Some thoughts on the ontology of football

Published 09.02.2019 00:02

The Cambridge Dictionary defines football as "a game played between two teams of 11 people, where each team tries to win by kicking a ball into the other team's goal." This definition seems fine at a first glance, but when one puts more thought into whether it is sufficient, some interesting questions start to arise. For instance, when a weaker team tries to secure a point by not conceding goals and not trying to score, does that mean that they are not playing football?

For sure, accidents may happen and even a team that "parks the bus" in front of the penalty box can score a goal. Nevertheless, if the consensus is right and the act of football is a team trying to score a goal, then there are thousands of games in which two teams of 11 people played football, but also did not.

The problem is how to define the meaning of football, in other words, why do we play football? For scoring goals and winning games of course, as a source of entertainment, this is how football should be played. I do not think that our ancestors first kicked a ball because they thought preventing other people from kicking it would be enjoyable. No, the act of kicking the ball into a certain net came first; then came the idea of stopping others from doing it. But, when people like Diego Simeone flawlessly defend their goal but do not make any attempt to score one, are they not actually playing football?

But this seems very counterintuitive, does not it? Twenty-two players on the pitch, the ball is being kicked around but no football is being played. This just seems paradoxical, because these players play and do not play football at the same time. Of course, you may claim that one need not have the intention of scoring goals to play football; one may basically love the idea of playing with the ball. But then you would be contradicting the definition of football by saying that "football is a game played between two teams of 11 people, where each team plays with the ball." In that case, it is well-possible that two opposing sides can pass with each other or play a different game with the ball. Would that still be football?

I do not think so since there would not be any enjoyment without competition. No one would enjoy scoring goals against a team that does not defend. What gives meaning to our actions is that the acknowledgment that others bestow on us and in football's case the acknowledgment happens when the other team competes.

So, it seems that we cannot escape our counterintuitive solution, that anyone whoever steps onto a pitch without the intention of scoring goals does not play football. With this mentality, a team would basically reduce themselves to the position of an object, an obstacle rather than a subject, an agent. They no longer play football; they merely prevent others from playing it. Thus, solely defensive strategies are not football and whoever plays with such mentality cannot be said to be playing the beautiful game.

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