Power of the Game: Apted’s Sports Docu

Michael Apted’s Power of the Game aims to show how football creates a global bond among countries. It also serves as an illuminating reflection of internal tensions within each country that plays the sport, including the U.S.

Apted’s footage includes some interesting interviews with players and organizers from places as varied as South Africa, Iran, the US and Poland.

This earnest, celebratory documentary has vivid local scenes, which examine the particularities of the game in individual countries as they pay tribute to its global reach.

Although there is plenty of match footage–sometimes balletic, sometimes violent, almost all of it from television broadcasts–Apted’s inquiry probes the world behind the game.

For South Africans, football–once all-white–is a measure of the country’s emergence from decades of apartheid.

For Americans, football is viewed as the reverse application of globalization, the slow acceptance of a foreign sport, starting with school play and moving up to the professional level.

In Iran, football matches, from which women are barred as spectators, are beginning to see that ban crack.

Jaffar Panahi’s brilliant expose, Offside, has already looked at the women’s spectator ban as a reflection of broader political circumstances.

The characters that Apted follows in the various stories are fascinating. An Iranian woman journalist, who was a protester for women’s rights 20 years ago, won a small victory to be allowed to enter the stadium in Tehran. Argentinean organizers talk of saving players from lives of crime. Polish activists fight the strong tide of anti-immigrant racism.

Power of the Game notes that football can be a platform for racist demonstration, including some footage of the gruesome side of this problem. Yet there are barely any scenes of football hooliganism, a recurrent problem in Europe and South America. Nor does the film take on the ugly commercialism of the game, which undermines democratization and puts World Cup matches beyond the means of average fans.