“The Beautiful Game”
By Tommy Gartrell
The 20th installment of the FIFA World Cup is catching or even gripping the world’s attention this month. Are you watching? Is it your cup of tea, cup of Joe, or especially sweet cupcake? This event is called the largest sporting event in the world and globally, it certainly is. However, in our little corner of the world, a huge collective yawn seems to be the norm as with soccer in general. Why?
Since 1930, the FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) has held this soccer tournament every four years except during World War II. The whole event actually lasts three years, but the final tournament of 32 teams is what we all know as the World Cup which lasts about a month. It was expanded from 16 teams to 24 teams in 1982 and to the current number of 32 in 1998. A 40 team field is being considered for the future.
In 2006, 715.1 million people or a ninth of the world’s population watched the final match and the cumulative audience for that tournament was estimated at 26.29 billion people. It is huge in other parts of the world, but locally, soccer following pales in comparison to baseball, basketball and football. I have some friends vacationing in Panama this week, and they tell me that every conversation there begins with this tournament. “Every café and restaurant has it playing on big screen televisions,” one of them wrote to me. Why is futbol or “the beautiful game” as it is known not as popular here because hundreds of children, my daughter included play soccer?
Personally, I love watching my daughter’s games because of her participation, but I certainly do not understand all of the rules and nuances of the game. Her generation will be more interested in the sport in years to come, but a man who did not play nor had the opportunity to play soccer as a child, the game is a mystery to me. Soccer was added as a youth sport at the local recreation department less than 25 years ago and a sport at the middle school and high school levels less than two decades ago. It is foreign to natives of this area from my generation and older. It is unfortunate that we missed out on a game which is great physical exercise and so popular in other regions.
My first real introduction to soccer was during a physical education class in college. I learned quickly that I was not good at it. In addition, I dated a goal keeper from the women’s soccer team briefly in college, but it’s nearly impossible to become deeply involved with a lady that is primarily interested in stopping anyone from scoring. None the less, I watch Olympic soccer and the United States national teams as an act of patriotism even though I am admittedly not a soccer fan. I never miss a chance to say, “Go USA.” I will make every attempt to watch our U.S. team battle heavily favored Germany on Thursday and cheer for our guys.
I put the question about watching the world cup and soccer to my friends on social media and found that I am pretty typical in that I watch it for my child or as a matter of national pride. Some folks do not watch at all, while a few are passionate about it. I want to share a few responses with you.
“It is strange to see so much hype about the World Cup. I like it and wish that I knew more about soccer and/or the teams to get into it.”
“I’m adding soccer to my list of things that if it fell off the planet tomorrow, I’d never know…”
“I’ve only missed watching two games! All three kids play soccer.”
“If you consider watching grass grow a good time, soccer is your sport.”
“I am not a soccer guy at all… But I am glued to the TV for every game I can see.”
“HUGE futbol fan!”
“The only thing that I’ve ever kicked was a possum!”
“We are interested. My boys have all and do play soccer.”
“I love watching the games!”