Saturday, June 12, 2010
And so the games begin.
The 2010 Soccer World Cup kicked off in South Africa last night with all the colour and vivacity expected for an event that draws a larger worldwide audience than the Olympic Games. This is a very exciting time. Sensibility is swamped with a frenzied patriotism, anthems are sung with a delirious passion, and deep inside our swollen hearts, we discover the surprising ferocity of our inner racism (yes, Italy, we still have not forgotten that penalty). Romantics dream of an unlikely victory for host nation South Africa, after a decade of conflict, and the easily-amused anticipate a politically-charged blood fest between the two Koreas in one of the knockout stages.
Australia previously had very little interest in the game until the Socceroos wowed us all in the last series, prompting us to drop our cricket bats and join in the spirit of the rest of the world (at least until we stop qualifying). The moment our young, parochial and geographically isolated nation receives any sort of global recognition, we jump up and down like a child given a shiny gold star. Americans are not so big on the game either, preferring baseball to the world’s dominant sport. It is often said that sport reflects culture, and scholars reason that Americans scorn the fact that feeble teams can often win a game of soccer simply by concentrating on defence, which is thought to be absurdly unfair. It’s frustrating also that one-third of games result in a tie (there should always be a winner), and that star players like David Beckham are traded like horsemeat from one team to another, often showing disloyalty by abandoning their home countries. On the other side of the field, Europeans and South Americans snicker at the facts that a national sport like baseball could alter its rules to suit television, that lousy teams are permitted to continue in the league, and that the draft system dictates which team a player can join. Szymanski and Zimbalist write, “Americans and Europeans have absorbed the structure and rules of their sports into their psyches, turning the arbitrary rules of nineteenth-century administrators into a way of life.”
Despite the separation of soccer from our national sports, I’ll still be watching. For however long it lasts, the excitement of being part of a global event that entails such intoxicating spirit and brutal passion is extraordinary.