Reflections on South Africa 2010: World Watches Cup, US Watches World

Wednesday, July 14, 2010 | Washington, DC, USA (map)

Well said. (Spectator in the crowd before the US-England match broadcast, Washington, DC)
The 2010 World Cup in South Africa has come and gone. I did not reach Africa's first World Cup, although I did my best to watch every game (and for the first few weeks, before returning to a desk job here in Washington, I came close to doing so).

Watching this Cup here in the US was nothing like back in 2006, when each muggy evening I crowded with fellow spectators around the TV in a ramshackle Tanzanian bar. The contrast is unmistakable; while the rest of the planet takes a month-long break every four years for the World Cup, few Americans even bat an eyelash. If anything, most marvel at the silliness of their fellow Earthlings' football fever.

Here in the US, ahead of every World Cup, whatever TV network holds broadcast rights to the Cup happily perpetrates the myth that (despite all precedent to the contrary) this World Cup will be The
One—the tournament that prompts soccer to finally "take off" in America. But professional soccer simply isn't a part of American sporting culture, and those of us who enjoy watching and playing it have grown to simply accept our minority status.

The World Cup, like any historic event, is best experienced with company. So this year I attended a public viewing of one match in central Washington's Dupont Circle, and watched many others in friends' living rooms. National allegiances added an extra layer of excitement to the World Cup; after years of studying, living and working in Washington and abroad, I have developed close friendships with citizens of over half of this year's World Cup teams, making for some entertaining online banter in recent weeks.

Over the course of the last month, however, my passion has dimmed. Although I consider myself a serious international soccer fan, and am proud to have watched over 60 of the 64 games in the 2006 tournament, this year even I had difficulty maintaining my passion for the Cup in the face of the overwhelming injustices perpetrated in nearly every match. Admittedly, some aspects of soccer will never change: referees will always see penalties that didn't happen or miss those that do, players will always get away with fouls and woo the refs with shameless dives. But the refusal of FIFA—soccer's governing body—to employ 21st century technology to minimize the game's injustices remains utterly indefensible. In a game where a single goal usually does make all the difference, the human failures easily manage to overwhelm the players' superhuman efforts, leaving the outcomes of many matches—and the tournament as a whole—to chance.

Perhaps to better enjoy the next World Cup, I will simply have to invest more of my interest in the tournament's cultural aspects than the soccer itself. Oh, and being there to see it in person sure wouldn't hurt. Is it too early to start dreaming about Brazil 2014?

1 comment:

Emily N said...

I have every intention of living in Brazil by then... so come and visit me!

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