Let's begin with the beginning of soccer, which is really called football. It is medieval Great Britain, and there is one village on one side; another village on the other. The match begins. And what we see is not a sport but the stuff of nightmares. Drunken men are chasing a pig's bladder with the wide goal of kicking this organ to the other village. There is no field, just the area between the villages. And this area might have rivers, a forest, hills. There is no such thing as a foul. No referee. No red cards. There is only that bloody bladder. If it reaches a village—GOALLLLL! And where exactly was the joy in this sport? It seems to be nothing but maddening. A mob storms this way and then that. People get hurt or killed.
This olde Scottish poem, which is on the Wikipedia page for "Medieval Footaball," says it all:
Bruised muscles and broken bones
Discordant strife and futile blows
Lamed in old age, then cripled withal
These are the beauties of football
Eventually order was imposed on football, and eventually it was adopted to the interests of capitalists. With the gains made by labor reform, the sport was restructured by companies to pacify a labor force that had more free time on its hands, and also for PR. This aspect of the sport is still very much with us today, as the documentary The Workers Cup makes clear.
Shot in 2015, it features workers from Africa, Nepal, India, and Bangladesh who are building stadiums and infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the richest country in the world in terms of GDP ($124,930 per person). They work for peanuts. Some get paid $400 a month. They are basically slaves. They have no rights, and can only stay in the country if they are employed. The company holds their passports. What to do? Play some football.
The local companies have a little league for the workers, and the documentary follows the ups and down of one of its teams, GCC (Gulf Construction Company). The whole business is just heartbreaking. Soccer is exposed for what it is: the exploitation of the exploited's only free time, which is not even free. Free time only exists for the unemployed. If you are working, even for pennies, you are paying for the time when you are not working.
In one scene, the dirt-poor captain of the GCC team, a Ghanaian named Kenneth, is shown sitting on a bench in a locker room built by near-slave labor. Dr. Dre's Beat headphones hanging on his neck, he looks at the camera with a face expressing that deep and enigmatic pre-match inwardness. It is the exact image of a millionaire player. This is the most the world will ever give him. This illusion of football greatness. The next day, he will be back at the Qatar construction site breaking his back.