If your kids watch the Tifo channel on Youtube, they will be able to explain to you the latest tactics in European football in such intricate detail that you will wonder how football became so cerebral. In this intriguing short read, Janan Ganesh explains how the rise of football first led to the rise of intelligent coaches like Pep Guardiola and then the entry of affluent, well-read, intelligent fans:
“The membrane that used to seal football from the life of the mind has become ever more porous. There is lots of good writing now — and not just, à la Norman Mailer, about human themes around sport. There is more tactical analysis than I can keep up with or sometimes fathom: on podcasts, on the YouTube Tifo channel, on Twitter. Next to the political debate, in which I have spent my adult life, the tone is sharper, droller, more allusive to other bodies of knowledge.”
Mr Ganesh then lays out the broad sequence of events which got football where it is today: “First, in the 1990s, hooliganism declined. White-collar fans could follow the sport without social stigma….Then, from 2008, when Pep Guardiola took over as manager of Barcelona, football became more tactically complex. People with a forensic cast of mind were drawn to a subject that might once have bored them. Finally, social media gave those people a platform. The result is a richer and more mind-stretching football discourse than was conceivable a generation ago.”
In contrast, as would be apparent to anyone reading the weekend newspapers in India or the daily opeds in newspapers, the quality of discourse in artistic and intellectual life declined: “Just as football went through its intellectual revolution, the arts discourse went the other way. Look at what gets broadcast now. ITV gave up on The South Bank Show, its long-running cultural series, in 2010. The BBC abandoned The Review Show in 2014…
The peak-to-trough fall in the US is greater. On YouTube, there is a clip from The Dick Cavett Show in 1981 of Ian McKellen explaining the difference between stage and screen acting. Over the course of seven minutes. Without a whoop or holler from the audience.”
As in the US and the US, so in India, the decline in the quality of intellectual discourse over the past decade is just as striking as the rise of elite sports in these countries.

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