cola, Budweiser, Hyundai, Gillette and all the other “official partners”. That’ll bring them to their knees.

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