Archive for Thursday, June 22, 2006

Americans just don’t understand

June 22, 2006

Once every four years, soccer fans around the world get to enjoy a period of ecstasy and jubilance.When the World Cup rolls around, there is nothing like the passion for the game that is evident amongst soccer worldwide. Unfortunately, that is not the case in the United States. Most people here have not had the chance of living through "World Cup Fever," which engulfs the rest of the world. It's hard to explain the excitement, the thrill of losing oneself in the tournament and being oblivious to the rest of the happenings around the world.

While the "fever" is slowly catching on here, its nothing compared to the frenzy that is indulged by the other nations. For the most part, fans care how the U.S. team fares, but that can be a short-lived experience because the U.S. has not had a good run in these tournaments. In the rest of the world, however, the fans watch almost all the games played in a course of a month. It is a time they savor the best in the sport, displaying their splendor and talent for the world to see. After all, this is the World Cup, in every sense of the word. Unlike the NBA "World Championship" or the '"World Series," this event truly spans the globe. Every nation in the world has a shot at making into the final round of 32 teams. The process takes over two years to complete.

Once a team is eliminated from the qualifying rounds, it's very common for the fans in the country to root for the country that is represented from their region. That's what makes the World Cup special for the fans around the world; they always find someone to passionately root for. If you have seen any of the fans shots on TV during the World Cup, you would have seen the frenzy that goes with the tournament.

Another element that is different with fans here is the time the games are shown. The games are usually shown at an unearthly hour, because of the time difference. It is not uncommon for people to show up to work late the next day with lack of sleep. Many studies have been done to show that productivity takes a major dive during the World Cup. The fans savor in the fact that they stayed up till 3 a.m. to watch a game. It's a bond that is experienced by die-hard fans of the game.

If they are lucky to have their country represented in the World Cup, it's very common for the government declare a pubic holiday for wins or even make a special concession. In fact when Australia played last week in its very first World Cup against perennial powerhouse Brazil, there was talk about declaring the day after the game a national holiday because the game was played at 2 a.m. local time.

Such is the power of this game. It brings people together in a bond that is like none other. In some countries, it has more power than the government. Like in the Ivory Coast, the civil war that could not be stopped by the government has come to a halt because the nation has come together to support its national team. The countries that win the tournament often have wild partying and celebration throughout the country. I'm pretty confident if Iraq had made it to the World Cup, there would be peace in that nation, at least for the duration of the tournament.

One of the most beautiful experiences I had during the World Cup was attending one. I was fortunate to get to go to New York to watch the 1994 quarterfinals. It a time that I cherish to this day. People from all over the world were in unison determined to have a good time, despite of the teams they were rooting for. I had worn a shirt of a famous English team and everywhere I turned, people were greeting me with a sense of camaraderie that was truly remarkable. It was the most beautiful sporting moment that I have experienced. During the game, fans of both teams were intermingled. There was no animosity or hatred that sometimes is associated with soccer. Civility reigned in the stadium.

I think would be hard for someone who has never played the sport to appreciate it. They might enjoy the game, but I don't think they will ever appreciate the many subtleties of the game. Football, as it is known throughout the world, will always be the most popular and biggest sporting event in the planet, no matter how many "World Series or "World Championships" are played among the U.S. teams.

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