Why is football such a brilliant and replicable institution?
Think about it. Institutions are often defined as ‘the rules of the game’. The work of Matt Andrews, ODI and an increasingly large phalanx of other researchers argue that such rules have to emerge from local context. You can’t use a cookie cutter to graft Westminster democracy or any other institution onto poor countries.
Except for football (OK, soccer, for some of you). Now there is a perfect universal set of ‘rules of the game’. In fragile states such as Papua New Guinea, few people accept Western notions of governance, but they all accept the offside rule. A single set of rules is followed apparently by grassroots and elite alike in more or less every country in the world. Why is that?
It is argued that the same rules of the game apply everywhere and this implies a well functioning institution. I also think the argument for clearly defined incentives is a strong one.
However, while rules are clearly defined and accepted across the world it is not the case that football culture is the same across the footballing world. Different countries have different ways of playing and behaviours that are acceptable in one football culture are not acceptable in another. This is more than the cliché of foreign players in England being prone to diving or that the game in Britain is more physical and less technical.
In Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer, David Winner argues that Dutch football's success is partly due to Dutch people's need to think differently about space and it's uses as a large population squeezed into a small space. In a review of the book here, Timothy Dugdale also refers to Winner's argument that brazilian football is so creative "precisely because its society has yet to impose 'progress' upon it". The benefits to Dutch football from its society's open attitude to immigrant influences is also cited.
So, while rules of the game have replicated and there is no doubt that football is a successful institution, the other aspects of institutions, such as culture, remain differentiated. Perhaps this is an indication of an even greater success of global football that it can accommodate heterogeneity in styles and approaches while maintaining the rules and organisations.