Unless you’re Amish, living under a rock, or completely ignoring all of humanity, you’ve caught a World Cup match or two over the past few days. The mania is everywhere, and for the American soccer fan, it’s heaven.
But I’ll bet there are more than a few of us that feel a bit conflicted. Everyone knows I’m a mad-crazed sports fanatic. Every Saturday in the fall is consumed by college football. My basketball season starts in October, with the first days of college practices. I die for March. Yet, over the past week or so, I’ve received more than several comments from my officemates about how I wasn’t “up” enough for the World Cup. They were surprised, they said, that I wasn’t sitting at my computer rattling off stats and discussing match-ups like I usually am during other parts of the year.
The truth of the matter is, I just don’t follow soccer. I don’t hate it. I understand the rules. I think the World Cup is a wonderful event. It just simply isn’t “my thing.” And I know I’m not alone.
So I’ve developed a little World Cup guide for all of us on the outskirts—us avid sports fans who are just peering over the soccer fence wondering what’s going on. These are the highlights that any of us can appreciate. Go over the basics, and you’ll be spending your lunch hour hovered around a computer staring at Watch ESPN like an old pro. Because cheering with a group, for anything, is always fun, and we don’t want to miss it.
Tradition: The FIFA World Cup is held every four years, and has been around since 1930. Every sports fan knows that when things happen less often, like say, the Olympics, they are more important. A tremendous soccer player could have a pretty good career and never play in a World Cup match. These athletes are aware that this is a special moment in their athletic lives, and that awareness makes things super intense. Getting knocked out could mean you never come back.
Patriotism: While almost any sport can throw an American into USA! convulsions, soccer is the sport the rest of the world becomes nationalistic for. Everyone has their “colors.” Everyone has their mascot or identifying good luck charm that makes them uniquely their own. Winning the World Cup gives one country in the world bragging rights for the next 1,400-plus days. It’s like winning a war, but slightly less violent.
Celebrity: Sure, we have LeBron James and Peyton Manning. We have Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods. But we do not have Cristiano Ronaldo. We don’t even have David Beckham. Famous soccer players are immediately stars on an international stage. They’re rich, powerful, (usually) attractive, and have global influence. Pelé has one name, like Madonna.
WAGS: And of course, along with the famous star athletes come the famous Wives And Girlfriends (WAGS). Please, name 10 wives/girlfriends/significant others of American athletes that are just as famous as their counterparts. Now I have one name for you: Victoria Beckham.
Politics and Diplomacy: Bringing it back to a more serious tone, the World Cup is also interesting when watched in the context of current affairs. Or even in the context of history. Just yesterday, Germany and the U.S. played each other. In 1942, the World Cup wasn’t even held because those two countries were at war. Think about it. Seventy-two years ago, the majority of the teams in the World Cup would have actually been on a battlefield shooting at each other instead of shooting soccer balls into the back of the goal. That’s pretty amazing. Yes, let that sink in for a minute.
Not Doing Work: And, if historical context doesn’t float your boat, know that the World Cup is one of those rare times in life where it’s perfectly acceptable for productivity to drop and your boss looks the other way. Lunch hours get longer. Alcohol is consumed in the middle of the day. We’re not overtly neglecting our work, but it’s the World Cup! It’s tradition! It’s patriotism! It’s what you should be doing for the rest of the next two weeks. Because you’re a sports fan. And that’s what we do.