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Meet the Soccers

June 12, 2010

Hey there sports fans!  It’s officially World Cup time, if you happen to live in a country that is located in the World, then you are probably really excited about this!  But I do believe that hating on the World Cup is sufficient proof of U.S. citizenship for Arizona’s purposes.

U.S. 1, England 1.  That’s a victory in my book, given that this is only to qualify, but that degree of abstraction is too difficult for most American sports fans.  If you are one of the aforementioned blissfully ignorant Americans who have never watched a game of Soccer, you should check out The Onion Sports’ World Cup Primer; it is a lovely, interactive, and uniquely American take on the game, and well worthy of your inspection.  Get into it!

I would be willing to cautiously (and probably controversially) posit that the World Cup is a more internationally cared-for event than the Olympics or the Super Bowl with a cumulative audience of 26.29 BILLION people watching the cumulative 2006 games and 715.1 million watching the Final.  And those are just people who make it to watch a game, let alone those who are only able to cling to the snippets of information they glean from second- and third-hand news reports.

The overall levels of care and respect directed toward the World Cup on a quadrennial basis, in the same spirit of the Olympics, are potential sources of great international solidarity and brotherhood, and I would imagine that the United States’ attitude of exceptionalism and proud aloofness are part of what contributes to international antipathy for Americans.  At the very least it seriously hinders our ability to wield soft power.  If we can’t appreciate the most beloved sport (and perhaps force) in the world, it is a fair question for the rest of the world to wonder what we stand for in general.  Here’s a hint: Winning.  To posit another postulation, Americans haven’t cared about Soccer because we’ve never really been that good at it, and so we can’t cling to the natural sense of nationalism that underlies (or maybe overlays?) any competitive event in American culture.  Other nations will cheer for the rest of their continents and other countries with shared cultural and historical links once their own team is knocked out.  There is hooliganism to be sure (with one of the most comprehensive Wikipedia articles I’ve seen on such a subject), but there is also a level of respect that transcends the narrowness of vision that accompanies an exclusively nationalistic take to a game.  Isn’t that part of what we mean when we say “sportsmanlike conduct,” or at the very least what we should mean?  Shouldn’t that figure into the notion of soft power for the world’s leader of “free peoples”?  But the cutthroat is what you get in American sports.  Fans only care about the survival of their home team, and past that they’ll only watch if there’s a rival team that’s really worthy of hating; otherwise, they switch off.  It isn’t respect for the game; it’s respect of victory.  How fitting that our warlike people care nothing for process but only results.  No wonder we don’t love “the beautiful game.”

I only hope that now that Americans have a real underdog in the fight, and a growing fanbase that actually cares about the game, we can rejoin the ranks of the world.  Granted, much of this new fan base is built upon the backs of immigrant populations who cared deeply about the subject in their countries of origin, but that’s no different from any other American institution (with the possible exception of Mormonism).

And now for something completely different, but to leave you with an appetite for Soccer, not that most Americans would appreciate this one either: who can forget the greatest World Cup event of all time?

(reminder courtesy of Jeff)

One Comment leave one →
  1. Da Arab permalink
    June 13, 2010 12:46 pm

    I’d have to disagree with you. Americans aren’t big soccer fans like the rest of the world because we have more than one or two sports with soccer being the biggest one of maybe two in most countries. We have football and basketball, highly competitive and well-regarded at both the collegiate and professional level. We have baseball. To a lesser, but still respectable degree, we have hockey. That’s six sports, all faster paced, and except for hockey, more complex. There could be an argument that rest of the world just sort of sucks at all the other sports (or because of our well-developed markets for them, their star players come here) and has gravitated to one of the most primitive ones because it can’t support the complexity, funding and appetite that Americans have for our richer, obesity and diabetes inducing athletics. In the world of sports, American might just be the more refined culture.

    Not to say its not totally sweet how amped up the world gets for soccer. And primitive isn’t necessarily bad. It’s good to have a common, baseline and go back to our global roots. And the sport is phenomenally athletic in a way that is easily on par with basketball and football.

    But think how much more Americans would love soccer if the field was about half as big so that instead of all that time wasted running around, players would be setting up complex plays rather than fall back on one of a handful of techniques at any given points.

    All this being said, as the soccer generation grows up and better players emerge out of the states, I think by 2018 or 2022, Soccer and the World Cup will really pick up here, but it’ll be just one sport among many, and what happens when we finally take soccer away from the rest of the globe. You said it best, we love winning.

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