August 25, 2010

The FIFA World Cup: More Than Just a Football (Soccer) Game

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Warning: Every time the author of this column mentions the word “football”, he is referring to the sport known in the United States as soccer. You should try this at home.

The alarm sounded, and I woke up. I only slept three hours. It was 8:30 a.m. and I had to arrive at my freshman writing seminar within 10 minutes. My body was more tired than the United States’ population was after watching for weeks the Tiger Woods saga — which I personally call The Wood of the Tiger. “Stay in bed,” my mind demanded. However, I couldn’t. Another absence meant my letter grade was going to fall, again.

As I left the comfortable Mews Hall and jogged to my seminar, I felt the necessity to scream some words. I tried to hold back, but they eventually came out on their own. Students around heard me cry out: “Summer, please come to my life!” You could see in their faces the spirit of pity because they –– as Cornell undergraduates –– understood better than anyone else what I was going through. We all wanted classes to finish for our own personal convenience. Some wanted to take a break from the tough academic life on East Hill. Others wanted to escape Ithaca’s crazy weather (which is more unstable than Brett Favre’s mind when thinking about retirement) and enjoy the sun the Pacific Coast has to offer. My reason, however, was a little different because unlike theirs, it was related to the world of sports –– and no, I was not thinking about where King James was going to play for the 2010-11 season. I wanted summer to come because it meant the return of the world’s most beloved sporting event: the FIFA World Cup.

Now, if all the skeptical American sports fans are wondering if the World Cup is in fact the most popular event related to a single sport in the planet, let me throw out some numbers, because unlike in the case of most baseball players, numbers don’t lie. According to FIFA, the sport’s governing body, the World Cup trails only the Olympics with a global cumulative audience of 26.29 billion people (yeah, that’s billion, with a “b”) from 214 different countries. But you may still be doubtful and argue, “hey, but that’s the entire event. What about the final? It can’t beat the Super Bowl and its commercials, right?” Well, not exactly. Super Bowl XLIV with Tim Tebow’s controversial commercial, Peyton Manning with his MVP awards, and the Saints with the Katrina recovery reached 162 million viewers worldwide. The World Cup final? Well, let’s say it has an advantage comparable to the Yankees’ lead over the Orioles in the AL East race. The 2006 final between France and Italy reached 715.1 million spectators around the globe and FIFA still expects the numbers to increase by exceeding the 750 million mark with the 2010 final featuring Spain and the Netherlands. In South Africa, the team’s group stage game against Uruguay surpassed the domestic television rankings held by the legendary rugby final between the African nation and the New Zealand “All Blacks.” And in the coolest achievement yet by a sporting event, the World Cup final became the most tweeted event, ever.

But forget the numbers, and let us focus now on the emotional aspect. What makes football so popular among nations is the power of the game. In the United States, football, like baseball and basketball, is just a sport. In Spain, it represents the battle between political parties; in Argentina, the struggle between social classes; and in Scotland, the conflict between religions. Football can be the reason for madness –– an example is the Heysel Stadium disaster, where 39 people died as a consequence of hooliganism. But football can also be the cause of hope and peace. In 2006, feuding groups from the Ivory Coast communicated for the first time in three years and called for a truce because their nation qualified for the World Cup. Campaigns like FIFA’s “Say No to Racism” and FC Barcelona’s (one of the world’s richest clubs) partnership with the UN’s Unicef reveal that football is indeed more than a game. It is, like most Brazilians say, life. During the World Cup, this philosophy spreads to the entire world and for an entire month, schools are closed, cities are paralyzed, and wars are stopped in the name of the sport. In the Olympics like Chris Matyszczyk says, “size is all that matters. Large countries bring large teams of large people in order to enter largely any event … super powers claim supremacy.” The World Cup, however, is a different story. It doesn’t matter if it is England, Ghana, Chile, New Zealand or North Korea. What matters is that it is 11 against 11, the whole world is watching, and anything can happen.

Original Author: AJ Ortiz