One of the things I picked up on my travels is an interest in soccer. While little appreciated in most of the US, outside the US, soccer is THE biggest game in the world. Populations live and die with the successes and failures of their team. I started collecting soccer jerseys on my travels and continue to, which is why people often see me wearing them. They are certainly the least expensive of jerseys compare to other sports, and I find them quite comfortable especially in the hot climate where I live on the US-Mexico Border.
Soccer can challenge American’s expectations for sports because of its’ pace. While the players move fast and the ball changes hands a lot, the scores tend to remain low. Often games conclude with only 1 or 2 goals. On rare occasions, such as the World Cup Germany game against Australia, you might see 4 goals. For Americans used to basket ball scores in the 70s or higher, football scores in the 30s, baseball scores as high as the teens, this doesn’t evoke much excitement.
Another issue is often the name. While we call it soccer, the rest of the world calls it football. American football, the sport we associate with the word, is quite popular with a lot of physical action. And sometimes, Americans seem to resent the fact that another sport would share the name of their favorite. But soccer seems to fit the term better since the game is played 90% with the foot as opposed to American football where hands, arms, etc. are used often.
It may surprise many Americans to learn, however, that the World Cup is one of the most popular sporting events in the world. Far more popular than our Super Bowl and World Series, and often even more than the Olympics. In my wife’s country, Brazil, people actually commit suicide when the national team loses. Players’ lives are threatened, their family members kidnapped. Some have even been killed. In other countries, these things happen as well, and you see news reports of riots or fighting at games. I know of certain places I have been warned not to wear jerseys of anyone but the local team to avoid being attacked.
Football (soccer) is serious business for these people, and they will never understand our lack of interest.
One of the few advantages of being laid off right now is that we have been able to watch almost all of the games. It’s fun to learn names of players we weren’t familiar with, to see countries like Ghana succeed against bigger countries. It’s fun to see how many countries are represented, and to watch the enthusiasm of the fans and commentators. Footbal is truly a cross cultural game. It can bring the world together, such as the World Cup, and tear it apart when teams defeat each other. Especially when sporting rivalries match political ones.
Don’t get me wrong, I still root for the Americans. I am patriotic after all. But I also root for the underdog teams, like Ghana, who somehow have made it onto the world stage and earned a level of respect they and their countries rarely see. It’s a truly magical success story, and I’m so glad God blesses them with these opportunities.
If you want to see what you’re missing, tune into ABC or ESPN and check it out. You may find you’ve found a new appreciation, maybe even a new passion. In any case, you’ll certainly know more about the world around you.
For what it’s worth…