Just when I feel a little embarrassed by the shenanigans of hockey players, the craziness of the NHL and our obsession with pro hockey, along comes the world of soccer – sorry, football – to put us in our place.
Yes, The Beautiful Game makes the National Hockey League look like the small potatoes it is.
With the World Cup currently underway on television screens around the globe, even North Americans get wrapped up in the spectacle that is the biggest sporting event on the planet – yes, it’s even bigger than the Olympics, which is no amateur when it comes to staging a head-shaking spectacle of whining, cheating and generally embarrassing behaviour in the name of sport. North America is the last holdout in football’s sporting hegemony. Now that North America has taken the ball and run with it – sorry, I couldn’t resist an ironic metaphor for the North American version of “football” – soccer has indeed conquered the world.
The game has been popular in the U.S. and Canada for a long time and more kids play soccer in Canada than play hockey.
Soccer has always been a part of my life, being an immigrant from the country where partisanship is so ingrained that it sends three teams to contest the great football prize, even though none of them appear in any danger of winning it. Of course, now being Canadian, it doesn’t appear as if we’ll be attending the big dance any time soon either. This is supposed to feel significant for some reason.
But such is the World Cup that it stirs national pride and exhorts people to unite and sing the glory of their team at the top of their lungs in a stadium far, far away. And if you can’t be at the stadium, you can always put on your national team’s colours and plunk yourself down on your living room couch and watch it on the telly. Or, if you’re feeling tribal – and such behavior is encouraged – head down to a local pub with others whose grandparents came from some country somewhere else and cheer on a team whose players’ names you can barely pronounce.
Ah, the World Cup where diving, acting, whining and, yes, biting, are all part of the spectacle. And that’s just at the FIFA meetings. Okay, sorry, that last one was a joke. I don’t know if those things happen in a FIFA meeting but I do know that FIFA is the only organization that can teach the International Olympic Committee a thing or two about political intrigue. Yes, FIFA is the organization that decided hosting a World Cup in the middle of summer in the one of the hottest deserts in the world is a good idea.
But despite all the craziness, one thing that transcends it all is the simple beauty of the game and the passion of the fans who suspend belief for a month every four years and celebrate pure athleticism and cunning strategy.
Like all sports, at the heart of it all is a child’s game that still elevates the human spirit to a level of shared joy. Unfortunately, childish behaviour surfaces a little too often.