Brexit could kill a global sports success story

(CNN)A recent thrilling clash between Liverpool and Manchester City, the top two teams in the English Premier League this season, was more than merely a game. It was an embodiment of a generation’s worth of globalization and openness, and a warning against jeopardizing that progress with Britain’s clumsy march toward, what in soccer terms, would be a political and economic own goal: Brexit, its divorce from Europe, scheduled to take place March 29.

The English Premier League, the closest thing the world’s most popular sport has to a global all-star league, reflects the cultural and economic power of sport. Political analysts are at times too quick to dismiss the importance of sports off the playing field, but as recent Colin Kaepernick-triggered debates in the United States over the NFL players’ anti-racism protests remind us, sports are a canvas on which our most pressing social and cultural issues come to life in stark relief. Sport is a visceral way tribal fans connect to place, and each other — a compass with which they situate themselves in the world.
As such, sports can offer a sliver of hope that the prospect of a more interconnected, globalized world isn’t as imperiled as the recent tenor of populist, hypernationalistic politics would suggest. American leagues like the NFL, MLB and NBA continue to expand their international fan bases, playing games overseas, and seeking to attract more foreign players to their ranks. But nowhere is the parochial lurch in politics more at odds with sports-related globalization than in Britain, where globalization is revolutionizing the national game (some say religion) — and the game is conversely helping to reassert English cultural power across the globe.

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