The not-so-United States: Why the cup deserves more consideration


Photo courtesy of Daniela Gonzalez.

The author and her friends celebrating the World Cup opener (Brazil vs. Croatia).

Daniela Gonzalez, Staff Writer, Webmaster

Thursday, June 19th, Colombia competed against the Ivory Coast for their second match of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. If it weren’t for the fact that my mom had to take her summer camp students on a field trip to a San Francisco chocolate factory, we would have been at home, as a family, sitting on the couch in front of the television, with our newly purchased bright-yellow jerseys from the consulate and flags displayed around the house. So instead, my mom and I were in the minivan–jerseys and all–along with four of her campers, frantically searching for a radio station broadcasting the game.

Where I come from, the world comes to a halt for one month, every four years. Everyone follows soccer, and talks about soccer, constantly. My dad, for example, recently refused to give me a ride to a standardized test (which meant–ack–finding my way on my own) so that he could watch our country triumph over Greece. When they can’t watch a match live, my parents avoid everything–from social media outlets to family friends–in order to experience the excitement themselves. Every evening, from the opening day to the final, consists of a nightly recap, catching up on the latest game results and miraculous goals. Where I come from, World Cup happenings are unfailingly monumental. But while driving through San Francisco, those around us seemed relatively unfazed by what I perceived to be beyond exciting. Surprisingly enough, while the Cup is arguably one of the most important and influential sporting events in the world, the majority of Americans fail to view it so highly. My family’s passion for “the world’s most popular sport” (according to Eric Dunning in The Development of Soccer as a World Game) is rarely shared by our friends and peers in the United States.

My family is from Colombia, and according to a study conducted by YouGov and The New York Times, Colombians are some of the world’s biggest soccer fans. We watch nearly every game, host enthusiastic World Cup parties, paint our faces, wear jerseys, and haul flags around with us (no matter where we are) on the days when Colombia is playing. And yes, some Americans support the USA team in a similar manner, but the key difference is that such support is much less common. While I frequently attempt to get my peers as excited about the Cup as I am, I’m often met with apathetic responses such as, “Sorry, I don’t follow soccer,” and “Soccer isn’t really that important around here.” Just a few days ago, a very athletic eleven-year-old I know somewhat jokingly rolled his eyes at me and asked, “Why don’t you talk about real sports? Like football or baseball?” Evidently, while only 6% of Colombians polled by The New York Times consider themselves “not interested in soccer,” 60% of Americans would say the same.

Obviously, this is all very frustrating to me–because I’m Colombian, but also because the FIFA World Cup is much more than a sporting event. It’s not just another sport, one that’s best to stay indifferent towards since our national team hasn’t been particularly successful in the past. Instead, the Cup has global significance. It’s an attempt to foster a healthy rivalry between countries, to compete as peacefully and fairly as possible, to share a common interest. Soccer bridges language barriers and inspires patriotism. It brings people together and gets almost everyone excited–except Americans, that is. The reason for this is simple: Rather than amalgamating as one people to support our soccer players, we spend the same time and energy playing sports against ourselves. Don’t let the term “united” fool you, because the United States, a country composed primarily of immigrants, is anything but.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with being passionate about truly “American” sports such as football and baseball. They are undoubtedly huge components of the American identity (as cricket is to England, for instance), and should be thoroughly embraced by many. Still, they tend to serve as internal dividers. San Francisco Giants vs New York Yankees, Green Bay Packers vs Oakland Raiders, North vs South, East vs West–we are constantly fighting against each other. The fact that many of us come from different backgrounds and ethnicities in the first place is also a source of disparity, but we are still one country, one people, and we should strive to recognize what brings us together. For example, we all value liberty, equality, and opportunity, so let’s view our soccer team as a representative of those common values; allow the Cup to work as a uniting force. Let us occasionally try to step out of these comfort zones of domestic competition. As a prominent world power, the United States has a responsibility to be globally aware. Living in a bubble is no longer an option. For this reason, we must turn our attention to the rest of the world for a change.

The rest of the world clearly views the Cup as something greater than a soccer tournament. A recent CNN article provided various examples of such importance, noting that even rebel fighters in Syria and Iranian officials working on nuclear negotiations in Vienna frequently set these things aside to watch the World Cup. Regardless of whether or not you support your country’s government, support your soccer players, because the World Cup is the essence of widespread pride and fearless patriotism that involves little violence other than Luis Suarez’s biting habits and Zidane’s infamous headbutt.

The Cup is also an equalizer. It doesn’t really matter how wealthy or developed a country is so long as their players can skillfully kick a soccer ball into the net. Additionally, soccer itself is relatively simple (at least compared to other popular sports such as American football and baseball), making it a universal language of sorts. Anyone can travel to another country and strike up a soccer game with people who don’t even speak the same language. It’s not hard to teach or learn, and it provides a medium of interaction and communication.

All I ask is that Americans pay the Cup a little more respect. When something is so incredibly important to such a large number of people–from spectators on the streets of Barcelona to my mom and me, cheering loudly from our minivan when Colombia scored their first goal against the Ivory Coast–it should be a priority to understand why. It’s time to support the American team, despite our many differences. You don’t have to match the Colombian level of pride, no need to paint your face or buy a jersey, but at least do your best to recognize the global significance and patriotic potential of the World Cup.

It’s more than just a game.


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