By Reneé A. Garrick, Esq. |
Every four years, we are treated to the pinnacle of what the world calls “the beautiful game.”
Like billions of people all over the world, I have been discretely angling my computer screen away from my boss during the day to watch the World Cup.
Here in the United States, many sports fans treat soccer as a second class sport. They eat, sleep and breathe every minute, every stat, and every play of baseball, football and basketball. Though there has been an increase in interest in soccer in the United States in the last several years, the sport is still catching up in popularity as compared to the rest of the world.
Most sports are provincial in nature. Cricket and rugby might be popular in England, but they don’t translate well. North American favorites don’t generally appeal to the rest of the world (save some strong pockets of baseball fans in Latin America and basketball in Europe). American Football is played nowhere at all.
By and large the only genuinely international sporting obsession is soccer. It is the language of the world. In part because of its pure beauty, in part because it is the game of the rich and the poor alike—the collegiate athletes of the U.S. and the street kids of Jamaica, scoring in shiny new goals and old rags held up by a few sticks.
Success in any sport can be beneficial to the psyched of a nation, but the World Cup has been unique in uplifting nations during difficult times.
This year the United States failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986, a fate sealed by its 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago on October 10, 2017. The blow was one of a series of blows the U.S. has suffered lately while our political discord tears us apart.
This year, more than perhaps any other, we could have used some World Cup magic.
For example, in 2006 when the Ivory Coast qualified for the World Cup, the country was in the midst of a brutal Civil War that had torn the country apart. After the team qualified, Captain Didier Drogba led his team’s pleas for peace. Miraculously, after four years of internal strife, the country came together behind the team’s pleas and a deal with signed in 2007 and the Ivory Coast has been at peace since. In 2010, the World Cup provided Greece with much needed reprieve from their economic crisis. In 2011, the Japanese World Cup team lifted the spirits of their entire nation to fuel the rebuild after the devastating tsunamis at the northern coast.
Maybe it would have only been a short term solution. Maybe it would only have been putting a Bandaid on a bullet wound. But maybe it could have been more than that.
Soccer is a simple game that anyone can play, and has the ability to provide hope to people all over the world. It is a game that reminds us anything can happen.
Where else can Senegal be more powerful than France (1-0 at the 2002 World Cup)? Or could Ghana dominate the United States (2-1 in 2006)? Or Mexico or Korea shut out Germany (1-0 and 2-0, respectively at the 2018 World Cup)?
Even though we can’t root for the U.S. team this year, hopefully we can still sit back and enjoy a truly international phenomenon and let it begin to heal us the way it has healed so many nations before. It truly is a game that can do that.
If that isn’t beautiful, I don’t know what is.
Reneé Garrick is an attorney with significant media and sports experience having worked with three of the four major sports leagues during her career. Garrick graduated from Muhlenberg College with a BA in Political Science and Business Administration in 2012 and from Harvard Law School with a JD in 2015.
I think the reason why soccer is not as popular in the United States is it is not perceived as heroic. Football and hockey have obvious heroics since the other team is physically trying to stop your efforts. Baseball and basketball have the moments of high efforts, like a diving for the ball ESPN highlight moments that are heroic. Soccer has a few built in issues that really hurt the perception of heroism. 1. Flopping- soccer has the worst player-to-ref ratio of any team sport, which makes bad calls all to frequent; Diego Maradona & the Hand of God for example. Flopping is unheroic and players get away with it. 2. The Offsides Rule- If soccer was invented by Americans, then there would be no offside rule and the defenders would not be rewarded for “lazy play”; they would half to get back on defense AND DO THEIR JOBS. Could you imagine football where a 60 yard touchdown pass would be called back because there were not enough defenders between the receiver and the goal line? 3. Strategy- Even with soccer increasing in numbers as a youth sport, there are still a vast majority of Americans who grew up with Football, baseball, and basketball. There was no soccer leagues around when I grew up, and no school soccer team in high school or college. There is no built in understanding of what is going on. In every sport there are elements that give your team an advantage and help you win, like rebounding in basketball. Why are those two German defenders just kicking the ball back and forth? I know what is happening, but people who do not watch a lot of soccer have no clue. Non soccer fans think nothing is happening. Non soccer fans cannot name any advantages a good soccer team must heroically fight for. Soccer broadcasts do not always keep track of statistics that would help to educate the fan. 4. International fan behavior- We are not angels but…. in over 100 years of baseball, how many umpires have been beheaded? Do Yankee and Met fans routinely form armies, meet on 42nd Street, and have a gang war? There are some Americans who look at the rioting and soccer hooliganism, and have decided they do not want that stupidity here. In my opinion, perceptions of soccer will change for the United States, but it will take another generation or two. Meanwhile, soccer will be perceived as the sport for kids not athletic enough or valiant enough to play another sport.