Rodrik on Globalization and the Beautiful Game

Rodrik Dani Rodrik at Project Syndicate:

How does globalization reshape wealth and opportunity around the world? Is it mainly a force for good, enabling poor nations to lift themselves up from poverty by taking part in global markets? Or does it create vast opportunities only for a small minority?

To answer these questions, look no farther than soccer. Ever since European clubs loosened restrictions on the number of foreign players, the game has become truly global. African players, in particular, have become ubiquitous, supplementing the usual retinue of Brazilians and Argentines. Indeed, the foreign presence in soccer surpasses anything that we see in other areas of international commerce.

Arsenal, which currently leads the English Premier League, fields 11 starters who typically do not include a single British player. Indeed, all the English players for the four English clubs that recently advanced to the final 8 of the UEFA Champions’ League would hardly be enough to field a single team.

There is little doubt that foreign players enhance the quality of play in the European club championships. Europe’s soccer scene would not be half as exciting without strikers such as Cote d’Ivoire’s Didier Drogba (Chelsea) or Cameroon’s Samuel Eto’o (Barcelona).  The benefits to African talent are easy to see, too. African players are able to earn much more money by marketing their skills in Europe – not just the top clubs in the Premiership or the Spanish Primera Liga, but the countless nouveau-riche clubs in Russia, Ukraine, or Turkey.