Earlier Posts, Sports, Uncategorized
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Diversions: The World Cup

The world is fully absorbed in fúbol/soccer/calcio/fuβbol/voetbol FEVER. Journalists and academics alike are expounding the merits of the game, the techniques of players, the culture of fans, and the reactions of countries. Companies advertise their products with World Cup-related narratives and in the United States more World Cup conversation is occurring than ever before. FIFA, or the Fédération Internationale de Football Association – the governing body for the sport – is once again in the hot seat for corruption and shady tactics. For those who do not watch soccer, the negative publicity of the organization seems to confound. Why would a fan want to associate with such repulsive activities?
John Oliver explains it best.

If one is a fan, one cannot simply stop watching the game.

Image by Crystian Cruz. "FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany x Italy, 2nd Half," 2006 (Flickr Creative Commons)

Image by Crystian Cruz. “FIFA World Cup 2006: Germany x Italy, 2nd Half,” 2006 (Flickr Creative Commons)

I am among those fans that struggle through life longing for WC summers, to obsess over details of the game, the players, and that really amazing crossover/header/save/penalty that called the match.

It is not my intention to insert myself in the commentary regarding the legitimacy of American fans or athletes, but to present several ideas hovering over the event as a whole.

The World Cup creates an opportunity for Americans to discuss what it means to be “American.”
Each time “soccer” is presented on the national (or international) stage, the dialogue immediately shoots to “why Americans do not like/appreciate/understand” the game. It is the same conversation each World Cup. Commentators arrogantly write articles like this one explaining to us why Americans watch the sport “all wrong.” (Is it just me, or do the British complain the most about American’s increasing enjoyment of the game? It is like England and America are standing in a room together while England rants about what they hate about the Yankees. “Uh, we can hear you, England. We are standing right here.”)

In fact, that the British stress about Americans calling the sport “soccer” is kind of hilarious. They started it.
On that note, if you are an American insisting on calling it “fútbol” and passive-aggressively insert it into conversation when someone else says “soccer,” you are insufferable. Italian fans call it “calcio” and no one is on their case.

All the argument about what attitudes and perceptions are most appropriate for a soccer-playing nation was bound to result in this comment from Jürgen Klinsmann.  While he received a lot of criticism for wishing to create an American-style technique, I believe he was revealing something deeper than sports analysts would allow. Ask any fan, and she or he will tell you the European, South American, and African styles of play are entirely different from one another. There are moments when conflicting styles clash to create a frustrating match, or there is too much of a certain style on the field which exasperates the viewer. Often these styles are obscured in non-World Cup soccer because there is great national variety on the club teams. For instance, Manchester United includes 20 international players, out of a 31, on their First Team and about half of them are not European. Correspondingly, many of the athletes on the US National team play outside of the country and are respected, even highly valued, on their European club teams. The point is this: there are often regional differences that are incredibly distinct. Why should there not be a North American/American style of play?


Defining what it means to be “American” is an extremely complicated thing. However, Corporate America thinks they have it in the bag.
McDonald’s tells us that intergenerational Americans are international, which may create relational conflicts. In the end, we all want the same thing…to win big with McDonalds.

I find this commercial extremely compelling. Subtly the company sells its product, but does so through play on the current American experience. It displays a familial conflict that has existed throughout the history of the United States. Foodways historian Hasia Diner, illustrates this tension in her book Hungering for America: Italian, Irish and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration, noting that while the second generation appreciated their heritage, they rarely took home made food to eat outside of the home (school, work) because they “felt discomfort at what American must think of them and their food.”[1] In this commercial, the younger generation cheers for his home country among his American friends while the older generation reaches to his traditional national team. A house is divided. For the Italians in early twentieth-century America it was food, today it is the World Cup – or at least McDonalds wishes us to think it so.

Pepsi tells us that Americans are a part of the international community:

Kia tells us that “American” sports are lame through the – very American – advertising method of choosing the most beautiful person on earth to deliver the message. (Note: I do not condone Kia’s message.)


And here:

On that note, Kia (and ESPN, for that matter) think it is totally fine to utilize Adriana Lima’s incredible looks to sell cars and soccer, yet women get flack for swooning over Ronaldo. The double-standard exists.
So I am throwing in this one because Fly Emirates did a great job using Ronaldo to sell airplanes:


Finally, one last thought:

It is amazing that the world is watching one game at the same time.

ONE match. Together.

Fúbol/soccer/calcio/fuβbol/voetbol reaches to the far corners of the earth.

The desire to watch and be a part of this community is not a wish to be like Europeans, or anti-American, but it is a desire to connect with fans all over the world.

As ESPN says, “Every four years the world has one time zone.”

That is pretty darn cool.



[1] Hasia Diner, Hungering for America: Italian, Irish, and Jewish Foodways in the Age of Migration. (Cambridge: Harvard, 2001): 81.


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