Friday, June 11, 2010

Why the World Cup Matters

Although I have been thinking on this for a bit, I am going to write it in a hurry. Why? Out the door soon for Mexico vs. South Africa.

In its construction I think it is mostly a list of reasons why I shouldn't love the World Cup. I think that asking the global south to fund a circus to entertain the global north, especially when it is being hosted by the country with the highest income gap in the world, is unconscionable. I have said before that the confines of saying one is from a certain nation are being strained in this age. I also disagree with overhyping national characters which have little bearing on reality.

Then why do I like, no, love and support the World Cup? Especially considering that I am fairly lukewarm when it comes to the Olympics with all of its housewife pandering pageantry and niche sports emerging from hibernation. I don't mean to insult the Olympics. At times I love them and I certainly enjoyed attending them in Atlanta. I think there is something to be said for the World Cup only featuring one sport. And that sport truly being a world sport. Even with its travel teams and development schools soccer is a game that can be played by poor people as well as rich people anywhere anytime. All you need is a ball or some friends with a ball. It is truly a sport that requires no explanation on most corners of the earth. Those corners turn their attention every four years to the World Cup.

How does that take the event beyond mere spectacle? Even though I discount the idea of a national character, some degree of said non-existent substance starts to emerge in the development of a nation side. Why? Good question. Because each country is responsible for developing its own talent and hiring a manager and administrating the program. So we find things like a Japanese side who seem so reluctant to take a shot without asking for permission. Or a South Korean team who would rather play in a turban of gauze covered in blood than lose to the US. We have the historic German teams who played with robotic precision and Brazilian squads filled with former street kids winking at there own cleverness. A national soccer team presents a face for the country and where they are at that point in time. A face that is different than the one presented by the political leadership or the national media. The only reason I know that Germany's immigration laws have begun to get more reasonable is that they now have the children of Turkish immigrants playing for their team. Was it not the drama of a North African Arab leading France, who had been resistant to people like him even existing, that lead his country to the championship?

That is the overwhelming reason that I love the team that represents my country. I love that their last names are not only Donovan and Dempsey but Torres, Bocanegra, Onyewu and Altidore. I am very happy that is the America that the rest of the world will be looking at for the next few weeks. An American team who is know for coming out and playing hard for 90 minutes and giving everything they have, not stopping to flop and not afraid to bleed. I am ecstatic that one of the greatest stars America has ever produced comes from a trailer park in Nacogdoches. I am thrilled that one of our forwards left his starting position in England to make sure his family in Haiti were all accounted for. I am very glad that our starting center back was forced to stay in college by his Nigerian immigrant parents.

Often as Americans we are represented abroad by politicians who don't speak for us and represented by movies whose characters don't represent us. Our professional athletes to a large degree have reached such upper levels of class that they no longer resemble humans. For a few weeks every four year I feel that there are a group of guys out there who do, in some way, speak for me. Is that ridiculous?

I would be remiss in not pointing out that I feel the same thing applies to other teams. Who better displays the perilous state of Honduran politics than their football team, and who isn't touched when their fans said to US fans after both had qualified to go to the World Cup, "Let's go there together."? Who can hate Didier Drogba, who was born in France but fiercely stands up for his heritage in Cote d'Ivoire, giving significant amounts of his fortune to build hospitals? Does it not invoke history to ponder why the Australian team has so many Croats playing for it? I love the World Cup completely and unapologetically. So should you.


Caitlin said...


Anonymous said...

Why South Korea's extreme aversion to losing to the US? I would understand on the part of the DPRK, or maybe Japan...

wwc said...

South Korea is possessed with a knee-jerk, enthusiastic nationalism that, while I rather enjoy it when stood aside Japan's passive aggressive harping, can extend to any country that it feels has wronged it. Whether that be in an ice skating competition or with the continued presence of its military.

attempting to silence the voices in my head.