For American sports fans, there were conflicting views on the World Cup. Some could not stand it, while others were glued to the screen.
Many Americans consider soccer unexciting and confusing. The clock runs up instead of down. It’s been two and half hours and still no one has scored a goal. It looks like they’re just passing the white ball around.
However, the Word Cup is nothing to be scoffed at. In fact, American sports and sports fans can learn a few things from this worldwide spectacle.
1. No breaks needed
One of the reasons soccer is so riveting is its nonstop action. With goals happening at such a low rate, the nightmare for a television viewer is to have a goal occur during the brief period when he/she gets up for a cup of water or a bathroom break. Regulation is 90 minutes, and amazingly enough, it’s played in 90 minutes.
Meanwhile, back home, our version of football is 60 minutes long, but takes over three hours to complete. This is thanks to constant commercial breaks, timeouts and stoppages of play.
In baseball, we have visits to the mound, managers arguing, pitchers stepping off, batters calling time. The list goes on and on.
OK, so the whole faking injuries epidemic is not a good example of this. But overall, World Cup soccer players show amazing sportsmanship. There are handshakes before the match, the exchange of gifts, then the swapping of jerseys after the game.
Another phenomenon occurs with injuries. When a player goes down, the team in possession kicks the ball out of bounds. This is done with the understanding that the “injured” team will return the ball to the “good sports” team when play resumes. We saw this in the 2010 final when a Dutch player gave the ball back to the Spanish keeper on a corner kick.
Do we ever see such acts in American team sports? More often, teams take advantage of an injury, such as a runner going for an inside-the-park home run when an outfielder gets hurt going for the ball.
3. The U.S. is good, not great
Let’s face it. We like to be No. 1. Whether it’s basketball (beat Spain, won gold in 2008 Olympics), hockey (lost to Canada, took silver in 2010) or baseball (finished fourth in 2009 World Baseball Classic), the U.S. strives to be the best. After America made it out of the group stage (barely), experts were already charting the course to the semifinals. But mistakes caught up to USA against Ghana, a country many of Americans probably had never heard of before.
4. The U.S. is not alone
This is the most important reason.
Americans don’t know much about the world around them. A 2006 survey found that more than half of young Americans could not find Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Afghanistan, Indonesia or North Korea on a map. Ignoring soccer is ignoring what the rest of world claims as its No. 1 sport and feeds into an America-centric vision of the world. Think about this. The most recent Super Bowl drew about 100 million viewers. Three times that many watched the 2006 World Cup draw (deciding which teams go into what groups), and an estimated 700 million watched the World Cup final on Sunday. In comparison, the 2008 Beijing Olympics averaged 276 million viewers per day.
Viewers would be remiss to come out of the World Cup without a better understanding of the world. Other than the U.S., there were 31 other teams in the tournament, each with something to offer.
There’s the story of Nelson Mandela and host South Africa.
There’s the mystery that shrouds North Korea.
And finally there’s champion Spain, whose victory did something politicians could not do: unite a divided country. Just a day before the World Cup final, over a million people were protesting a Spanish court ruling that Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 autonomous regions, cannot call itself a nation. One day later, some of those same people were waving Spanish flags in celebration of the national team. From Madrid to Barcelona, this was a much-needed victory for everyone.